The estate of Dunninald is situated on a hilltop on the Angus coast south of the Montrose Basin and north of Lunan Bay. Dunninald Castle is an early-19th-century two-storey Gothic castellated mansion designed by James Gillespie Graham. The present garden lies mainly to the south of the present castle. A terrace built in 1901 to the south of the house overlooks an area of lawn and wild flower garden. This is bounded to the south by trees and the now disused south drive which is maintained as a grass walk. The small area of parkland lies to the north and west of the house and garden and is surrounded on all sides by perimeter woodland.
Type of Site
A small 18th-century park and an informal 20th-century garden set within an earlier structure, together with a walled flower and vegetable garden.
Location and Setting
The estate of Dunninald is situated on a hilltop on the Angus coast south of the Montrose Basin and north of Lunan Bay. It lies to the east of the A92. The designed landscape occupies a small irregularly shaped site bounded by minor roads. There is a view from the front of the house over the ha-ha to the parkland and woodland. Otherwise the site is self-contained.
The earliest reliable map of Dunninald is a survey of 1811 by George Robertson which indicates a landscape layout similar to that of the present site. The boundaries remain the same today.
Dunninald Castle is an early 19th-century two-storey Gothic castellated mansion designed by James Gillespie Graham. A pair of early 18th-century Renaissance Gate Piers, supporting vase finials, stand at the end of the beech avenue and on a north-south axis with the mount. The North Lodge and Gates comprise a Tudor-Gothic arch flanked by octagonal towers, battlemented parapet and screen wall incorporating a single-storey lodge. The South Lodge is a single-storey stone-built building with a slate roof and Gothic pointed windows. The South Entrance Gateway consists of four plain stone gate piers with pyramid cap stones. The design of the two hand gates reflects the Gothic tracery of the lodge windows. The semicircular stone wall, which probably once supported iron railings, are now surmounted by a beech hedge. The Stable Courtyard and Mains Steading are late 18th-century two-storey classical range buildings, designed by Sir John Soane. Built into the wall of the steading is a Dovecot with classical pediment, into which the flight holes are set. The Walled Garden is a mixture of brick and stone, the south wall being part of the old 17th-century house. The north wall is lined with brick on the inside and has rounded corners. Two fine wrought-iron gates, one decorated with symbols of each country of the British Isles, lead into the garden on the north and west sides and were constructed by Montrose blacksmith James Ross Brown in 1906 and 1907. A small shelter with a tile roof supported on Ionic stone columns is situated in the lower half of the walled garden. This shelter contains a stone excavated by Mr Quibell in 1913 in the Coptic convent of St Jeremias, Sakhara, Egypt, and installed here in 1915. A Commemorative Plaque is set into the wall by the west gate. The wall is raised behind and ornamented with ball finials. On the back of the wall, a Well with lion mask is protected within an open tiled roof shelter. A Ha-Ha with ditch and stone retaining wall separates the park and garden.
Drives and Approaches
Historically, the grey gravel drive which approaches the house from the northwest is the earliest existing entry. This drive makes a short curve to the north of the house and sweeps around to the west front. The Victorian north drive is shown on the 1904 OS map. The south drive was made when the present house was built around 1820, but has been closed and is today retained as a walk through the garden.
The small area of parkland lies to the north and west of the house and garden and is surrounded on all sides by perimeter woodland. The layout remains similar to that of the 18th century except for some broadening of the perimeter belts on the east and west.
The specimen tree plantings and roundels have thinned since the original layout. The roundels contain beech, larch, ash and conifers.
The woodland comprises the perimeter planting to the park and dates back to the 18th-century enclosure of the land. Apart from providing shelter to the policies, it provides the background to the park when viewed from inside the policies and from the house. There is a circuit through the perimeter planting. The general character of the woodland is deciduous with some coniferous plantations. The predominant species are beech, sycamore, Sitka spruce, ash, lime, rowan, larch and Scots pine.
