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Cawdor Castle


The designed landscape at Cawdor Castle dates from the early-17th century and has been continuously developed since then by the Cawdor family. It comprises 18th- and 19th-century parkland, large tracts of woodland and formal gardens. Cawdor Woods include areas of lichen-rich native oak woodland as well as 18th- and 19th-century replanting, including some exotic species nearer the castle. The formal walled Flower Garden has a few features from the time of its creation in the early-18th century but the current layout dates largely from the mid-19th century. The 17th-century walled garden, or kitchen garden, was redesigned in the late-20th century.

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

A magnificent composition of designed landscape layers with informal parkland dating from the mid 19th century evolved from 18th century beginnings, woodlands, some managed continuously over a period of 350 years with dramatic gorge paths and woodland walks, a woodland or 'wild' garden created under the canopy of a mid-19th-century pinetum and flower garden first laid out in 1720 and further developed in the 20th century.

Location and Setting

Cawdor Castle is situated off the B9090 on the outskirts of the village of Cawdor some 5 miles (8km) south-west of Nairn and some 13 miles (21km) north east of Inverness. It lies on the Cawdor Burn, a tributary of the River Nairn, in the northern foothills of the Grampians overlooking the river valley. To the south the rising moorland borders the designed landscape and a minor road from Cawdor to Kirkton of Barevan and Newlands of Inchnacaorach surrounds Cawdor Wood. The Castle lies just above the alluvial plain of the River Nairn and the soil in the Gardens is a good loam. The climate is slightly affected by the Gulf Stream which curls around the north of Scotland. The annual rainfall is low, about 30" (773mm). On the north side the rich plain of Strathnairn is farmed and to the south the land is mainly heather moorland. Woodland runs along the river valley and Cawdor Wood forms part of that belt. There are long views to the north and north-east across the Moray Firth and to the Highland uplands beyond. The deciduous canopy of Cawdor Wood contributes variety to the surrounding scenery especially from Strathnairn.

Cawdor Castle lies at the northern tip of the policies overlooking Cawdor Burn and the village. The designed landscape is encircled by the lanes from Cawdor village. The policies were laid out in the mid-18th century; the formal design can be seen on a survey of 1782. The park was modified in the mid-19th century and its extent can be seen on the 1st edition OS plan of 1869. It has remained unchanged and covers an area of about 815 acres (330 ha). Research into the family papers has not been undertaken for this study.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

The central tower of Cawdor Castle, listed category A, was probably remodelled in the mid-15th century. In the 16th century the north and west wings were built forming the courtyard. Between 1660 - 1674 these wings were largely rebuilt. In 1848 the Castle was restored and remodelled by Thomas Mackenzie who died in 1854. In 1858 the courtyard was enclosed by an additional wing built by James Matthew who may have followed his deceased partner's scheme. There were further additions by Alexander Ross in 1884.

The Flower Garden or Walled Garden, listed category B, contains a small portion of medieval wall but most of the walls were rebuilt in the late 18th century. The Lower Garden, or Kitchen Garden, listed with the Flower Garden, also contains some medieval walls and was also rebuilt in the 19th century. The Gate Lodge and Entrance are individually listed as category B but are listed category A as a group with the Castle. The arched Entrance Gate was built in the 18th century and a portion of the old Castle wall is incorporated into the round-headed entrance which has a pair of studded doors. The Lodge was built in the 19th century. The Home Farm, listed category B, was also built in the late 18th century with some later 19th century additions.


The first park was probably laid out by Sir Hugh, the 15th Thane, and his son Archibald at the turn of the 18th century. There are several old trees dating from this period including a magnificent oak near the Lodge. A survey dated 1782 shows an avenue to the north of the Castle and a long canal or lochan to the east. Both have now gone.

By the 1st edition OS of 1869, the parks had been planted up in a looser and more informal style and there were several specimen trees planted in them especially at the southern end near Tomnaghuail Wood. Just to the south of the Flower Garden on the 1st edition OS plan, there are lines of trees forming a second rectangle slightly larger than the Walled Garden. The southern park appears to be unfenced and the drives curve gently through the open pasture. The Deer Park lies in the northern section running from the Castle to the Change House. There are few trees in it and red deer were imported from Islay and by 1725 there were '18 or 19' in the park. Most of these changes to the parks were probably carried out in the mid 19th century by the 1st Earl and much of his planting remains, particularly some fine specimens of beech.

