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Duff House

Pgds 20111119 192633 Duff House


The riverside parkland once associated with Duff House has been the setting for a golf club since the early-20th century, although some early-19th-century planting remains. The grounds around what is now Duff House Gallery comprise a small formal garden and woodland walks, laid out in the late-18th century, which lead to a bridge over a gorge.

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 later 18th-century designed landscape of woods, walks, parks and ornamental architecture, celebrated for its picturesque qualities and associated with William Adam's flamboyant classical mansion, Duff House.

Location and Setting

Duff House designed landscape is located by the town of Banff on the north Aberdeenshire coast. Set on the west banks of the River Deveron, it occupies a long and varied stretch of terrain ranging from the hills and the deep river gorge spanned by the Bridge of Alvah to the south, to the open flood plain of the river near its mouth at Banff to the north. This varied landscape is integral to the overall design of the policies, with the gorge and steep wooded river banks lending drama to views from the scenic drive through the policies, and the open grounds closer to the town providing a suitable parkland setting for Duff House itself. The house, parkland and woodland canopy are very prominent in many views from in and around Banff, particularly from the Temple of Venus on the Hill of Doune, and the Bridge of Banff across the Deveron. Longer landscape views also incorporate the winding course of the river, and the partially wooded hills to the east and south, which also serve to frame views of the core grounds around the house.

Twentieth-century development has affected the setting of the designed landscape to varying degrees. The parkland by the river accommodates the historic Duff House Royal golf club, while the urban expansion of Banff and the development of its road system have altered the former relationship between the town and the northern edge of the policies. The designed landscape boundary was redefined in 2010. It excludes Collie Lodge (now the Tourist Information Centre) on the basis that this former gate lodge is significantly divorced from the rest of the designed landscape. The boundary does, however, include the Temple of Venus on the Hill of Doune, and the full extent of the drive to the Bridge of Alvah. The boundary encompasses some 215ha. (531ac.).

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Duff House, built 1735-41, is a substantial Baroque mansion designed by William Adam for William Duff, Lord Braco, later 1st Earl of Fife. The flanking pavilions and quadrants of Adam's original plan were never realised, leaving just the central block; a square-plan, 3-storey on raised basement mansion distinguished by fine exterior detailing, advanced corner towers, and an ashlar ram's horn stair on the principal south elevation. Other landscape features conceived by Adam include the round, polished ashlar, 2-stage Fishing Temple, erected on the island in the River Deveron, and the Temple of Venus, a belvedere in the form of a domed, arcaded rotunda built from 1737 on the summit of the Hill of Doune.

The 7-span Bridge of Banff over the Deveron was completed in 1779 to designs by John Smeaton, and was widened in 1881. It once lined up with the main drive to Duff house, and the harled, rectangular Bridge Gates House was originally one of a pair that flanked the former entrance-way. The original gates and gatepiers from this entrance are now located at Banff Castle, outside of the designed landscape boundary. The other surviving gate lodges are Collie Lodge in Banff, a single storey, 3-bay lodge of 1836 that once faced the northern approach to Duff House, and Eagles Gate Lodge, (now a private dwelling), erected c.1800 and located on the A97 to the south of the designed landscape together with late 18th-century square ashlar gatepiers, and abutting quadrant walls.

Within the pleasure grounds, the path south west of Duff House leads through Fife Gates, a pair of later 18th-century, polished ashlar gatepiers topped with carved stone urns. It continues past key architectural features. These include a rubble, dome-roofed ice house, built c.1800 (restored 1980), and beyond, the distinctive Duff House Mausoleum, a rectangular Gothick mausoleum constructed in 1790 with tombs, a fine cast and wrought-iron gate, and re-sited late 17th century tomb. The Bridge of Alvah over the Deveron marks the southern point of the route; a single-span, segmental arched bridge built high over the gorge in 1771-3 to designs by the 2nd Earl of Fife, possibly with Thomas Reid, and James Robertson, mason.

