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Crathes Castle


The castle and gardens are surrounded by 18th- and 19th-century parkland and estate woodlands, which contain a few 17th- or 18th-century plantings as well as many late-19th-century conifers. The gardens are structured in 8 compartments, making a rectangle. The northern four sections, known as the formal gardens, follow a 19th-century layout and are enclosed by yew hedges. The southern four sections, enclosed by a wall, have individual gardens with 20th-century planting schemes. There are herbaceous borders and many other themed gardens containing herbaceous plants, trees and shrubs.

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

No information available.

Location and Setting

Crathes Castle is situated off the A93 some 5 miles (8km) east of Banchory and some 15 miles (24km) west of Aberdeen. It lies on the northern bank of the River Dee in the gentle rolling landscape of the Aberdeenshire plain on the eastern edge of the Grampian foothills. The policies are bordered on three sides by minor roads and on the fourth by the A93(T). The northern climate affects the garden by allowing only a short growing season and very cold easterly winds in the spring. The annual rainfall is about 32.5". The soil in the walled garden is a rich loam.

Crathes Castle is mainly surrounded by farmland with a few large woods growing in the poorer areas. From the policies, there are long views south-east across the River Dee to the Durris Forest which rises to the hill of Cairn-men- earn 1,240' (378m) and south towards Mongour Hill 1,230' (375m). The woodland canopies of the shelterbelts provide some variety in the surrounding scenery, especially from the A93. From the roads there are occasional glimpses of the policies through the woodland shelterbelts.

The Castle lies almost in the centre of the policies. A large block of woodland shelters it from the westerly winds and it overlooks the open park to the east. The policies are almost triangular in shape and are bordered by roads, except for a small area in the south-east corner. Their extent has hardly changed since General Roy's plan of c.1750 but their layout was altered at the end of the 18th century and beautified by 1864, the date of the 1st edition OS plan. In the late 18th century the southern park and part of the eastern park were cut out of large blocks of woodland which extended around the Castle on three sides. At this time the fields on the eastern side, which had been enclosed on three sides by woodland, were also laid out. Two long rides which cut through the wood in General Roy's plan had gone by 1864 but the avenue near the castle is probably a remnant of this early formal feature. The designed landscape today comprises 724 acres (293ha).

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Crathes Castle, listed category A, was built between 1553 and 1596 by the Bell Brothers, master-masons. Its wing was added early in the 18th century. There were further minor alterations in 1830s and more additions in 1894. In 1966 a serious fire burnt down part of the 18th century wing which was rebuilt with only two storeys instead of the previous three because during the rebuilding it was discovered that it originally consisted of two storeys. The Doocot, listed category B, was probably built in the early 19th century and rebuilt on the present site in 1935. The Walled Garden was probably built in the early 18th century. The Glasshouses, built in the 1900s by Mackenzie and Moncur were demolished in 1978 and a replica rebuilt by Stewart, a local contractor. There are Statues, Fountains and a small 19th century rustic Shelter sited in the gardens.

The Stables and Farm Buildings lie to the north-east of the Castle and were probably built in the early 19th century. There are two Ice House. The East Lodge is a 'picturesque cottage' probably built in the 19th century at the same time as the West Lodge. To the east of the East Lodge is a Bridge, listed category C(S), over the Burn of Coy. It is early 19th century and was the road bridge before the A93 was re-aligned. The Keeper's Cottage and Kennels are also 19th century.


In the early 18th century, the policies were on the east side of the Castle, shaped like a rectangular block and enclosed on three sides by woodland. In the late 18th century it is thought that they were redesigned by Robert Robinson. The informal layout can be clearly seen on the 1st edition OS plan of 1864. This shows that part of the southern block of the 18th century woodland was cut out to make the present parks and the clearing was designed to leave curving edges along the plantations. Several large clumps were also left in the centre of these parks and a another woodland strip was planted between the Castle and Carlieth Wood. A few individual trees were left in the northern sections and one or two in the southern ones. Most of these had gone by 1900. Today there is only the occasional tree remaining in the fields, most of the woodland boundaries have been straightened, and most of the parkland is ploughed for arable crops.

The entrance drive winds through Milton Wood and along a narrow water body containing several islands which were made by damming the Burn of Coy. The northern end curves away towards the east which produces the illusion of greater size, but recently the pond has become silted up and much of its shape has been blurred by weed growth. In the 19th century, where the drive crossed the park, the woodland strip was quite narrow. Recently, the plantation on the southern side of the drive was enlarged and this extra woodland spoils the original layout which emphasised the contrast between moving through dense woodland and passing by open parkland.

