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Castle Toward


The house and grounds occupy the lower south-facing slopes of Toward Hill, extending northwards up the hill to include the Chinese Lakes. Castle Toward is a large castellated mansion of ashlar with octagonal tower at the rear. East and west of the mansion, there are two north-south strips of woodland extending from the high ground to the north down to the shore-line. There are some notable specimen trees still surviving in the Castle Toward landscape, including a remarkable huge-girthed Griselinia littoralis immediately beside the old ruins of Toward Castle, and some interesting cut-leaved Japanese maples.

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

Type of Site

Extensive 19th century estate incorporating the ruined 15th century Toward Castle and with many Edwardian and inter-war additions.

Location and Setting

The Castle Toward designed landscape occupies a site at the southern end of the Toward Peninsula, 10km (6.2miles) southwest of Dunoon and accessed from the A815. The house and grounds occupy the lower south-facing slopes of Toward Hill, at the southernmost point of the Toward Peninsula with views south to the Island of Bute and beyond to the Firth of Clyde.

The designed landscape at Castle Toward extends northwards up Toward Hill to include the Chinese Lakes (reservoirs to supply the estate which were made into an attractive landscape feature) and Ardyne Farm to the northwest. The A815 road forms the southern and western boundaries, and to the east, the boundary takes in old estate parkland and is bounded by a commercial coniferous plantation on what was probably former policy woodland. A belt of old policy woodland is included in the designed landscape, which stretches east of the old ruins of Toward Castle. The principal features of the designed landscape, except for the Chinese lakes (reservoirs constructed on Toward Hill), are contained within the current estate boundary comprising approximately 150ha (370 acres).

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Castle Toward is a large castellated mansion of ashlar with octagonal tower at the rear. It was designed by David Hamilton and built in 1821 for Kirkman Finlay, a Glasgow merchant and MP. Extensions were added to this building in the 1920s in a style in keeping with the original building. Toward Castle is a Scheduled Ancient Monument which was built in 1475 with bailey and domestic range added in the seventeenth century. The surviving masonry is three storeys high and built of random rubble. It is presently roofless and in a ruinous state. Auchawilling Chapel is a small chapel to the northeast of the modern Castle Toward and is presently ruinous.

The East Walled Garden was built by Finlay in the 19th century. In the 1920s an ogee-roofed glass-fronted loggia, octagonal conservatory and wrought-iron gates were added, very much in the style of Robert Lorimer. Old Auchavoulin House is the end or side of a building situated at the north east angle of the Walled Garden, with a notable group of Crinodendron hookerianum shrubs growing here. There is a formal water garden to the south of the 19th century walled garden. This contains a lily pond and is believed to have been built on top of an old vegetable garden at the instigation of Mrs Coats. There is a large 20th century North Walled Garden to the north of the house which is now abandoned. Both walled gardens and their associated additions are constructed from the same dark grey schist and were designed by the architect Frank W. Deas. A range of heated glasshouses and cold frames which were built by Mackenzie and Moncur beside the North Walled Garden, and workshops were added to the northeast of the house, incorporating the west gate with a finely detailed set of steps incorporating decorative carving in the style of Sir Robert Lorimer with flowers, fruit and animals. West Lodge which incorporates estate offices and garages is positioned to the south west of the house. All other lodges have been demolished.

The Viaduct, which carries the Main Drive across the burn, features rustic stone balustrades, gothic stonework and a pedestrian route below. The Chinese Lakes which lie to the north on Toward Hill are a series of stone-lined ponds with islands, linked by finely detailed semi-circular bridges. They are linked to the other landscape features of Castle Toward by a path network. Evidence of a stone-built summerhouse ahs been uncovered beside the Chinese Lakes. This would have afforded a very impressive sweeping view over the entire estate and over to Bute and the Hebrides. There are two other architectural features that are linked to the estate historically but lie outwith the southwestern designed landscape boundary: Toward Lighthouse was built in 1812 and is a circular tower of ashlar; Toward Quay is an early 19th century rubble built pier.

Drives and Approaches

The Main Drive and approach originally came past the now demolished East Lodges. This route passes the rock garden and travels below the foot of Toward Castle crossing the burn across the Viaduct. Passing the south side of the water garden, the drive ends at the forecourt of Castle Toward. This drive is currently not used by vehicles because the viaduct is believed to be unsafe. A secondary drive runs around the north side of the mansion and then southwest through woodland, leaving the site via the West Lodge and giving direct access to Toward Quay. Originally the two drives met at the front (i.e. the south side) of the house, but were replaced by the present terrace.

Paths and Walks

Footpaths are primarily concentrated around the burn in the valley to the east of the house. These connect features including Toward Castle, the rock garden, the walled garden, a summer house (demolished) and the Chinese Lakes to the north. A tunnel carries the burnside path beneath the viaduct and east drive.

There are many specimen Rhododendrons throughout the burnside area, alongside Gunnera manicata. South of the approach road viaduct there are large clumps of bamboo, forming a tunnel effect through parts of the burnside walks. Some clumps are quite overgrown but still in good health. There are extensive clumps of bamboos throughout the designed landscape at Castle Toward, and sale particulars of 1919 refer to the bamboos as ''possibly the finest collection in the west of Scotland.'


Parkland areas originally extended north, south and east of the mansion. The area to the south was planted with parkland specimen trees and featured a ha-ha. However the ha-ha was filled in and the trees felled to create playing fields. The area remains open today as lawn and a specimen cypress survives from the old parkland planting. To the north of the house and walled garden, the area of parkland is kept as grazed land, rising steeply above the mansion. A modern dwelling has been built in this area. North of the old Toward Castle ruin (to the east of the house) is a small area of parkland with some notable specimen trees including sycamore and cedar of Lebanon.