Other architectural features within the designed landscape include The Wrack, a mid 18th-century, 2-storey former industrial range, and to the south, Craig Cottage, a former gothic tower / summerhouse. Walkers in the woods to the west of the golf-club may encounter the later 19th-century dogs' headstone, while the former Duff House laundry (now a private dwelling) stands adjacent to the Fife Gates. To the north of the designed landscape, the 2-storey, rubble Barnyards range is now part of the golf club, but once formed part of the stabling and offices depicted on the 1st edition OS map (1865-70 OS 25'). Across the A98 road, the public walled garden incorporates a surviving length of S facing, brick-lined, rubble wall, (restored in 1982), an angle turret, a 19th-century bothy, and the vinery, a modern replacement for the 1872 Victorian glasshouse.

Drives and Approaches

One of the most important surviving features at Duff is the long, mainly wooded route through the policies, developed from 1767 as part of a scenic circuit of drives around the designed landscape (Tait 1985: 26). Attributed to an individual named William Bowie, it signalled a departure from earlier, formal fashions. The gardener, Thomas Reid, probably supervised its execution, reporting in a letter to the 2nd Earl on progress on a 'small walk made along the waterside which is near finished from the Bridge at Banff to the Bridge at Alvah' (Tait 1985: 26). By c.1800, this route served to connect monuments and landmarks in the grounds, including the Mount Carmel motte and Gothic mausoleum, and embraced the surprising diversity of the valley terrain, from the rugged crags and gorge upstream, to the more gentle woodland grounds closer to the house. It afforded an experience of landscape valued for its drama and picturesque qualities in the late 18th and 19th centuries (e.g. Harper 1843; Stat. Acc. (Banff) 1798: 324; Phillips 1806: 58-9). It also became a principal route within a wider network of walks, secondary paths, service roads, and entrance drives (1865-70 OS; 1896-8 OS).

Twentieth century improvements to the road system in Banff have substantially altered the original entrance points to the policies. Historic maps, photos, sketches and paintings show that formerly the Bridge of Banff over the Deveron was aligned with, and led directly onto a principal drive through the core park, its entrance clearly defined by gates and prominent, flanking lodges. This joined a shorter north drive which entered the grounds at Collie Lodge, built in 1836 at what was then the southern edge of Banff. Today, access to Duff House is from this former junction point, now on the A98, with the drive leading due south past the former stabling. Further south, the lodge at Eagles Gate marks the former southern approach to Duff, a curving route through Crow Wood which once linked up with the longer woodland circuit of drives near the Bridge of Alvah.


Much of the former core parkland accommodates the Duff House Royal Golf Club, established in 1910. The clubhouse is located near the main entrance to the policies, while the landscaped and planted golf course occupies a large area of the Deveron floodplain from the Bridge of Banff to the bend in the river at Scury Islands. Only the small area immediately around Duff House retains the historic character of a well-planted park, with the house secluded by mature, specimen copper beech, horse chestnut, lime and sycamore. The oldest of these trees may be approaching 200 years old (LUC 1987).

The original development of the parks took place alongside other landscape projects of the mid-later 18th century, with the broad sweep of open grass and carefully-sited trees at the core designed to provide a pleasant and fashionable setting for the house. Work on planting is recorded in some of the Montcoffer papers, and the landscape designer Thomas White advised on a scheme for Duff, probably in the later 1780s (Tait 1985: 27-8). Although no design-plan survives, later maps and estate plans reveal the distribution of specimens and loose clumps in the parkland around the house (NAS RHP31414/1-10; NAS RHP31309; NAS RHP20974; 1865-70 OS).


Mature broadleaf woodland remains a strong scenic element of the designed landscape as a whole. It provides a shady, secluded setting for much of the principal scenic drive and other secondary footpaths and routes through the policies. From Duff House, the core woodland extends south along the west banks of the Deveron to the Bridge of Alvah, with the sizable plantation of Crow Wood located to the south-west of the designed landscape. Further shelter strips extend along the western boundary of the designed landscape.

