Blair Castle 439

Blair Atholl, Scotland

Brief Description

Blair Castle is associated with an extensive traditional estate. The designed landscape comprises mid-18th-century parkland, woodland which includes a mid-19th century planting of conifers known as Diana's Grove and a walled garden of over 3.5 hectares restored to 18th-century plans. This is a water garden called the Hercules Garden with landscaped ponds and productive and ornamental planting.

History

The estate at Blair Castle was connected for centuries with the Dukes and Earls of Atholl. The designed landscape was first laid out in the mid-18th century and most of the woodlands were planted from the late-18th to the early-19th century. The mid-19th-century formal gardens were removed in the mid-20th century. The Hercules Garden, formerly the `Water Garden', was restored in the mid-1990s.

Visitor Facilities

The site is open all year, daily between April and October but with more restricted opening in the winter. Please see: http://www.blair-castle.co.uk/castle_opening_times.cfm

Detailed Description

The following is from the Historic Environment Scotland Gardens and Designed Landscapes Inventory. For the most up-to-date Inventory entry, please visit the Historic Environment Scotland website:

http://portal.historic-scotland.gov.uk/hes/web/f?p=PORTAL:DESIGNATIONS:0

Type of Site

A fine example of a surviving mid-18th-century formal landscape with parkland and woodland enclosures, woodland copses, 'wilderness' and formal gardens.

Location and Setting

Blair Castle lies at Blair Atholl off the A9 on the southern edge of the Grampians, in the valley of the River Garry at its confluence with the River Tilt. The surrounding landscape is characterised primarily by upland vegetation and forestry but the character of the designed landscape is influenced by the peculiar geology of the valley. Slates and schists are interbedded with grey and white limestones which are less resistant to erosion and have formed the wide fertile basin around Blair Atholl. The calcareous soils are richer and more fertile than those of the surrounding acid areas, producing good pasture and supporting some arable crops. Tulach Hill is a prominent feature in views south from the Castle, and to the north the surrounding hills are all important. The grand scale of the designed landscape, which occupies most of the valley, and the large and prominent forestry plantations which spread north up into the upland Forest of Atholl, are very significant in the surrounding scenery.

The Castle is set in the centre of the park which is surrounded to the west, north and east by extensive woodland. Because of its upland location, the surrounding hills are an important part of the setting for the Castle and the designed landscape.

Documentary evidence for the extent of design takes the form of a number of plans and OS maps, including the survey drawn by John Tinney in 1747. The designed landscape also includes the forest plantations originally laid out by John, 4th Duke of Atholl, between 1774 and 1830. The extent of the designed landscape includes the surrounding uplands which are important to the setting. Beyond this the influence of design is apparent for some distance in the form and detailing of estate buildings, houses and villages. Today the central core of the designed landscape, excluding the forestry plantations, extends to a total area of some 2,687 acres (1,087ha).

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Blair Castle, listed category A, was first built in 1269 and was altered in the early 17th century to make the stronghold of the Murray Clan more habitable. It was extended for James, the 2nd Duke, by James Winter between 1745 - 58. Roger Morris prepared designs but some of his alterations were not made until after his death. The 7th Duke, John, employed David Bryce to 'rebaronialise' the castle and between 1869-71 the turrets were built. Further alterations took place in 1886 by J.C. Walker. In 1905 J. McIntyre Henry undertook further work and finally, in 1920-21, Sir Robert Lorimer was asked to assist.

In the designed landscape at Blair Castle, there are a wealth of ornaments, follies and eyecatchers, most of which remain. 16 are listed as category B and 5 as category C. The Gothic Folly called 'The Whim', listed category A and built in 1762, is still an important eyecatcher on the hill to the north of the Castle. Smaller features are still in the grounds including Hercules made in 1743, the Obelisk in 1742, Tom-na-croiche in 1755, two Bridges constructed in 1756 and 1758, and several later additions between 1867 and 1899 including Lady Jean's Well, West Lodge, the Dairy and the Statue of Diana.

Parkland

The parkland covers most of the valley floor and is edged by woodlands. The pattern of fields was probably originally laid out c.1680 and the area was then developed by the 2nd Duke, James, in what seems reminiscent of the Dutch style. This is shown in the Tinney Survey of 1744, possibly with the assistance of William Boutcher. Avenues radiated out from the Castle and lined the King's Highway which then ran through the park from east to west. Subsequent development took place under the 4th Duke, John, and can be seen on the 1st edition OS map of 1862. No designer is known to have been associated with this work. Later Victorian embellishments were added, including the Wellingtonia Avenue which runs from the Castle north-west to The Whim.

The outline of the early park is still easily seen but planting dating between 1930 - 1950 has masked some of the important detail, and recent field boundaries have changed the overall pattern. Some of the parkland area is cultivated. Few of the 18th century trees remain, and there is little sign of replacement planting. Tulach Park on the south side of the River Garry, on the lower slopes of Tulach Hill, is a survival of the early 18th century planting. The shape is still apparent but many of the beech trees are overmature and have fallen or been blown down. (Since the 1982 survey, there has been some replacement planting in the park).

Woodland

Some woodland was planted in about 1680 by the 1st Marquess. The 2nd Duke used it to frame and emphasise his 'grand design'. The 4th Duke, John, is said to have planted over 10,000 acres with over 14 million larch trees. He pioneered the planting of conifers in the uplands, and the subsequent use of softwoods in commercial forestry has its origins in his experiments, many of which were undertaken at Blair. Planting and forestry management have continued over the years and there is an active commercial forestry policy, at Blair. Today the woodlands themselves are mainly conifers although The Whim plantation has a band of broadleaved trees around the Folly itself. The Wilderness area is also planted mainly with conifers, and occasional broadleaved clumps remain.