The trees near Tomnaghuail Wood have been incorporated into a new plantation in a long finger-like shape. The pasture has been fenced into smaller units. The car park is situated just to the south of the Flower Garden under the few remaining trees of the rectangular feature. On the east side of the park near the Home Farm, a pitch and putt course has been laid out. The pasture to the south of the Castle and the Deer Park is grazed.


The woodland is divided by the Riereach Burn and the Auchindoune Burn tributaries of Cawdor Burn, into the Big Wood of Cawdor. Some of the oldest trees are in the triangle where the two burns meet and here there are several beech trees planted in about 1720. The eastern side of Big Wood was planted with Scots pines between 1790 - 1792 on reclaimed moorland. Most of the silver birch have been thinned out but some older ones remain. There are small blocks of conifers especially along the eastern side which include Noble firs, Norway spruces, Douglas firs and Scots pines. Riereach Burn narrows into a deep gorge only about 50' wide near the 'Hermitage'. This folly is marked on all the OS plans but was not found during the survey. Footpaths run along both sides of the gorge and were probably laid out in the late 18th century when the park was redesigned. These are now used as nature trails.

Cawdor Wood, of over 750 acres, has been continuously managed since at least 1650. Within it there are plantations of different varieties and the trees within them are of different ages. Along the Burns and near the Castle several fine ornamental trees were planted in the late 19th century and these include an enormous Wellingtonia, several Monkey puzzles, limes and the upright Camperdown elms. There are several young plantations of mixed conifers and hardwoods such as beech with larch and Noble fir with Juniper. The native Juniper grows as an understorey especially in the central area where it grows with sessile oak and birch. This natural woodland may have been growing at Cawdor for a long time. Pure stands, particularly of beech and larch, have also been used in other plantations. Cawdor is renowned for the quality of its larch many of which have grown with tall straight trunks. The Greystone Bridge crosses the Auchindoune Burn over another shallow gorge.

Woodland Garden

A pinetum was planted along the banks of Cawdor Burn in the mid-19th century, and in the 1960s a 'Wild Garden' was set out under some of the tall trees. The high arched bridge was built in the late 19th century and a photograph in a 1904 Country Life article shows many of the younger trees and the small Rhododendrons. Many of the conifers have grown well in the shelter and dampness of the narrow valley of the burn. The Wild Garden is full of Rhododendrons, Azaleas and small trees such as Snakebark maples and berried Sorbus. Colourful Primulas and spring bulbs carpet the banks.

The Gardens

The Flower Garden is also known as the Walled Garden. Part of the wall is said to be medieval but most was built or rebuilt at the end of the 18th century. Records indicate that the garden was enclosed and laid out in 1720 by Sir Archibald Campbell, son of the 15th Thane. Seed lists, mainly for vegetables, have been found. In 1681 vegetable seeds were being imported and a number of these varieties increased. These may have been grown in the Lower Garden. By 1725, according to his own report, Archibald wrote that he had 'levelled a considerable piece of ground a part whereof was a deep morrass and the rest a hill, of which he has made a handsome garden where all sorts of fruit grow that are in Scotland'.

Little is known about this garden in the 18th century when the family were absent. In 1850 plans for the garden were drawn up and Lady Cawdor, wife of the 1st Earl, designed the oval rose borders near the Castle and the drawing showed long rows of gooseberries running towards the southern end. This layout can be seen in the Garden today and some of the paths depicted on the plan still divide it into regular compartments. The photographs in the Country Life article of 1904 show the rectangular garden divided into symmetrical compartments bordered by neat gravel paths. Today grass has replaced some of the subsidiary paths. In the photographs, each compartment was filled with plants, either colourful flowers or rows of vegetables and no lawn could be seen. An arched walk stood on the east side. Most of this layout has been kept but the planting has been changed, except for some large yews.