The entrance drive passes the potting shed and other ancillary buildings of the Walled Garden and until the car park is reached the Castle is hidden by the Flower Garden walls. In the 19th century, the drive swept south of the Garden and approached the castle from the west, alongside the magnificent lime avenue. On arrival, this route gave an inspiring view of the castle. Many interesting conifers were planted along the East Avenue, some in the 1890s and others later in about 1920. These include a fine Taxodium distichum, a Picea breweriana, and the rare Taiwania cryptomeroides, a relation of the Cryptomeria.


There are several old and large trees in the woodlands, some of which could date back to the early 17th century. The main blocks were planted about 1700 by Sir Thomas, 3rd Baronet, and these can be seen in General Roy's plan, of c.1750. Within Ley Wood, some remnants of this planting can still be seen, especially the magnificent Scots pine growing over large stone outcrops. Many of the southern woods including Milton Wood and Miller's Ward Wood were planted when the informal park was laid out in the 1790s. Some of the hardwood trees remain but most have been felled and were replanted shortly after World War II with mixed conifers, including some Sitka spruce, Douglas fir and Abies grandis. A deciduous fringe with a Rhododendron understorey was left around the edge of the woods particularly in Ley Wood. Following a devastating gale in 1950s, more areas of the woodlands were planted up with conifers by the Trust.

In the late 19th century many conifers were planted around the castle and along the footpath towards the stone outcrop, some half a mile west of the Garden. There are fine examples of a large Monkey puzzle, over 21m (70 ft) tall; a massive Cedrus deodora, and a Japanese umbrella pine (Sciadopitys verticillata) and a huge Abies procera over 35m (115 ft) tall. In 1981, over 40 trees in this area and along the drives were measured by Alan Mitchell.

Once part of the 18th century carriage drives, the double avenue of lime trees was probably first planted in about 1702. Some of the trees were replaced in the 18th century or early 19th century and since 1973 the Trust have been undertaking a long term programme of replanting. (The Lime avenue was felled in 1985/86 and replanted in the form shown on the OS survey plan of 1861).

The Gardens

The Gardens lie to the east of the Castle and are said to have been first laid out by Sir Thomas Burnett, 3rd Baronet. Enclosed by either hedges or walls, they are almost a perfect rectangle made from two squares. The upper square contains the Formal Garden and its layout today is almost the same as that shown on the 1st edition OS, dated 1864. It is divided into two terraces, which are on different levels, by a huge yew hedge and the terraces are joined by steps. The lower one is further subdivided into two gardens by extensions of the high hedge which runs along the narrow central path. The lower square is enclosed by a 3m high stone wall and before Sybil, Lady Burnett, created the present garden, it was the vegetable garden.

In the yew hedges, there are several enormous boles suggesting that these trees could have been part of the 18th century layout. A description of the garden in 1824 states that there is 'an excellent Kitchen Garden in the Old Style, with magnificent holly hedges, an abundance of prolific fruit trees, and venerable exotic shrubs' indicating that some of the yew hedges and the corkscrew topiary were probably planted from 1876 onwards by Sir Robert Burnett, 7th Baronet. Gertrude Jekyll visited the garden in about 1895 and used at least three illustrations of it in her book 'Some English Gardens' published in 1904, where she described the 'brilliancy of the colour masses' growing there. In 1926, when Sir James Burnett and his wife began gardening, Jekyll's writings greatly influenced their design.

The layout of the Upper Garden is similar to the Victorian scheme and has been only slightly modified. The top terrace is divided into two unequal parts, the southern one is now a plain grass croquet lawn, enclosed on two sides by a hedge and entered from the Castle through a gate framed by two enormous corkscrew topiary yews. The upper pool garden contains a square pool marked by blocks of clipped yew at each corner and in the outer corners the beds are filled with colourful and unusual shrubs and herbaceous plants. In the lower terrace, the northern square is filled with a parterre of blue annuals which surrounds a tall fountain. The statue is said to be a copy of the one in Pallazio Vechio in Florence. The Rose Garden lies in the southern square. Each bed is planted with floribunda roses and bordered by lavender. The pattern is completed by a large Stranvaesia davidiana growing in the centre. In the south east corner, there is a small rustic 19th century wooden shelter. (Since the survey the Stranvaesia has been replaced by three Malus).

The Lower Garden is divided into four quarters by paved paths. Each compartment has been made into an individual garden. Between the gardens and paths are double herbaceous borders. These borders are one of the showpieces of Crathes garden and careful colour combinations of plants have been chosen to contrast with the adjacent border or garden, usually emphasising only one or two colours.

Walled Garden

The lower square contains the Walled Garden and in it there are six separate gardens and nine different types of border. Each garden has a theme and these include the Trough Garden, Golden Garden, Red Garden, Wild Garden, Camel Garden (called after two mounds of grass) and Nursery Area. The borders too are called after their themes such as Aviary Border, West Herbaceous Border, Berberis Border, Doocot Border, June and White Borders.

