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Cromarty House


The designed landscape lies on the lower, north-facing slopes of Gallow Hill, directly on the shores of the Cromarty Firth. The house faces northwards with parkland to its south and south-west. The parkland is enclosed by woodlands, which screen the town and the Firth.

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

An informal 19th century designed landscape, incorporating features surviving from earlier formal landscapes. Although little is known of the Cromarty Castle landscape pre-1753, its form dictated some of the subsequent landscape configuration, an example being the survival of The Causeway (known in the 18th century as Castle Street), the principal approach from town to Castle. The extensive mid 18th century formal landscape was designed by James May (c 1753) and remodeled during the early 19th century.

Location and Setting

Cromarty House and policies adjoin the east end of Cromarty town. The designed landscape lies on the lower, north-facing slopes of Gallow Hill, directly on the shores of the Cromarty Firth. The house faces northwards with parkland to its south and south-west. The parkland is enclosed by woodlands, which screen the town and the Firth. Principal views from the house lead south-westwards over the parkland.

The site of Cromarty Castle lies to the north-west of the house above the Chapel Burn, which flows from the south-west to form a deeply incised valley. To the north-east of Cromarty House, the opposite side of Chapel Brae, is the site of St. Regulus, a pre-reformation chapel with its graveyard, set within a triangular-shaped terrace. The Coalheugh Well, below the graveyard, is a domed masonry structure adapted c 1850 to form part of the public water supply.

The woodlands surrounding Cromarty House and forming the policies' field boundaries are prominent in the coastal landscape. To the south-east is Gallow Hill, originally planted as part of the designed landscape that retains remnants of a 19th century footpath network leading across the South Sutor. There are good vantage points from which to view Nigg Bay, the Cromarty and Moray Firths.

The designed landscape relating to Cromarty Castle and subsequently Cromarty House, incorporated Gallow Hill and most of the South Sutor. This formal landscape became progressively informal during the late 18th/early 19th century. By the mid-19th century when the policies were largely remodeled by the Ross family, the ornamental policies included the vestiges of earlier formal plantings in the form of avenues and perimeter belts delimiting formal enclosure fields. These survive as important landscape features. The extent of the designed landscape remains unchanged.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Cromarty House a classical mansion of 1772, comprises a main block with lower flanking wings. The architect is unknown. The main block, built of finely-dressed ashlar, has two storeys and attic, a five-bay front with slightly advanced and pedimented centre, approached by steps. The rear elevation has a bowed centre. South-east of the house are the Stables, a two-storey, seven bay U-plan range, contemporary with the house. The north side, facing the principal approach, is of ashlar and cherry-cocked rubble and Diocletian windows lighting the stalls behind. The stables were repaired and restored in the 1990s.

The late 18th century vaulted Servants' Tunnel leads north-eastwards, underground from the house, to the public road. Its roadside entrance has iron gates and flanking walls. The Graveyard, to the north of Cromarty House, contains the vault of the ruined St. Regulus' chapel, converted in the mid 19th century to form the Ross family vault.

Denny Road Lodge and entrance gate mark the north-west entrance to the policies. North of the house stands the hexagonal Walled Garden and the bottle-shaped Castle Well. Further north is a ruinous Ice House, set into the side of the hill.

Drives and Approaches

The main approach to Cromarty Castle probably led up a steep ramp (still discernable), directly in from Church Street, alongside and outwith the western boundary of the Walled Garden.

The main approach to Cromarty House was laid out uphill east of the town, to provide an elevated approach. The east drive curves northwards to terminate at a gravel forecourt at the south front.

The west drive, constructed in the mid 19th century, led directly in from the public road (now A832) at the Denny Road Lodge. Although now disused, it can still be traced with a row of lime on its north side and sheltered on its south by woodland. As it leads gently north-eastwards to the house, so it forms the north-west boundary of the park, sheltered on its north by woodland, interplanted with ornamental trees and shrubs, including Wellingtonia, Western hemlock, Irish yew, Western red cedar and fern-leafed beech. Banks of Rhododendron, Azaleas, cherry laurel and Portuguese laurel partially enclose the drive, forming an evergreen corridor.


The parkland, roughly oval in shape, lies south-west of Cromarty House. Totally enclosed by mature mixed woodland, it is now in agricultural use (arable 1998). Early 20th century photographs show numerous, well-spaced parkland trees, which survive on the northern edge of the park.

