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Dunrobin Castle

Pgds 20111119 193849 Dunrobin Castle


The mid-19th-century landscape at Dunrobin Castle features parkland with avenues, a kitchen garden and formal box-edged parterres. These are laid out beneath the steep terraces of the castle and overlooked by them. Two of the parterres feature central ponds and there are groves of trees between some of the formal areas.

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

Dunrobin is situated on the north-east coast of Scotland, 11 miles (17km) north of the Dornoch Firth and one mile north-east of the town of Golspie. The main coastal road north to Helmsdale and Wick, the A9(T), passes through the estate to the north of the Castle. The railway line runs parallel to and slightly to the north of the A9, and there is a private station at Dunrobin. The Golspie Burn flows down through the hills to the north-west of Dunrobin to flow through Dunrobin Glen and into the Moray Firth just north of Golspie. There are extensive views out across the Moray Firth to the north Morayshire coast and these views are important to the setting of the designed landscape. Views into the policies are limited by the avenues and shelterbelt which line the A9, but the baronial turrets of the Castle can be glimpsed amid its wooded setting from the main road and railway line.

The Castle itself is set on a rocky terrace above the shore overlooking the extensive formal garden and with fine views out across the Moray Firth. The designed landscape is enclosed by the extensive area of Dunrobin Wood which clothes the slopes and hills to the west and north of the policies. The inner core of the designed landscape today is bounded by the A9 and the railway to the north and by the Moray Firth to the south. Documentary evidence of the development of the designed landscape is provided by General Roy's map of 1750, an estate plan of 1829, a plan for a rose garden dated 1848, the 1st and 2nd edition OS maps of c.1870 and 1910 and an estate plan of c.1900. General Roy's map shows a large area of enclosed fields, with a main avenue planted to the north of the Castle, and with several smaller, sheltered enclosures along the shore lowlands. The avenue extended north to the offices, as shown on the 1829 plan. This plan shows that the enclosed parkland had been extended further to the east, and the main road built to the north of the Castle, dividing the avenue in two; the new north lodges are shown half way along the avenue. Roundels are shown planted in the new parks to the east. The six acre walled kitchen garden is shown to the south-east of the Castle, the area later developed as a flower garden; only a small area of garden is shown to the west of the pier. By c.1870, the parterres and croquet green are shown to be well established in the main garden. The new kitchen gardens had been laid out to the west of the pier road, and a circular design labelled 'nursery' had been laid out to the east of the museum. The policy woodlands had been extended westwards to Golspie village and several walks and drives were laid out through these woodlands. Dunrobin Wood had been planted on the slopes of the hills between Golspie and Uppat. The extent of the designed landscape has remained similar since then and today contains 1,379 acres (558ha).

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Dunrobin Castle is a large turretted mansion, dating from the 13th century, quadrupled in size by Sir Charles Barry and William Leslie (David Walker personal communication) from 1835- 50 and repaired in 1920 by Sir Robert Lorimer. It is listed A and incorporates a 14th century square tower and 17th century tower and wing.

The 17th century Garden Pavilion and Walled Garden, listed A, were built for the 16th Earl. The Garden Pavilion is a square, two-storey building, now used as a museum. The mid-19th century, two-storey, cottage ornee Dairy Cottage is listed B. Flagstaff Lodge and Gatepiers, Tower Lodge, the Station, Golspie Bridge, the Stables, the Mains and the Kennels are all listed B. The mid 18th century Doocot contains around 500 nesting boxes and a potence and it is also listed B. The Monument to the 2nd Duke of 1866 is listed B; the 1872 Memorial to Duchess Harriet is a Gothic Eleanor Cross style memorial enclosing a bronze bust by Noble; also listed B. The Foundation Stone was laid by Queen Victoria. The late 18th century Ice House is listed C. The Private Burial Ground, listed B, was designed in c.1920 possibly by Lorimer and incorporates a statue from Trentham Park by Barry. There are several other estate buildings within the policies including the Gardener's Cottage and the former gardener's bothy. There are several pieces of ornamentation including a sundial dated 1616 and a sacrifical altar presented to Duchess Millicent in France.