Within the park there are several woodland copses which were originally part of the formal design; these include the 'Monument' plantation, 'Sheep Pen' plantation and the 'Obelisk' plantation. The 'Monument' plantation was planted around a square 'bassin' or pond and an Obelisk. These ornaments were sited on either side of a formal avenue from the Castle to the Old Road, now the drive. The 'bassin' was turned into an informal lake probably by the 4th Duke, John, and was subsequently surrounded by a plantation in about 1870 and underplanted with shrubs, laurels, and rhododendrons. Little remains of the design today. The 'Sheep Pen' plantation was planted around an informal lake at the same time, when some exotic trees such as the copper beech and Norway maple were planted near the water. It could have been modified as a duck flighting pond. This area is now managed commercially. The 'Obelisk' plantation appeared in the 1744 plan as a large wilderness surrounding an Obelisk. The wood also indicated the entrance from the old Inverness Road (the King's Highway). Although part of it appeared on the 1st edition OS Plan of 1862, there is no evidence of it today. (Since the 1982 survey much of the woodland to the north-west of the Castle has been replanted).

The Gardens

The Diana's Grove area was originally called a Wilderness in the 1744 plan. The areas between the rides and paths were laid out by the 2nd Duke and his gardener, and planting plans still exist from about 1737. A Temple of Fame was included in the area. One of the first plantings of larch took place at this time and four of these trees still exist. A large pinetum was laid out between 1850 - 1870, possibly from a plan drawn by James Gray. Many fine conifers remain today and over 150 have been measured by Alan Mitchell in 1978 when the tallest Douglas fir had grown to over 178' (54.24m), and most of the trees were over 41m tall. (Since the survey the trees were measured again in 1985 and the Douglas fir had grown nearly another 2m).

When the grounds were originally laid out there were six separate formal gardens. One has completely disappeared but the remains of the others can be seen today. The gardens around the Castle were originally created as part of the large formal landscape and were shown in 1744 as extensive walled terraces with parterres, a bowling green and a sundial on the lower terrace. The gardens were re-created by W.A. Nesfield in the formal style and photographs around 1878 show the borders and banks. They have all been removed and only the grass and paths remain. (Since the survey the statue of 'Father Time' has been restored).

The Entrance Courtyard lies to the east of the Castle. The main entrance used to run along a formal avenue, which ran from the Castle north-east to just south of the Chapel where it joined the Old King's Highway. The group of trees to the east of the Castle is planted over a canal created from the Banvie Burn. The driveway used to curl round the canal and crossed the burn on an ornamental bridge. A second avenue led down to the sawmill and Blair Atholl and was called Miln Lane. The canal was filled in and the drive altered to the present one from Blair Atholl in about 1760, when the 4th Duke inherited. The area today is bare of ornamentation and the grass sweeps up to the Castle on all sides.

Walled Garden

The Walled Garden lies to the east of the Castle on the edge of the woodland where the statue of Hercules stands. The water garden was originally laid out by the 2nd Duke, James, assisted by John James' book 'The Theory and Practice of Gardening', and helped by John Wilson in c.1750. Detailed plans exist of the work proposed. The Garden still has good mid 18th century sculpture in the wall niches. A large conservatory was built in 1807 and the water garden was restored c1888. The garden continued as the kitchen garden until about 1950 when the vegetables were replaced with Christmas Trees. These were not felled and are now overgrown. A few remnants of the box hedges can still be seen, and the outline of the ponds can still be traced although they are now overgrown boggy areas. The doorway and paths can just be seen. The garden is therefore largely derelict and one of the walls has collapsed in recent years. (Since the survey this wall has been repaired and the Christmas Trees removed. Another crop has been planted as a holding operation).

Features
  • Folly
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
  • Castle (featured building)
  • Earliest Date:
  • Planting
  • Description: The Hercules Garden was recently restored to its original 18th-century form.
  • Grove
  • Description: Diana's Grove.
Access & Directions

Access Contact Details

The site is open all year, daily between April and October but with more restricted opening in the winter. Please see: http://www.blair-castle.co.uk/castle_opening_times.cfm
History

Detailed History

The following is from the Historic Environment Scotland Gardens and Designed Landscapes Inventory. For the most up-to-date Inventory entry, please visit the Historic Environment Scotland website:

http://portal.historic-scotland.gov.uk/hes/web/f?p=PORTAL:DESIGNATIONS:0

Reason for Inclusion

Outstanding in every category, the 1000-hectare landscape has been a masterpiece of formal design from its inception in the mid 1700s, and continues to be so today. It comprises parkland, woodland, an 18th century wilderness, formal gardens, a recently restored walled garden, and the Grade A listed Blair Castle.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

Laid out mid-18th century, with woodland planting in the late 18th and early 19th century, formal gardens made mid-19th century and removed mid-20th century and current, 21st century, ongoing restoration.

Site History

The designed landscape was first laid out in the mid-18th century and most of the woodlands were planted in the late 18th and early 19th century. The formal gardens were made in the mid-19th century and were removed in the mid-20th century.

In 1269 the first tower of the Castle was built and in 1457 the Earldom of Atholl was conferred on the ancestors of the present family. During the political upheavals of the 17th century the Atholls sided with the Royalists and the Castle was taken by Cromwell's army. After the restoration of Charles II, the 2nd Earl was created the 1st Marquess of Atholl and their son was later created the 1st Duke of Atholl by Queen Anne in 1703. Works were carried out to the landscape at various points subsequently with the 2nd Duke being responsible for the original layout of the parkland, the 4th Duke being notable for the pioneering forestry planting and the 7th Duke being responsible for the reinstatement of the formal gardens.

Associated People
Contact
References

References

Contributors

  • Historic Scotland