The enclosures on the slopes of Gallow Hill were formed by 18th century agricultural improvements and related to the formal landscape design. Several mature tree boundaries and avenues survive forming important landscape features. The avenue on the south side of Cromarty headland is particularly significant.


The oldest woodlands are found along the banks of the deeply incised burns to the north-west and south-east of Cromarty House. They appear semi-natural in origin containing mature oak, ash, elm, beech, sweet chestnut and lime, alongside numerous mature trees stumps, dating perhaps to 17th (?) and 18th century planting. The valley west of the house was laid out as a woodland garden, with serpentine walks leading down to the Walled Garden. The network of footbridges and minor paths, some lying on terraces with viewing points, survives in part.

The mid 19th century woodlands enclosing the parkland to south and west, have been restocked and regenerated during the last 40 years. Sitka spruce predominates in the southern belt, while the west combines young and semi-mature ash, oak, beech, elm and gean. Denny Road Lodge is set amidst mature trees dating from the 1850s, mainly oak, beech and mixed conifers. Nothing survives of the extensive formal planting scheme on Gallow Hill, now mostly hill pasture. Some woodland remnants exist on the raised beach east of the graveyard, and trees, especially beech, line several 19th century footpaths.

The Gardens

The gardens lie south of the house and Chapel Burn. There is an oval-shaped Rose Garden, enclosed by shrub roses and rhododendron. An ornamental well stands in its western corner. To the north of the stables, east of Chapel Burn, is an open area framed by a number of large ornamental shrubs, mostly Rhododendrons.

North of the house is a lawn, crossed by a straight walk lined with Lonicera hedges, which leads into woodland set above the walled garden. To the north west is a large lawn, which marks the site of Cromarty Castle and is a good vantage point overlooking the town and Cromarty Firth.

South of the house, a lawn, set against the gravel forecourt, is planted with specimen trees, sycamore, Wellingtonia and Thuja.

Walled Garden

The walled garden, on lower ground to the north of the house, is adjacent to the town. Roughly hexagonal in plan, it is divided east-west by a wall. The Garden House (20th century) stands in the north-west corner. The remainder of the garden is disused and the walls are deteriorating (2002).

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts

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 policies of Cromarty House are historically important both in their own terms and in terms of the settlement history and landscape setting of the town of Cromarty. In addition, they make a major contribution to the landscape character of the area.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

Mid 18th century.

Site History

In the 17th century, Cromarty Castle, belonging to the Urquhart family, stood on high ground with the settlement of Cromarty to its north-west. Little is known of its landscape layout, but it was the administrative centre of the small sherrifdom of Cromarty, established in the 13th century. The Castle, a substantial L-plan tower, dated from the 15th century, to which an extensive rage of domestic buildings was added in 1632 by Sir Thomas Urquhart (d.1660). Plans of the Castle, possibly made in connection with a proposal to establish it as a barracks after the 1745-6 Jacobite rising, survive (Stell, 1986). Although a plan of 1753 indicates the layout of the castle grounds, it is not certain whether the plan is indicative of proposals or is a survey of an existing layout (May, 1753).

Sir George, Viscount Tarbat, Lord MacLeod and Castlehaven (1632-1714), acquired the Urquhart property by the 1680s and, when he was created an earl in 1704, took his title, Earl of Cromartie, from this estate. Mackenzie, using his significant social and political status, had begun to direct the economic and social fortunes of Easter Ross (see Castle Leod; Tarbat House; Strathpeffer Spa). The small Cromarty estate had, however, been transferred to his second son, Sir Kenneth Mackenzie (c 1658-1729) before 1700. From 1729 it was in the hands of Sir Kenneth's son, Sir George Mackenzie of Grandvale and Cromartie, whose mounting debts forced him to sell the property in 1741 to Captain John Urquhart.

Urquhart, a kinsman of the last Urquharts at Cromarty Castle, had already acquired another former Urquhart property at Craigston, Aberdeenshire in 1739 (q.v. Inventory, Volume 3, pp.179-83). He undertook agricultural improvements and estate landscaping at both properties. Between 1747-53, he commissioned James May, his surveyor and gardener at Craigston, to prepare several plans of the Craigston policies and in 1753, a proposal plan for Cromarty Castle. This plan indicated a model landscape of woodlands and agricultural estate linked to the formal Castle grounds by a wide tree-lined drive bounded, on its northernmost approach to the Castle by policy walls.

