Castle Forbes is set overlooking picturesquely undulating parkland above the River Don. Features include woodland, gardens and a walled garden.
Type of Site
Extensive 19th century picturesque landscape incorporating earlier elements.
Location and Setting
Castle Forbesis is situated north east of the village of Alford at the village of Keig off the B992. Castle Forbes is set overlooking picturesquely undulating parkland above the River Don. There are views into the site from the Bridge of Keig. Bennachie lies to the north of the estate. There are views to the Vale of Alford from the wood to the east of the castle.
The earliest known map reference to Castle Forbes or Putachie as it was called is General Roy's Military Survey 1747-55. It shows disappointingly little detail save three enclosed parks which run north to south. It also indicates the large area of woodland to the east which is still so strong an element of the designed landscape. A Plan of the Lands and Policies of Putachie March 1771 show that the boundaries of the Castle Forbes landscape have changed remarkably little since that date.
The Castle Forbes designed landscape is bound to the west by the B992 and to the south by the River Don and to the north by the road My Lord's Throat a minor road which leads to Monymusk to the north-east. The 1771 estate plan shows that Cothiemuir Hill to the north and the adjacent square parks were also part of the policies in the 18th century. These square parks were retained within the 19th century developments, forming an extension to the landscape to the north.
Castle Forbes incorporates an earlier probably 18th century house which can clearly be seen on the south front between the square and the round tower. The house has been modified to the rear with the removal of the kitchens creating a courtyard now used as a garden. The Dairy/Gamelarder lies on axis to the north-east of the castle and is approached by a timber bridge over a small burn or drain. The building is Y-plan with a two-storey central battlemented rotunda, with flanking crowstepped gables. The remains of the 18th century walled garden lie to the south of the dairy/gamelarder. Home Farm is situated to the immediate north of the castle and is approached by two small stone bridges. It is a large square yard with cottages on the north-east and north-west, barns cart sheds etc taking up the other sides. A detatched barn lies at the entrance to the complex. A two-storey stone house now converted to a barn lies to the north of the home farm. The kennels are situated to the north of the home-farm and consist of a two-bay stone cottage with traditional 19th century kennel arrangement with attached run with iron fence. Oakbank is a two-storey three-bay house on the south-western edge of the designed landscape. The Suspension Bridge is situated to the south-east of the castle over the River Don. A stone two-bay 19th century cottage lies to the north-east of the Home Farm. Old Church of Keig is a ruin which lies in the parkland to the south of the castle surrounded by a graveyard. Bridge of Keig which spans the Don to the south of the castle is a single span stone bridge built in the early 19th century when the then Putachie was extended. A timber-lap octagonal gamelarder with swept slate roof converted has been converted to a summerhouse and sits by the tennis court.
Drives and Approaches
The main approach is now from the south-west of the castle by the 19th century approach created at the time of the castle extensions. Having crossed the River Don by the Bridge of Keig, the drive makes a large loop to the north-west then looping to the north-east and finally approaching the castle from the east. Trees appear to be strategically placed to hide and reveal castle as you approach. There is a small stone bridge over the Burn of Keig as the drive changes direction in a more easterly direction. At this point there is thick planting either side of beech and lime and the drive rises towards the castle. Around the house species include a mature sycamore which masks the house momentarily, and as the house comes into view it is framed by a lime. The drive splits and at this point there is a mature specimen of Wellingtonia (Sequoiadendron gigantuem).
There is a back drive which serves the home farm to the north-west of the castle which links in with the drive system around the house. The earlier drive depicted in 18th century estate maps appears to be what is now the track that leads down to the home farm and comes out on the B992 at Keig. Another 18th century approach now used only as a farm track is the long drive that follows the banks of the River Don to the east of the castle and then comes away from the river's edge. This is shown on the 18th century estate survey as being planted and it still is today with a mixture of lime and beech.
The drive then shifts to the north above the haugh to what appears to be a natural terrace. The track, as it is now, can be followed to the south-east of the house where it splits and there is the remains of a track in the park which comes out between the remains of the walled garden and the back of the house. This appears to be the same track that appears as a road or drive to the house on the 1771 estate survey. The track which goes to the north of the walled gardens has been built over with cattle sheds. On the west side of the drive a new pond has been made, and on the east side of the drive there are plantings of ornamental cherries, copper beech, sycamore and some large leaved oaks.
The parkland has clearly been made to frame early 19th century extensions of the castle removing the bowling green and formal gardens and square parks. The area of ground on which the early 19th century extensions sit, and the drive sweep was the site of the earlier bowling green shown on the 1771 estate survey. This would appear to have been dug away to give the castle the appearance of sitting on a more rugged and picturesque mound. Also possibly connected to drainage. John Paterson's wanted the site of the new house moved because of the bad drainage caused by the house siting on the same level 'as springs of water from the hill.'
The trees to be found in the parkland to the south-west of the castle include Turkey oak (Quercus cerris) and horse chestnut. There are also clumps of lime and beech. Some of the beech are multi-stemmed. Trees have been planted in such a way to frame house from the south on approach to the house. Ash and elm grow around the Burn of Keig which runs across the park below the castle.
The ruined chapel lies in the parkland to the south of the castle and the stone dykes are planted with elm. Below the chapel alongside the river is a new large ornamental pond of irregular shape with two islands. There is a wide flat plain or terrace above the river Don to the east of the house which has remnants of 19th century parkland planting.
