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Darnaway Castle


The extensive forests at Darnaway Castle date originally from the 18th century and were added to from the late-19th to the early-20th century. The 18th-century designed landscape also includes parkland, an arboretum and terraced and kitchen gardens.

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

Late 18th and early 19th century parkland and associated trees, avenues, clumps, woodland and forest form a structural backcloth to later additions of an arboretum and woodland walks. Late 19th and early 20th century formal terraced, Dutch and walled gardens adjacent to Darnaway Castle.

Location and Setting

Darnaway Castle is situated above the valley of the River Findhorn some 5 miles (8km) from the shore of the Moray Firth. The nearest town is Forres, 2.5 miles (4km) to the north-east. The River Findhorn forms a physical boundary along the east side of the policies where it emerges from a deep gorge. The A96 (T) from Nairn to Forres runs along the northern boundary of the site. There are extensive views from the Castle and from various points along the drives within the policies, out to the Moray coast and inland along the Findhorn valley to the hills beyond. The Castle can be viewed across the park from a minor road which passes through the estate.

Darnaway Castle is set at around 50m on a low plateau which is dissected by small tributary rivers of the Findhorn to the east and Muckle Burn to the west. The land slopes gently to the north. The designed landscape was laid out after General Roy's plan of 1750 which shows the then Tarnaway Castle with a simple enclosure to north and south of it. The 1st edition OS map of 1868 shows the extensive area of forestry planting which had been carried out, completely enclosing the home farm and the policies of the Castle. The extent of the designed landscape has remained similar to this to the present day and extends over some 2,827 acres (1,144ha).

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Darnaway Castle is a castellated three and four-storey mansion built 1802-1812 by Alexander Laing. The porch and perron were added in the 1870s and the ballustraded terrace was added in 1917. It incorporates Randolph's Hall, built c.1450 but refaced and altered in 1802. There is a two-storey office square added to the north-west corner of the mansion and an adjacent original one-storey garage courtyard, which was added in 1912-17. The East and West Gates and Lodges are dated 1868 and are category C(S) listed. The gatepiers are surmounted by urns, and the iron gates are gilded. The Earl's Mill Bridge is 18th century and category C(S) listed. There is also a Hydraulic Ram near the mill, and a very large walled garden with ornamental gates, the gatepiers surmounted by greyhounds. There are many pieces of ornamentation around the terrace, which is guarded by stone lions, including an unusual lectern-style sundial. The Kennels are built in a similar style to the lodges, and are still in use today. There is also a two-storey Coach-house and stables, and the Ladies Well.


Reference to the 1868 1st edition OS map indicates that there has never been a mass of parkland trees at Darnaway. However, the layout and planting of the parkland trees and clumps was carefully designed to frame the views out from the Castle, and to frame the Castle in the views from the surrounding roads and drives. A beech hedge and ha-ha divides the park from the terrace. Most of the park trees date from the early half of the 19th century, and many date from c.1928. Part of the parkland is grazed, whilst part is currently cropped. The views across the parks are framed by the forest beyond, which encloses the policies on all sides. The long sweeping drives were designed to provide an impressive approach to the Castle. The Earlsmill Drive approaches through beech woods, and an avenue of chestnuts, rowan, lime and gean was planted in 1928 by the 17th Earl.


The extensive area of plantations of Darnaway Forest have been planted up since General Roy's map of 1750, although there was once a royal hunting forest here, and the cutting of oaks was recorded in the 13th century. Since the 1870s, the woods have been planted with coniferous species and managed commercially but the estate has retained a hardwood edge, mainly of beech, for amenity purposes. There were 18 miles of woodland walks laid out within the Forest, all of which were maintained until after World War II. There are several waymarked walks and trails on the estate today. The Arboretum to the south-east of the Castle was planted in the 1870s and added to in the 1920s. It includes some good conifers from the 1870s and from the 1920s period, tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera), and Betula species.