To the south-west of the castle, on slopes facing the Cromarty Firth, Urquhart laid out a regular pattern of enclosed fields, serviced by straight drives linking the castle, mains farm, plantations and farms. The castle was furnished with an enclosed formal garden to the south-west, set with formal walks. Gallow Hill was thickly planted with trees, forming an 'étoile' of twelve rides radiating from a central hilltop 'rond-point'. May's plan identifies the views from the hilltop, including those to 'Dunrobin and Kulrofie' (Calrossie, near Fearn), 'Dornoch Town and Glastulich, Newtarbat and Balnagown, Alness Town, Inverness Town and Castle, Chanonry Point and Rofsmarkney', Nairn and Forres. A spiral walk led to the summit (May, 1753).

Estate records for 1752-58 itemise the work undertaken in enclosures, dyking, and tree planting. James May's planting list of 1756 has survived, itemising 136,363 trees and an additional plantation of 2,000 trees. In 1758, 13,000 trees planted included oak, fir, ash, elm, plane and birch. Fir seed was brought from nearby Balnagown and from Craigston (1759), which indicate that Urquhart was trying tree-seeding. This activity resulted in considerable employment ' 23 gardeners in 1757 and 12 in 1758.

In 1763, Urquhart's son William sold the estate to Lord Elibank, who acquired it for William Johnston, his nephew, to qualify him for a parliamentary seat. This achieved, the estate was sold on in 1768 to George Ross (1708/9-1786), a lawyer, of Pitkerrie. Ross, formerly confidential clerk to Duncan Forbes of Culloden (see Culloden) and subsequently patronised by Argyll, was a successful London-based army agent. Ross had built Rosedale House, Kew (c 1749, now part of the Royal Hospital), incorporating in this building the cottage formerly home to the James Thomson (1700-48), poet and author of the 'Seasons'.

He invested in both the Cromarty estate and the town, raising additional funds of £80,000 from his influential friend William Murray, Earl of Mansfield (1705-93). In collaboration with William Forsyth (1722-1800) a local merchant, Ross built a hemp factory (later used as a rope works), was responsible for the courthouse (1772), the harbour (designed by John Smeaton and built 1781'84), the brewery (1770s) and Gaelic Chapel (1783). Ross built Cromarty House by demolishing the old castle, which 'stood hard by where the present house is built, but came nearer to the slope of the bank; it was pulled down by the late proprietor in 1772' (Old Statistical Account, 1791-99). It was sited at the north end of the central axis of the Castle's formal gardens, themselves remodelled in an informal style. Ross also acquired many of the houses at the east end of the town, on the present Causeway, and built the high wall around the garden, making this part of the former royal burgh, in effect, part of the estate policies.

On George Ross' death, his half-nephew Alexander Gray Ross inherited Cromarty, along with considerable debts. As a result, in 1804, the estate was sequestered. A survey of the estate in 1823 (Douglas, 1823) indicates the landscape changes since the Castle's demolition, with destruction of the formal gardens and the étoile on Gallow Hill grown over. Eventually, the estate returned to the Ross family in 1847, Catherine Munro (d.1852), George Ross's niece gaining control. Catherine married Hugh Rose (later Rose Ross), the owner of extensive properties in Easter Ross (including Bayfield, Phippsfield and Calrossie), funded on supplying the British Fleet in the West Indies. The Rosses built the lodge and west drive, enclosed the park south-west of the house with shelter belts, laid out a rose garden and introduced ornamental planting throughout the policies. Hugh Rose Ross was known as an enthusiastic agricultural improver, responsible for modernising his properties. He oversaw the management of the policy woods, informal planting and the construction of footpaths on Gallow Hill and the headland. Further planting was done by George W. H. Ross in the late 19th century.

Despite the estate's high capital value, it was still encumbered by debt. Brigadier-General Sir Walter Charteris Ross (d.1928) sold some tenanted farms to reduce the continuing debt. By 1964, his son, Colonel 'Geordie' Ross, decided to sell the estate to the Nightingale family, retiring to a house built within the Walled Garden.

The estate remains in private ownership.

Features & Designations


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



Key Information





Principal Building

Domestic / Residential







  • Historic Scotland