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Carnell (also known as Karnell, Cairn Hill, Cairnhill)


The attractive parkland at Carnell was laid out in the mid-18th century with further planting carried out a century later. Ornamental gardens, established and developed from the early-20th century onwards, include a wild garden with shade-loving perennials and lilies, a well-stocked rock garden with a pond and a pagoda and a grand herbaceous border. The walled garden houses a separate residence for the family as well as producing fruit and vegetables.

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:

Type of Site

Within a wider setting of parkland and woodland inherited from previous mid-18th and mid-19th century layers, are gardens established in the early 20th century, reflecting contemporary trends and tastes in garden-making, with outstanding herbaceous borders, a wild garden, formal garden and rock and pond gardens.

Location and Setting

Carnell lies to the south of the Cessnock Water, a tributary of the River Irvine, some 5 miles (8km) south-east of the town of Kilmarnock. The A719 forms the western boundary of the site. Soils are medium loam with some lime deposits. Carnell lies at 295' (90m) above sea level amid undulating agricultural land and the average rainfall is 40" per annum. The deciduous woodland on the western boundary seen from the A719 provides a significant contrast to the surrounding landscape. The parkland is highly significant from the minor access road which runs between the A719 and the B744 from which the house can be seen through the trees.

The house stands on the side of the steep valley slope of the River Cessnock. The woodland on the opposite bank forms the northern boundary of the site. An avenue extends south from the house, through the parkland and beyond to the shelterbelt which visually forms the southern boundary of the site. Woodlands form the eastern and western boundaries. Documentary evidence is provided by General Roy's map of c.1750, the 1st edition OS map of 1860 and the 2nd edition OS map of 1897. A written and illustrated account of the garden was made by Commander J.B. Findlay RN in 1983 for the Garden History Society and this gives details of species planted. There are 244 acres (99ha) in the designed landscape today.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Carnell House, listed category B, is a 16th century Tower with substantial additions in neo-Jacobean style by William Burn; later additions were made by David Bryce in 1843 and Charles Reid in 1871. The stables, listed C, are in the south-east corner of the park. The West Lodge stands at the entrance off the A719.

Carnell Bridge, listed B, is a single stone arch which spans the River Cessnock to the north-east of the house. The Garden House was built against the north wall of the walled garden in 1973. In the south wall is a large gateway with Lion gatepiers with the Wallace coat of arms. There are two sundials: one stands on the grass walk between the herbaceous border and the West Rock Garden; the other stands in the centre of the kitchen garden. The Pagoda stands overlooking the water garden at the west end of the rock garden. Several pieces of oriental ornamentation, Japanese Lanterns and Burmese Chinthes, are displayed around it; these were collected by members of the family who had business interests in Japan and Burma. The seat is modelled on one seen in Ireland.


The park, enclosed by woodland on the west and east sides, provides a fine setting for Carnell House and the main drive which sweeps through it from the west entrance. The main feature of the park is the design of planting in two squares of lime trees which stand due south of the house representing the two Scottish squares at the Battle of Dettingen in 1743, complete with their two 'officers' on each side. Reference to General Roy's map of c.1750 shows this feature existed then. Many of the original trees remain, although some have been replanted. An avenue extends from the squares southwards across the road, which has been sunk from the line of view. Between 1860-1897 two roundels of trees were planted in the south-west corner of the park. They remain there today, enclosed by hedging. Parkland trees are predominantly sycamore and oak, with some elm, showing signs of Dutch Elm disease. The area to the north of the walled garden has been planted with some ornamental trees, including a particularly fine cut-leaf beech, a copper beech and some old Scotch firs, 'the three sisters', which are thought to date from the same period as the house. A tennis court is sited in the hollow of the park to the west of the house. From the west of the house the view extends to 'The Judgement Seat', the hill where local justice was administered.


Reference to General Roy's map of c.1750 shows woodland to extend along the south bank of the Cessnock Water and the west bank of the Garroch Burn which flows into the Cessnock to the north-east of Carnell House. By 1850, much of the woodland due north of the house had been cleared to allow a clear view to the river below. This area is now left to naturally regenerate. On the western boundary, the old wood was extended along what is now the A719. It is presently largely deciduous. Longhouse Wood, which is mainly coniferous, runs north-west/south-east off the A719 providing shelter to the fields between the road and the parkland. The woodland to the east of the walled garden in the Garroch Burn glen suffered greatly from the 1968 gales and has been replanted under a Forestry Commission Dedication Scheme.