The Gardens

Adjacent to the Castle is a balustraded terrace, below which on the south-east side is laid out a sunken lawn, which was in the past surrounded by rosebeds. At one side of the lawn is the lectern-style sundial. Early postcards of the north front of the house, before the terraces were built in the late 19th century, show a sloping bank roughly laid out with island shrub beds. The Dutch Garden was created from c.1912 and lies in a small court to the south-east of the house, adjacent to Randolph's Hall. The flower beds are now put to lawn, with flagged paths dividing them and surrounding a central pool. The walls are lined with rosebeds and a statue of Mercury looks over the garden from a double staircase above it.

Walled Garden

The walled kitchen garden is about ten acres in size and was shown on the 1st edition OS map as subdivided into four main compartments, each of which was further subdivided. The kitchen garden extended outside the walls and these adjoining areas were apparently planted with fruit. The Speedie Burn was canalised through the south-east length of the garden, and footbridges over it are shown on the 1868 map. A walk leads from the Castle along the canalised stretch of the burn to the walled garden and it was laid out with raked gravel up until 1973 when the kitchen garden was converted into a softwood nursery. There were once small cascades built into this stretch of the burn.

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

This early 19th century castle replaced an earlier baronial castle set in royal hunting forest. It is of high historical interest having long associations with the Earls of Moray with good survival of records. The landscape park, with its trees and clumps, avenues and woodland, enclosed on all sides by forest, makes a distinctive contribution to surrounding scenery, framing views to and from the castle and provide an impressive setting for the category A listed building. The undisturbed woodland and riverside habitats of Darnaway promote high nature conservation value.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

1780s -1812, 1868, 1872-1917, 1928, post WWII, 1982 - present

Site History

The extensive forests of Darnaway were begun in the 1780s by the 9th Earl of Moray. The present mansion was built between 1802-12 to the design of Alexander Laing. There are no known landscape designers at Darnaway. The forests were extended and replanted from 1872-1917 by Daniel Scott.

The first written references to Tarnaway record the King's permission to cut down oaks for the building of Dornoch Cathedral in 1291. In 1314 Robert the Bruce gave the Castle and Lands of Tarnaway to Thomas Randolph, his nephew, who had commanded the left wing of the Scottish army at Bannockburn. He was also created Earl of Moray. Randolph's Hall was built and named after him. Tarnaway Castle itself was started in the 15th century for one Archibald Douglas, who was killed in 1455, and it was finished for King James II. The former Castle has been described as a massive old baronial Castle, perched above a steep slope.

In 1562 Queen Mary bestowed the title and lands of Tarnaway on her half-brother James Stuart, later the Regent, and they have remained in his family ever since. However, it was not until the 9th Earl succeeded in the late 18th century that a designed landscape was laid out at Tarnaway. The 9th Earl, Francis, was known as the 'Tree Planting Earl' and he commissioned the building of a new Castle to the design of Alexander Laing. This incorporated Randolph's Hall and was built from stone quarried locally. The 9th Earl died in 1810 when the building was incomplete, and it was finished by his son, Francis, the 10th Earl. The park trees date from the early 19th century from around the time the house was completed.

The next phase of development at Darnaway occurred from c.1867 when the 13th Earl, Archibald, succeeded his half-brother. The lodges and gates were built in 1868 and probably their associated sweeping drives were laid out at this time. A grand external staircase was added to the mansion in the 1870s. In 1872 Daniel Scott was appointed as forester to the estate, and he was the architect of the commercial forests seen today during his 45 years' work on the estate. The arboretum was started during the 1870s.

The 17th Earl, Morton, who succeeded in 1910, continued planting more ornamental trees, added the Dutch Garden in 1917, and planted the limes along the avenue c.1928. Since World War II, when Darnaway was used as a hospital, the estate has continued to be managed on commercial lines, a modernisation programme starting in the early 1950s. Interpretation of the history of the Darnaway estate is displayed at the visitor centre at Tearie, two and a half miles west of Forres.


  • 18th Century (1701 to 1800)
  • Late 18th Century (1775 to 1799)
Associated People
Features & Designations


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


  • Castle (featured building)
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
  • Kitchen Garden
  • Garden Terrace
  • Tree Feature
  • Description: Arboretum.
Key Information





Principal Building

Domestic / Residential


18th Century (1701 to 1800)







  • Historic Scotland