Although Crathes is primarily an herbaceous garden with an enormous plant range, there are also many unusual small trees and shrubs including Decaisnea fargesii, Garrya fadyenii, Carpenteria californica, Hoheria lyalli var. ribifolia and several others which are normally too tender to grow so far north. The large Eucalyptus gunni}i died in the cold frosts during the winter of 1981/82. Many of the herbaceous plants are short lived and most of them have been replaced since the Trust took over but the planting design and colour patterns have continued the themes set out or discussed with Lady Burnett.

Along the northern wall is the early 20th century glasshouse which was rebuilt in 1978. The Doocot at the south eastern corner was also renovated and moved there by the Burnetts in 1935. The row of ancillary garden buildings including the potting shed is in use and well maintained.

In the old orchard just south of the walls, Sir James laid out a shrubbery filled with unusual small trees and large shrubs. Amongst many others, there are some interesting Snakebark maples. Recently many of the older shrubs have been pruned or replaced. The old vegetable garden just to the east of the drive is now used as a nursery.

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts


01330 844525

Access contact details

The gardens and grounds are open throughout the year. Opening times vary seasonally.


Stagecoach Bluebird buses from Aberdeen stop at the estate entrance (ring 01224 212266).


The National Trust for Scotland


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

Most famous for its outstanding gardens which were started in the early 17th century and were admired by Gertrude Jekyll in the 1930s. The wider 18th-century designed landscape of parkland and woodland makes an impressive setting for the A-listed castle.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

No information available.

Site History

The first garden was probably laid out in the early 17th century. The designed landscape had been planted in the formal style by the mid 18th century and the parkland was created in the latter part of that century. The gardens near the House were renovated in the late 19th century and remodelled in the mid 20th century.

Crathes Castle was built in the second half of the 16th century by Alexander Burnett. It was completed by his grandson, who had inherited substantial ecclesiastical property from his mother. The Burnett's were first granted land in Aberdeenshire in the 14th century and their earliest home was on the Island of Ley. Sir Thomas Burnett, 1st Baronet (1619-1653), probably laid out the first garden at Crathes. Although he had parliamentarian leanings, he did not join in the Civil War thus avoiding any damage to his property. When his grandson, Sir Thomas, 3rd Baronet, inherited in 1663, he extended the Castle by adding the 'Queen Anne' wing partly to accommodate his 21 children. Following the Act of Union in 1707, he served in the Westminster parliament and was a local dignitary. The planting of some of the large yews in the terrace to the east of the Castle have been attributed to him.

Sir Alexander, 4th Baronet, inherited in 1714. By 1750 a fairly extensive formal landscape surrounded the Castle which can be seen on General Roy's plan, but it is not known which laird laid it out. Sir Alexander's son succeeded in 1758 and died a year later leaving no direct descendant. After a 7-year legal struggle, Sir Thomas Burnett of Criggie succeeded to the title and property. It is thought that in the 1760s, he asked Robert Robinson to landscape the park. Sir Thomas' son altered the Castle and initiated various changes in the grounds. He died in 1837 and the property was inherited by his three sons in succession. His grandson, Sir Robert, 7th Baronet, was a successful rancher in California but when he succeeded in 1876, he returned to Scotland with his American wife. Together they modernised the Castle and replanted the ornamental gardens which were commented on by Gertrude Jekyll and others in the later part of the 19th century.

Major General, Sir James Burnett, 13th Baronet, and his wife Sybil transformed the garden which his uncle had made. From 1926 to his death in 1953, Sir James enthusiastically gardened. Shrubs and trees were his interest, while his wife, influenced by Gertrude Jekyll and her book 'Colour Schemes for the Flower Garden', created her own fabulous flower garden within the Walled Garden. A year before he died, Sir James gave Crathes Castle and part of the policies to the National Trust for Scotland.

Features & Designations


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


  • Dovecote
  • Summerhouse
  • Description: A 19th-century rustic shelter in the Rose Garden within the formal gardens.
  • Icehouse
  • Description: There are two icehouses.
  • Fountain
  • Description: The fountain is in the centre of a parterre in the Fountain Garden in the formal gardens. The statue is said to be a copy of the one in Pallazio Vecchio in Florence.
  • Kennels
  • Herbaceous Border
  • Description: The world-renowned double 'June Borders' in the Walled Garden.
  • Fortified House (featured building)
  • Description: A 16th-century tower house with later additions, partly rebuilt in 1966 after a fire.
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
  • Pool
  • Description: A square pool in the upper part of the formal garden with its corners marked by blocks of clipped yew.
  • Topiary
  • Description: Some of the yew hedges dividing the formal garden may date back to the 17th and 18th centuries. Corkscrew yew topiary marks the entrance to the croquet lawn.
  • Avenue
  • Description: A double avenue of lime trees, replanted in the late 20th century on the site of the original avenues on the 18th-century carriage drive.
Key Information





Principal Building

Domestic / Residential





Open to the public





  • Historic Scotland