Water Features

The Rock Garden was laid out in two areas on a bank to the south-east of the walled garden by Mrs Findlay-Hamilton. The largest area (Rock Garden East) is separated from the smaller garden (Rock Garden West) by a pond which lies to the south-west of the walled garden. The pond was a small lime quarry until 1906 when it was filled in and the peninsulas and islands which remain today were formed. A wide range of plants was established in gaps in the Rock Garden. A description of the garden was given in the Scottish Gardener and Northern Forester in 1913. Like the shrubbery, the garden has been continually developed by Mrs J.B. Findlay. Interesting plants in the Rock Garden (East) include lilies, Meconopsis and anemones, whilst gentians and Linums are dominant in the Rock Garden (West).

The Gardens

The Wild Garden area was established in the early 1900s by Mrs Findlay-Hamilton amid the shelter planting to the south of the pond and rock gardens. A number of shade-loving plants were established, among them Primulas, Meconopsis and lilies, in particular Lilium szovitsianum. It has been further developed by Mrs J.B Findlay

An avenue of yew hedges, clipped in battlemented shape by Mrs Findlay-Hamilton, provides a formal link between the house and the walled garden.

Walled Garden

The walls of this garden were built in 1843 and it was originally laid out in a formal style. It was converted to a market garden after World War II but two thirds of its area was put down to grass when this ceased to be commercially viable. Approximately one quarter of the area is retained for vegetables and flowers (for Carnell House and the Garden House). Fruit is grown in a greenhouse at the east end of the inner north wall, and in a small freestanding teak greenhouse, originally built for carnations, tomatoes are grown. The Garden House was built on the site of the old vinery. Fruit trees are trained over the inner walls.

Beyond the wall on the south side of the garden runs the herbaceous border for which Carnell is especially noted. One hundred yards long by four yards wide, it was established in 1906 and much of the original plant material remains. It provides an outstanding display in season; delphiniums and astilbes dominate the border which also includes Salvia pratensis, Artemesia lactiflora and Spiraea gigantea. A herbaceous border on the outer west wall and a flower border on the outer north wall were reduced in size after World War II.

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts


01563 884236


Mr and Mrs J R Findlay and Mr and Mrs Michael Findlay


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

The early 20th century garden at Carnell is an outstanding work of art and the designed landscape as a whole provides the setting for an impressive group of buildings.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

Mid-18th and mid-19th centuries, the ornamental garden dating from 1904.

Site History

The designed landscape dates from the mid-18th and mid-19th centuries with the ornamental garden development dating from 1904. There are no known landscape designers.

Carnell originally belonged to the Wallace family, for whom the original 16th century Towerhouse was built. The estate was known as 'Cairnhill' on General Roy's map of c.1750. Lilian Wallace, the last of the family, married Walter Ferrier in 1784. Their son, Colonel John Ferrier Hamilton, carried out many improvements to the estate and commissioned William Burn to build a new house in 1843. His granddaughter, Mrs Georgina Findlay-Hamilton, inherited the estate from a cousin in 1904. She commissioned alterations to the house and established the gardens which remain today. Her son-in-law and daughter, Commander & Mrs J.B. Findlay, continued to develop the gardens. In 1965 Mrs Findlay transferred the Carnell Estate to her son Mr J.R. Findlay and, in 1973, Commander & Mrs J.B. Findlay moved to the recently completed Garden House which they had built inside the walled garden.

Associated People
Features & Designations


  • Historic Environment Scotland An Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland


  • Tree Feature
  • Description: Two squares of lime trees in the parkland representing the two Scottish squares at the Battle of Dettingen in 1743.
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
  • Hedge
  • Description: A castellated yew hedge which acts as a structural feature linking the house to the walled garden.
  • Herbaceous Border
  • Description: A herbaceous border over a metre wide and over 90 metres long which still retains much of its original planting.
  • House (featured building)
  • Description: The house incorporates a 16th-century tower.
  • Earliest Date:
Key Information





Principal Building

Domestic / Residential





Open to the public


Electoral Ward

Tarbolton Symington Craigie