As with many of the other landscape components at Duff, work on establishing tree-cover in the estate gathered pace during the later 18th century and in 1803, the 2nd Earl was awarded a gold medal by the Royal Society of Arts for his 'extensive plantations of forest-trees and other agricultural improvements in North Britain' (Transactions 1803: 466). During the 19th century the maturing Duff woodlands attracted praise in contemporary accounts. Described in terms such as 'pretty and luxuriant' (New Stat. Acc. 1845: 281), and 'wide and distant' (Stat. Acc. 1798: 325), the extensive plantations offered a significant contrast to what was remembered as a formerly open, treeless landscape (Imlach 1868: 65).

Walled Garden

Located to the north of the designed landscape, Duff House walled garden is a long, rectangular area of public lawns, island beds and gravel paths laid out on two levels connected by central stone steps. Although now divorced from the rest of the designed landscape by the A98, the garden retains enough historic features to demonstrate its former function and ornamental appeal, such as the south facing, brick-lined rubble wall (restored 1982), a 19th century bothy and the angle-turret in the north-east corner. The modern glasshouse echoes the form of its 1872 Victorian predecessor.

For much of the 19th century, the garden covered a significantly larger area, with an additional rectangular length of productive grounds extending to the north, behind the buildings of Low Street and Bridge Street. Judging from Wood's town plan of 1823, this may have been the kitchen garden area or orchard, with the site of the present walled garden comprising a more open and looser arrangement of paths, park and trees (NAS RHP20974). By the 1850s, this area had acquired a more structured feel (NAS RHP31414/1-10; 1865-70 OS), and by the late 1890s, the northern garden grounds had been removed (1896-8 OS).

Historic maps also reveal another, former walled garden in the Duff House policies (NAS RHP31414/1-10; 1865-70 OS 25'). To the south west of the house on a site now known as The Orchard, there was a sizable area of enclosed, kitchen garden grounds that were concealed from the surrounding parkland and the scenic drive by perimeter plantations. By the end of the 19th century, this garden had been removed, leaving only the Duff House walled garden to the north.

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 later 18th-century scenic drive at Duff is an excellent example of this kind of landscape component. The designed landscape contains architectural features of national interest and a scheduled monument, while the historic documents known as the Montcoffer Papers are of major significance in chronicling the development of the designed landscape.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

1735-41 (house); 1760s-1800 (landscape)

18th Century

The story behind the construction of Duff House is well known. In 1734-5, William Duff, Lord Braco (1697-1763) dropped plans to improve his existing residence in Banff in favour of a more ambitious project; a new, classical country house located on a fresh site to the south of the town. Prominent architect, William Adam (1689-1748) was employed, and from the outset, thoughts of a grand formal landscape setting accompanied the decision to build, with Lord Braco writing to Adam in 1735 for a plan to 'conform to the Lines you took', and for nursery-man William Boutcher to 'make out a plan of my Ground' (Tait 1985: 24).

The formal scheme, however, remained unrealised and Duff House did not become the finished masterpiece as conceived by either patron or architect. The desire for grandeur came at a hefty financial cost. As building work progressed, dissatisfaction escalated and both sides brought cases to court. As a result, the intended wings for Duff House were never built, work on the interior progressed slowly, and the only elements of the formal landscape scheme to be executed were Adam's ornamental eye-catchers; the island Fishing Temple, and the Temple of Venus on the Hill of Doune. Duff did not become the splendid family home envisaged by Lord Braco, and commentators during the 18th century remarked upon the strange scene of the unfinished house standing starkly in open, unadorned grounds (e.g. Sanders 1773: 652).

The following decades, however, proved an era of major transformation. In 1763, Braco's son, James Duff, 2nd Earl of Fife (1729-1809) inherited the property. By this time, the trend for formal schemes had been eclipsed by a new landscape aesthetic, and Duff was a key player in devising new, more picturesque pleasure grounds for the site. Letters, written accounts, sketches, paintings, and other records in the Montcoffer papers help document both the material changes on the ground and attitudes to them. What stands out is the sheer amount of work carried out during the course of Duff's tenure. Like elsewhere across the family estates, trees were planted by their tens of thousands to create both woodland and parkland clumps, an effort applauded by contemporary society (Transactions 1803; Stat. Acc. (Gamrie) 1791: 475-6). The kitchen gardens were furnished with hothouses, and sown with a great variety of fruits, herbs and vegetable seeds. Meanwhile, estate workers gravelled paths, pruned and weeded in order to achieve the 'paradise' described by the factor, William Rose in a letter to the Earl in 1765 (Furgol 1985: 101). Privacy was obviously a concern with Duff writing to Rose suggesting measures for keeping 'idle people and cattle' from his park and drive (Furgol 1985: 101).