Because of the exposed position of the site, the trees have been much subjected to storms so little of the 18th-century planting survives. Most of the woodland is 100 years old or less and is being constantly renewed.
An informal pond, created in the mid 19th century, is situated in the western woodland strip. It was closed in on the east post-1950 by the planting of a conifer plantation. The pond has been dredged, but the water levels are erratic.
The present garden lies mainly to the south of the present castle. The view from the front of the house faces west over a gravel sweep and a croquet lawn and continues uninterrupted over a ha-ha and into parkland. A terrace built in 1901 to the south of the house overlooks an area of lawn and wild flower garden. This is bounded to the south by trees and the now disused south drive which is maintained as a grass walk.
To the east of the house the garden is divided roughly in half by the beech avenue or Green Walk which runs north-south. It is likely that the avenue would originally have extended to the north with the mound as a focal point. However, the later east drive cuts through the north end of the avenue. The present north end of the avenue is marked by two Renaissance pillars. Similar pillars mark the mid-point of an avenue at nearby Brechin Castle. An informally planted area of trees, shrubs and meadow grass lies to the east of the beech avenue and to the north of the walled garden. Informally mown paths lead to an old aviary and to the walled garden. The southern end of the beech avenue is marked by two enormous yew trees on mounds, close to the site of the old house. At this point the beech avenue merges with the now disused south drive. A strip of mixed deciduous woodland, some of which dates from the early 18th century, lies between the old drive and the ha-ha. This strip is in fact a low wide bank, probably formed from the spoil of the ha-ha. The age of some of the trees planted on the bank indicates that the ha-ha is early 18th century. The trees include sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa), Wych elm and sycamore, underplanted with 19th-century plantings of Rhododendron ponticum.
The area to the west of the old drive also supports some very old trees, notably a larch. This area borders and forms part of the wild garden and contains a mixture of trees and shrubs underplanted with spring bulbs. The piece of ground to the east of the beech avenue is laid out with shrubs and specimen trees and is being developed as an arboretum. Mown paths lead through this area, particularly from the aviary in the north to the walled garden.
The walled garden lies to the south of the present house and incorporates a screen wall from the manor house in its southern boundary. The garden is on a gentle south-facing slope and is divided into two distinct upper and lower sections by a wall. The upper section covers approximately two-thirds of the walled garden and the lower section covers the remaining third. The glass-house range is set against the south side of the dividing wall. The lower walls, of dry-stone rubble, are remains of an earlier house. The upper walls are stone on the outside with a brick inner facing. The walls are curved at the north end.
The garden is treated in a traditional manner of mixed vegetable fruit and flowers. The upper section of the garden is divided into box-edged plots for growing vegetables with a central double herbaceous border. The lower part, below the glass-house range, is being developed and consists of lawn with shrubs. Espaliered fruit trees line the walls, A small garden house with an Edwardian garden bench provides a vista on the east-west axis.
A specimen Hoheria lyalli, the mountain ribonwood tree from New Zealand which was first collected by Joseph Hooker, forms a feature in the northwest corner.
- Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts
Access contact details
The castle and gardens are open during July, as well as having additional open days earlier in the year. Visits can also be made by prior appointment.
The following is from the Historic Scotland Gardens and Designed Landscapes Inventory. For the most up-to-date Inventory entry, please visit the Historic Scotland website:
Reason for Inclusion
A well preserved, intact and compact layered landscape from the 17th to the 20th centuries. The small 18th-century park and informal 20th-century garden are set within an earlier structure, together with a traditional walled flower and vegetable garden.
Main Phases of Landscape Development
The skeleton of a possibly 17th- or early 18th-century layout is clearly visible, which may relate to the earlier house. This structure was overlaid in the 19th century and further modified in the 20th century.