Today, roses are still grown in the ovals surrounded by lavender. Some of the compartments also have flowers such as perennials and small shrubs. In others, yew hedges enclose grass lawns. Some fruits still grow up the walls but all the vegetables have been removed to the Lower Garden. From the Castle, and especially from the roof, the view over these colourful gardens is spectacular. On either side of the drive, which leads up to the dramatic drawbridge entrance, are large expanses of lawn. Grass also covers the steep banks of the old moat to the north of the Castle.

Walled Garden

To the north east of the Castle, the enclosed Lower Garden or Kitchen Garden is cut into the bank. Parts of the retaining stone walls can be dated to the medieval period but most are thought to be 18th century. The Garden is shaped in a long rectangle and it is shown on the 1st edition OS as an orchard. By the 20th century it was used to grow vegetables but these were drastically reduced in the 1970s. In 1981 Lord Cawdor designed and planted a holly maze in the northern section. There are proposals to replant the southern sections as a medieval garden with an orchard similar in style to the one mentioned in 1635.

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts


01667 404401

Access contact details

The site is open from April to October, daily from 10am to 5.30pm.



The Cawdor family


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 formal gardens, parkland, woodland and built features form the setting for one of the most romantic 16th century Scottish castles, and the whole composition makes a huge contribution to the surrounding scenery. The sessile oak trees in Cawdor Wood are believed to be part of an ancient primeval forest and host the largest variety of lichens in the UK. The flower garden was originally laid out in 1720 and in the early 20th century was remodelled on a theme of Dante's passage through hell. There has been a designed landscape here for more than 350 years, and the castle has been lived in by the same family for more than 600 years.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

First laid out early 17th century, the policies and woodland planted in the late 18th century, altered in the mid-19th century and the Flower Garden replanted in the 19th century and again in the mid-20th century.

Site History

The designed landscape was first laid out in the early 17th century; the policies and woodland were planted in the late 18th century and altered in the mid-19th century. The Flower Garden was replanted in the 19th century and again in the mid-20th century.

In 1454 William, the 6th Thane of Cawdor, was granted a licence to fortify Cawdor Castle. The story goes that, because of a dream, the site was originally chosen by a donkey laden with gold which lay down under a tree. This tree was then enclosed by the new tower. In the vaults there is the preserved stem of a holly tree which has recently been carbon-dated to 1372. In the early 1600s Sir John Campbell, the 12th Thane, began to improve the Castle. He added to the family fortunes by acquiring the Island of Islay and marrying his wealthy cousin from Taymouth. The first mention of a garden and an orchard was in 1635.

The 12th Thane died bankrupt and his son was mad. His grandson, Sir Hugh Campbell, the 15th Thane, restored the family fortunes and transformed the Castle. Educated in Europe, he returned following the Restoration and between 1663 - 1668 built new wings and renovated the old tower. In about 1720, the walled Flower Garden was laid out by the then Thane's brother Sir Archibald Campbell. Sir Alexander Campbell, the 16th Thane, having been stormbound in Milford Haven then married a local heiress, Elizabeth Lort of Stackpole. Although sympathizing with the Jacobite cause, the Campbells of Cawdor spent most of the 18th century residing on their Welsh estates. Cawdor was managed by factors who were younger brothers or relations and it was one of these factors who laid out most of the policies and woodlands towards the end of the century. In 1789 John, the 19th Thane, married the daughter of the Earl of Carlisle of Castle Howard.

Throughout the 19th century, the family generally stayed at Cawdor in the late summer months and the Gardens were developed to provide colourful displays bet ween August and October. Lady Cawdor redesigned the Flower Garden in 1850. John, 5th Earl and 24th Thane, was the first member of the family, for over 200 years, to have lived permanently at Cawdor. With his wife, he replanted the Flower Garden and created a small wild garden on the banks of the rocky Cawdor Burn. His son Hugh, the 6th Earl, succeeded in 1970 and in 1981 with his wife laid out a holly maze in the Lower Garden. More work is planned.

Associated People
Features & Designations


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


  • Maze
  • Fortified House (featured building)
  • Earliest Date:
  • Kitchen Garden
  • Knot Garden
  • Stream
Key Information





Principal Building

Domestic / Residential





Open to the public





  • Historic Scotland