The New Statistical Account notes that the grounds '... comprehend 285 acres of natural wood and with belts, 90 of planted, seven or eight miles of drives, a great extent of walks, ...'
The greater part of the Castle Forbes policies are covered by woodland including the large wood to the east of the castle and the perimeter belts that enclose and divide the estate. The large wood to the east, the 'natural birch and allers wood' as it was called on the 1771 estate plan still occupies roughly the same area as shown on that plan, and on the later Ordnance Survey maps, 1865. It is described in the Old Statistical Account, as a '...natural wood of considerable extent, which contains trees of most kind common in the North of Scotland, and produces 10 or 12 kinds of wild fruit. Roes are always to be found in it, and red and fallow deer often frequent it.'
Much of this wood is now commercial conifer wood however within it there is also some mixed deciduous woodland some of which maybe remnants of the 18th century plantings. Keith's Survey of Aberdeenshire, 1811 notes that the estate 'bounds in both natural woods and artificial plantations.'
The wood is approached from the back drive climbing up the hill and past a 19th century estate cottage. Beech is dominant in the area of the cottage but there is also oak, Silver birch, and Scot's pine. Other species in the wood include lime (Tilia x europaea), Wellingtonia (Sequoiadendron giganteum). Along the main walk is a feature called Adam's Rock and in this area there is oak, birch and gean. There is mature Scot's pine on the terraces above the river, also elm, oak and beech.
There are prominent perimeter belts to south which include lime, and to the north which includes a wide dyked belt between two square parks, which is planted with lime and beech. The dykes alongside the road to the north, 'My Lord's Throat' are planted with ash. The perimeter belts to the west of the castle at the village of Keig are predominantly beech and lime. These shelter belts are indicated on the 1st Ed OS , 25' but probably date back to the later 18th century as do the ones to the north. There are 18th century square parks to the east of the home farm which have stone dykes planted with beech and in places oak.
There is a small amount of garden to the south-east of the house with lawn but otherwise there is little in the way of gardens around the house.
There is the remains of a kitchen garden to the north-east of the house, probably once the formal gardens illustrated on the 1771 plan. A small part is used as a vegetable plot, some of the walls have gone and another area is grazed.
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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
Castle Forbes is an important landscape of the Scottish Picturesque incorporating the more formal later Adam style of design.
Main Phases of Landscape Development
18th and 19th centuries.
The development of the house and landscape from the 18th to the early 19th century is very clear at Castle Forbes. With both landscape and house the old 18th century pattern can be seen with a facade of 19th century picturesque tacked on. At first glance this is not obvious but estate plans and the later, 1988 aerial photographs make this obvious.
The present castle was commissioned by Lord Forbes, known then as Putachie, from John
Paterson in 1807. There were disagreements about the siting of the castle, the architect wanting a new site below the old house. John Paterson had very specific reasons for the new site which are described in his notes and although drainage was an important factor the landscape he also considered that if the house was placed to the west of the old house that the grounds would be laid out advantageously incorporating the trees about the old house and garden with views to the dell from the principal windows. Unfortunately the document is smudged at this point so it is not possible to relate his other intentions. However this is an interesting example of an architect carrying out his own landscaping.
In the end the old house was incorporated into the new, which can be seen between the square and the round tower on the main front. Because of this disagreement the job was given to Archibald Simpson, who also had disagreements with Lord Forbes resulting in the commissioning of Archibald Elliot and John Smith to supervise. Simpson was paid of as a result. John Smith, city architect for Aberdeen, finished the job. The work was finished in 1818.
Because the new house incorporated the old, it is also clear that the formal gardens were retained but used as vegetable gardens and became the walled garden for the new house. The survey of the policies, 1741 for Lord James Forbes, shows the old house with a large round tower to the north, and formal gardens slightly to the south and east. There were two gardens to the east one is shown with an arrangement of 4 square platts divided by paths focusing on a central feature. Adjacent and to the east is another enclosure with two arrangements of radiating beds with a centre focus. Another garden lay immediately to the south of the house, shown on an undated mid-18th century plan (a variation on the plan of 1771) roughly quartered but with distinctly meandering paths and planted with trees. This and the bowling green that lay to the west of the house were swept away with the building of the new castle. The 'natural birch and allar wood' shown on the plan of 1771 still forms a large part of the designed landscape at Castle Forbes although the two garden buildings depicted are no longer extant. It is likely that some of the tracks through this wood date back to the 18th century, a comparison of the 1771 plan and the later OS maps certainly suggest the likleyhood. Some of the rockwork along the main track appears to be very mannered and could possibly date to the 18th century. The 1771 plan clearly shows that although it was a 'natural birch and allers wood' it had clearly been adapted for enjoyable pursuits with its curving rides and paths, particularly when compared with the fir plantations to the north which are clearly commercial. There is a series of terraces above the river which appear to have derived, or are, natural terraces. It is however difficult to make a direct comparison between this plan and the 1st Ed O.S. 6', except perhaps further south in the area around the drives and approaches from the east alongside the River Don.
The New Statistical Account describes the house: 'It stands on the left bank of the Don, on the slope of the south-west corner of Bennachie, at the termination of the valley of Alford, commanding a view of great extent and beauty. The Don, here hemmed in by naturally wooded hills, flows through the grounds; farther on the bridge of Keig a single arche of 101feet span, has a fine effect. In the middle ground the whole vale is seen with its winding river, woods and seats, and in the distance Morven, Lochnagar, ...'
- Features & Designations
Historic Environment Scotland An Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland
- Key Information