The present Dunninald Castle, built in 1824, is the third in a series of houses on these lands. The first Dunninald castle was a fortalice known colloquially as 'Black Jack', which was on a cliffside site to the south-east of the present estate. It was abandoned about 1600. A second house, further inland, had been begun around 1590. This was known as the manor house and was sited beside the present walled garden, at the foot of the beech avenue. The home farm was adjacent to it and the whole complex was enlarged and improved throughout the next two centuries. The lands were bought in 1617 by Patrick Leighton, a cousin of the Leightons of Usan, and passed in 1663 to Thomas Allardyce, third son of John Allardyce of That Ilk, through the marriage of Thomas to Agnes Leighton. Of the manor house there still remains two screen walls, which probably divided the pleasure gardens from the farm yards. One of these is incorporated into the southern wall of the garden. It is probable that the garden and landscape began to take shape during the time of Patrick Leighton, or more probably when Thomas and Agnes Allardyce were lairds. The avenue to the north is clearly shown on General Roy's Military Survey of c.1750, which makes it likely to have been established in the 17th century. The avenue ran north from the main house, terminating at a large Mound, probably of a much earlier date. The land on either side of the avenue was compartmentalised, probably for orchards and gardens, with cross axes provided by lime. These are clearly shown in Robertson's survey of 1811.
In 1695 the house passed to the Scotts of Logie who in the early 1800s began enclosing the land on their estates. They were amongst the earliest of the improvers in this area. The Scotts introduced lime as a soil treatment, and built a lime kiln at Dunninald, at the Boddin, soon after 1695. The fifth Scott laird was David, who bought the estate from his brother Archibald, when he returned from India in 1786. David was a rich and successful man, becoming MP for Forfarshire and chairman of the East India Company. He commissioned plans from James Playfair for a new house and model village at the Boddin, and also plans from Thomas White for a new landscape design. Playfair died in 1794 and Sir John Soane (his partner at the time) took on his work. Scott was a busy man and suffered from ill health. Only the plans for the farm buildings were put into effect. In 1799 the new Dunninald Mains, with farmyard and stable blocks to either side, was completed to the Playfair/Soane design and the farm buildings around the house were demolished.
David Scott died in 1805 and his son inherited Dunninald. However, he also inherited another property and decided to sell Dunninald to Robert Spears, a property speculator.
The property was purchased by Peter Arkley in 1811. He commissioned the survey by George Robertson in 1811 which is the earliest and most detailed plan and shows much of the previous formal layout. In 1815 he commissioned James Gillespie to design a new house. This house, known as the castle, was completed in 1824 and remains much the same today as when first built. In 1871 Eliza Arkley married Captain John Stansfeld, and they were known as Lila and Jack. They built the North Lodge and gateway in 1891 and created a new north drive, making it sweep in a curve up to the house. A great gale in 1894 felled many trees including the top half of the beech avenue. These were re-planted the following year.
Jack and Lila also created the terrace on Dunninald's south side in 1902, and commissioned the sundial and two jardinieres from the Edinburgh sculptor John Barron. The wrought-iron walled garden gates in the north and west walls were made by the Montrose blacksmith James Ross Brown in 1906 and 1907. The gate in the south wall was made in Seville in Spain was installed at Dunninald in 1902. At the shelter in the east wall of the lower garden (part of the Walled Garden), lies a stone excavated in an Egyptian convent in 1913. The wrought-iron grille and plaque in the shelter were made by Costioli and Valli of Menaggio, Como, Italy in 1911.
The son of Jack Stansfeld's cousin, another John Stansfeld succeeded to Dunninald in the 1930s, and he steered the house and designed landscape throughout the turbulent years during and after the second World War. The north and south drives were closed to save money on upkeep, the greenhouses dismantled and much less cultivation carried out in the lower garden production area. However he carried out many improvements to the estate buildings and replanted and extended the woodland. The present John Stansfeld succeeded to the property in 1975 and has instigated a landscape management plan for Dunninald which aims to restore and conserve key aspects of the historic landscape as well as adapt and revise parts of the plan to create a solid basis for future use.
- Features & Designations
Historic Environment Scotland An Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland
- Key Information
Open to the public