East and west of the mansion, there are two north-south strips of woodland extending from the high ground to the north down to the shore-line road A815. From a line to the north of the mansion the 19th century plantations have been removed and replanted with commercial coniferous forestry of Sitka spruce, except for the area around Chinese lakes where birch, beech, oak and Scots pine predominate. From a line roughly south of the mansion, mature deciduous woodland predominates with beech, oak, elm, sycamore, lime and horse chestnut. Locally there are also ornamental conifers including Scots pine, Western hemlock and Douglas fir.

There are some notable specimen trees still surviving in the Castle Toward landscape, including a remarkable huge-girthed Griselinia littoralis immediately beside the old ruins of Toward Castle, and some interesting cut-leaved Japanese maples to the north of the old East drive near the viaduct. A mixture of broad-leaved trees including sycamore and oak grow on either side of the burn, providing a sheltered canopy.

Walled Garden

The North Walled Garden is abandoned while the East Walled Garden contains little of plant interest. There is, however, an interesting collection of wall-mounted shrubs on the outer west wall of the East Walled Garden, including an unusual wall-trained Ginkgo biloba, the maidenhair tree more commonly grown as a tree. The south walled garden and loggia are currently (2005) leased to the BBC for the making of a children's television series. To the east of this walled garden and towards the burn are good specimens of Crinodendron and some large-leaved Rhododendrons.

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts

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

Reason for Inclusion

This estate is an important example of a 19th century designed landscape on the Firth of Clyde made possible through mercantile money generated in the industrial revolution. It has suffered neglect since 1945 but is still an impressive and intact designed landscape. Much of importance and value remains of what was an important Victorian estate with equally significant Edwardian additions.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

The designed landscape dates primarily from the 19th century with many additions made during the 1930s.

Site History

The 15th century Toward Castle began as the Lamont stronghold, was added to in the 17th century and then left in ruins following a siege and clan massacre by the Campbells in 1646.

General Roy's Military Survey (c.1750), the first accurate large scale landscape survey does not show any evidence of an 18th century designed landscape at the southern end of the Toward Peninsula.

The Glasgow businessman, MP and later Lord Provost of Glasgow, Kirkman Finlay acquired the estate in 1818 from the Campbells. He employed the Glasgow architect David Hamilton to design a new mansion, a marine villa called Castle Toward, to be designed in the castellated picturesque Gothic style that was fashionable at the time. Kirkman Finlay made a huge fortune exploiting new Asian markets for cotton, and did much to improve Glasgow's international trade, including breaking through Napoleon's Continental blockade. He was also made Lord Rector of the university and a statue of Finlay stands in the vestibule of Glasgow's Merchants' House. He began work on the remodelling of the estate soon after its acquisition. Although the figure may be exaggerated and is more likely to be in the tens of thousands, an 1854 account in the Scottish Gardener states that 5 million trees were planted by 1841, covering an area of nine hundred to a thousand acres.

The first edition Ordnance Survey map of 1864 shows the mansion in an elevated position at the centre point of a planting composition which frames views south to the Firth of Clyde. The primary approach passes a pair of lodges via the 15th century ruins of Toward Castle arriving at the dramatic forecourt of the mansion. Features evident at this time included a viaduct across the burn, a walled kitchen garden, an ornamental rock garden and burnside walks with associated ornamental planting.

During the late 19th century various changes were made to the estate, most importantly the realigning of the east drive, necessitating the removal of half the kitchen garden. This and other changes are recorded on the 2nd edition Ordnance Survey map of 1899. Edward Latrobe Bateman, an Anglo-Australian with Scottish connections, probably instigated further landscaping changes around 1887-1888. There is evidence of his correspondence with the Finlay Family at this time, and he was known to be involved with landscaping works at Ascog House on Bute, a short distance across the water from Castle Toward. Bateman was a graphic artist and interior designer who had made a name as a landscape designer in Australia when he was commissioned to design Fitzroy Gardens, a major park in Melbourne, in 1864. However, with the multiple layers of improvements in the grounds of Castle Toward it is extremely difficult to pinpoint exactly which improvements Bateman would have been responsible for.

In 1919 Castle Toward was sold to Major Andrew Coats, who with his younger brother James, ran a Paisley-based thread manufacturing business. Between 1919 and 1945 Coats invested enormous sums of money in the estate. The mansion was doubled in size and formal paved terraces were built to the south and west of the house. A new walled garden was built to the north of the house and new glasshouses were constructed in it by Mackenzie and Moncur. A new loggia and workshops were built against the north wall of the existing 19th century walled kitchen garden to the east of the house. An ornamental water garden with lily pond built added to the south side in what constituted a complete remodelling of this older walled garden. The architect of these structural improvements and alterations was Frank W. Deas, a 'pupil' of the well-known architect Sir Robert Lorimer. A new ha-ha was constructed in the parkland and trees and shrubs were planted extensively throughout the grounds. New stone-lined water supply reservoirs incorporating designs in the Chinese style and called the Chinese Lakes were constructed much higher up Toward Hill to the north of the house. These supplied water to the estate and are outwith the designed landscape boundary.

In 1939, the Government requisitioned the house from Coats for use by the Special Services Operations during World War II. Castle Toward became 'H.M.S. Brontosaurus' during this period in its history, and there are Nissen Huts in the grounds and an Anderson Shelter beside the house. After the war the site was sold to Glasgow Corporation for use as a convalescent school and then outdoor centre. The gradual decline since then has seen the progressive abandonment of many elements, the demolition of two gate lodges and the felling of many important trees.

Associated People
Features & Designations


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

Key Information





Principal Building

Domestic / Residential





Open to the public