The designed landscape centres around the Bombo Burn, in a river valley surrounded by gently undulating ground. The setting is composed of wooded policies of mixed deciduous planting interspersed with coniferous plantations. The main area of parkland lies to the south-east of the house and consists of undulating grassland interspersed with eskers. Stumps in the parkland indicate the loss of many trees but surviving species include a clump of beech.
Type of Site
A mid 19th-century landscaped park, with an 'old-fashioned' garden built in the 1920s beside the house.
Location and Setting
Blair estate is situated south-east of the town of Dalry to the east of the River Gannock. The designed landscape centres around the Bombo Burn, in a river valley surrounded by gently undulating ground. The setting is composed of wooded policies of mixed deciduous planting interspersed with coniferous plantations. There are views into the policies from a minor road which passes the eastern boundary wall. There are views from the house to the Knockewart Hills in the west.
The outline of the estate today bears a strong resemblance to the dyked enclosures depicted on General Roy's Military Survey of 1747-55. Estate maps of 1800 show in detail a well-developed designed landscape with policies and walled garden. The estate's outline has changed little since 1854.
Blair House is a composite house, originally a 12th-century tower house. It was added to in the 13th and 18th century and remodelled by the architect Thomas Leadbetter in 1893. The U-plan, early 19th-century Stables/Carriage House lie to the south-east of the house. The cruciform, single-storey North Lodge is dated 1858. The square Gate Piers have ball finials and cast-iron side and main gates. The South Lodge is an early 19th-century single-storey building. Forester's Cottage to the north-east of the house is single-storey and attic with Gothic windows. The Walled Garden is situated to the west of the house across the Bombo Burn. The walls are of 18th-century rubble construction. The north-east wall has two elaborate doorways; the south-west wall contains the so-called ironwork Paradise Gates. The North Bridge over the Bombo Burn is dated 1849. The parapet is railed and has stone piers. The early 19th century Smithy is a long single-storey range with Gothic arched windows. It lies beside the minor road to the south-east of the house. The rubble Park Walls date from the 1840s.
Drives and Approaches
There are two main entrances to Blair estate. That from the north is approached past the 19th-century North Lodge. The first part of the drive is planted with horse chestnut and the next straight piece of drive with wide verges is bordered by a double lime avenue. The drive crosses the Bombo Burn by a small single-arch bridge then enters the gently undulating parkland before descending to the house.
The south drive is approached past the single-storey South Lodge. The initial planting on either side of the drive is thick rhododendrons under a canopy of sycamore, ash, and oak, with Sitka spruce plantations. Further along there are young beech at the end of the drive. The drive cuts through an outcrop of rock before approaching the immediate environs of the house and terminating in a gravel sweep.
The main area of parkland lies to the south-east of the house and consists of undulating grassland interspersed with eskers. Stumps in the parkland indicate the loss of many trees but surviving species include a clump of beech. Extensive species planting of parkland trees has been carried out in 2005. The old drive from the Stables/Carriage House to the Chapel Brae divides the main park into two. The ruins of the chapel have gone and only the site is known. The old drive has been planted on either side with a mixture of beech, elm, and sycamore, resulting in a formal edge. Court Hill or the Moot Hill, which lies to the north-east of the house is planted with beech. Apparently, this feature went under the name of Gallow Hill for a time.
The greater part of the policies at Blair is wooded, particularly the north-west and the perimeters. The area to the east of the north lodge consists of deciduous woodland. The land to the south, known as Crow Grove and reaching to the walled garden, is conifer plantation broken up by tracks. This plantation has recently been felled and there are plans to re-plant it in 2006.
The present garden is largely a result of work from the mid 19th- to the early 20th-century. To the south of the house is a two-room yew garden with a topiary perimeter hedge. The upper garden dates from late 19th/early 20th century, while the lower one which contains a swimming pool was laid out in 1970. Planting in the upper garden has been reduced to ease the grounds maintenance workload. A path between a striking Japanese maple avenue leads from here to the naturalistic wild/woodland garden laid out around the Bombo Burn in the mid 19th century. This garden has developed over the ensuing years and is now called the Flower Garden. Views and 'incidents' are cleverly arranged to provide constantly changing perspectives back to the house as the path turns away then follows the meanderings of the Bombo Burn. The planting here includes azaleas, Japanese maples, Gunnera manicata, holly and Polygonum bistorta. Further planting of mainly herbaceous stock has started in this area in 2005.
The walled garden is now planted with Christmas trees and contains pheasant pens. Plans to begin to re-establish part of the old flower beds are being drawn up.
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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:
Reason for Inclusion
An attractive, complete and intact designed landscape including a mid 19th-century landscaped park, with an 'old-fashioned' garden built in the 1920s beside the house. The site itself is much older with gardens recorded in the early 17th century.
Main Phases of Landscape Development
The present policy plantings mostly date from the mid 19th century, and the garden is largely from the mid 19th to the early 20th century. The site itself is much older with gardens recorded in the early 17th century.
In the 12th century, the Barony of Blair was granted to Jean François, a man of Norman descent. His son, William, changed his name to Blair and is believed to have married a daughter of King John of England. He was succeeded first by Sir Bryce de Blair, a supporter of William Wallace, and then by Sir David de Blair whose son, Roger, was knighted by King Robert II, the Bruce. Sir Roger's sister-in-law married King David II, Bruce's son.
Little is known of the 'ancient castell and strong dounioun' recorded by Timothy Pont in the late 16th century. There is however clear evidence that the first two towers that were built c.1110 and c.1230, have been incorporated into the later additions to Blair in the early 1100s, 1668, 1756 and 1860-90s. Court Hill was almost certainly the site of the moot of the Barony of Blair. James Dobie of Crumnock indicates that the beautiful 'gardens, orchards and partiers [parterres]', also described by Pont, were traditionally believed to be to the west of the castle where the present gardens lie. Dobie in his illustrative notes on Pont's survey further points out that the castle yard with high stone wall lay on the eastern side of the castle which was moated. This is believed to have been a dry moat.
In the 17th century, Sir William Blair, who married Margaret, daughter of the 2nd Duke of Hamilton, was responsible for building the south wing. It is possible that the gardens and landscape were remodelled in his lifetime. Extant names within the policies indicate an early formal layout. For example, Crow Grove signifies the site of a grove of trees or wilderness.
General Roy's Military Survey of 1747-55 indicates little in the way of detail, but shows a walled area on the north-west side of the castle. This was demolished in the late 19th century when the major western extension was built. The park is thought to have been laid out in the 1760s by William Blair of Blair. The present garden, woodland garden, and estate planting are largely the result of work carried out by William Fordyce Blair in the mid 19th century. The 1st edition OS 1:2500 (25'), 1855, shows the woodland garden on both sides of the Bombo Burn with picturesquely curving paths. The avenue along Chapel Brae looks thinly planted but is a more clearly defined feature by the 1910 revision. The 1st edition OS 1:10560 (6'), 1855, indicates that the parkland came right up to the house. William Fordyce Blair's father was responsible for the planting of some of the specimen trees. It is thought that the collection of wrought-ironwork was collected by William Fordyce Blair himself. The yew garden next to the house was possibly laid out by Colonel Frederick and Mrs Blair when they modernised the house in 1893. Contemporary paintings by E A Rowe illustrate very well the planting in these gardens which is no longer extant.
- Features & Designations
Historic Environment Scotland An Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland
- Key Information