One of the most notable projects from the 1760s was the preparation of a scenic drive through the policies. This served to embrace both the drama of the landscape and to connect a series of landmarks and monuments. From 1790, one of the key features of this route was the mausoleum, a structure built for Duff near a medieval monastic site, and embellished with the relocated 17th-century carved tomb of an ancestor. The project appealed to the Earl's vocation as a keen antiquarian, and helped evoke a sense of tradition and ancestral belonging in what was actually a very new kind of landscape along the Deveron valley. In the 1780s, the well-known landscape designer, Thomas White, was also employed to improve the parkland around the house, although no plan of his work survives.

19th Century

Financial difficulties struck the estate in the earlier 19th century. Following the 2nd Earl's death in 1809, Duff passed first to a brother, and then a nephew, James Duff, 4th Earl of Fife (1776-1857). Following a military career, the 4th Earl initially adopted the high life at Duff. However, he found that his predecessor had entailed as much of the estate as possible, while leaving a good proportion of wealth to his elder, illegitimate son (Gow 1995: 41). By the 1820 and 30s, the accounts did not add up, and auctions were held to improve the estate finances. In contrast to the 2nd Earl, who had clearly wished to keep the town at bay, the 4th Earl allowed the people of Banff free access to the park and gardens (Gow 1995: 41).

Duff House enjoyed a brief Renaissance from the mid-19th century following the inheritance of the 5th Earl of Fife and the forging of royal connections through his own marriage to Lady Agnes Hay, and the marriage of his eldest son and heir to Princess Louise, eldest daughter of Edward VII. In 1870, David Bryce Junior was commissioned to build a new wing for the house (later destroyed by a stray Luftwaffe bomb), a new vinery was built in the north walled garden, and in the late 19th century, Duff became a venue for large and prestigious house parties. This era came to an end, however, with the turn of the 20th century. Mar Lodge was selected as a more suitable family residence and in 1906, Alexander, 6th Earl of Fife offered the house and core parks to the towns of Banff and MacDuff. In subsequent years, parts of the estate were sold separately, and in 1910, the Duff House Golf Club was established in the grounds.

20th Century

Duff became one of the earliest country houses to acquire a new role (Gow 1995: 42). It functioned as a hotel and then a sanatorium in the early decades of the 20th century before briefly re-opening as a hotel. Requisitioned during the second World War, it accommodated German prisoners of war, and later, billeted troops from Norway and Poland. Damaged by a stray bomb, and suffering from neglect, the future of the house and landscaped grounds seemed uncertain at this time. The Ministry of Works (a predecessor of Historic Scotland) acquired the house in the 1950s, and a programme of restoration and research continued into the 1980 and 1990s.

In 1995, Duff House was opened as a country house gallery, run by the National Galleries of Scotland. It remains a property in the care of Historic Scotland, while Aberdeenshire Council manages a significant proportion of the core grounds.

21st Century

The Duff House playing fields situated next to the River Deveron and Duff House and are part of the Fields in Trust historic protection programme and has been protected since December 2016 under the Queen Elizabeth Fields protection type.


  • 18th Century
  • Late 18th Century
Associated People
Features & Designations


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


  • Icehouse
  • Mausoleum
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
  • Temple
  • Description: Temple of Venus
  • Country House (featured building)
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
  • Summerhouse
  • Description: Two-storey summerhouse or fishing pavilion known as the Island Temple.
Key Information





Principal Building



18th Century





Open to the public


Electoral Ward





  • Historic Scotland