The architectural responsibility for Dunrobin is far from clear. Charles Barry was consulted but some accounts say that William Leslie, the executant architect, made the designs himself. Leslie, later Lord Provost of Aberdeen, although trained as an architect, was really a contractor on a very large scale; however it is impossible to say who was the architect of Dunrobin in the present state of knowledge.


The parklands were laid out on either side of the main road, enclosed by the policy woodlands. In 1829 only 8 acres of pasture were recorded, compared with 615 acres of arable land. However, the 1829 plan shows that clumps had been planted in the fields by then. The 2nd edition OS map shows most of the fields to the south of the A9 as parks and several individual parkland trees as well as the roundels. The clumps remain today, some planted with young beech, some with conifers. The field boundaries are planted with chestnut, ash and sycamore ranging in age from around 40-180 years old. The main north/south avenue has been replanted over the years and remains as a strong landscape feature. A second avenue leads east to the private burial ground; known as 'Lady's Walk', this avenue once linked to the former shore road. The pier was a main access point in earlier times and the gates on this approach were a gift from the Duke of Westminster in 1894. The imposing monument to the 2nd Duke stands within the avenue to the north of the main lodge.


The main areas of woodland were planted after 1829. Most of the estate woodlands are planted with coniferous trees; however the policy woodlands have been maintained with at least a deciduous edge for amenity purposes. Oak and beech over 200 years old line the main road, and sycamore, beech, lime and chestnut edge the woodlands. The younger plantations are mainly of Sitka spruce. The policy woodlands were replanted with conifers after the 1953 gale and are now reaching maturity; after cropping they are to be replanted with hardwoods. Many woodland walks were laid out through the policy woodlands from the Castle. Some lead to features such as the Duchess Harriet Memorial erected in 1872 in memory of the 2nd Duchess. Most of the paths shown on the 1st edition OS map remain and they have recently been cleared with the help of an MSC team which has also built bridges and repaired steps. The long-term plan is to restore all the Victorian paths.

The Gardens

The stunning parterres of the formal garden at Dunrobin were laid out c.1848. The six acres of garden below the Castle were formally laid out as recorded by Sir Robert Gordon in c.1600 with flowers, fruit, vegetables and herbs. The Castle itself sits above the gardens and has fine views of the layout of the parterres. On the east side of the garden is the large rose garden, reputed to be designed in the form of a Scottish Targue or shield with the central fountain representing its spike. The box-edged beds are fitted with roses and the design is punctuated with clipped yews. In 1874 the Gardeners' Chronicle recorded the parterres being filled with Violas and Dahlias, with a recent introduction of pampas grasses.

Both the parterres laid out on the west side of the garden have central ponds and they once also featured fountains. The southern parterre has had its box edging removed and it is currently being replanted. The Grove between the formal areas predates the parterres and contains older sycamore and horse chestnuts. The croquet lawn forms a central feature and this is separated by a laurel hedge from the cut flower garden. An area in the south of the garden has been recently devoted to wildflowers.

The steep terrace walls to the north of the formal gardens are lined with climbing plants and old roses. The upper terrace is ornamented with ball finials and provides tremendous views across the parterres. At the west end of the terrace is the bamboo garden. Each buttress of the north wall in the garden was once extended with box hedging; some of the box hedges remain and a long, broad herbaceous border has been planted along the wall. Old roses and shrubs are interspersed with herbaceous material, providing an impressive display in the summer season. There are records of the original plant material used and the aim is to restore the planting within these gardens to the Victorian design with, for example, Dahlias, hollyhocks, phloxes and Camellias.

There are areas of less formal planting around the borders of the garden and some ornamental trees have also been planted. To the south of the main garden are the original bothies and gardener's house. The 1900 estate plan shows an extensive range of glasshouses in this area. There are still some fruit trees against the south wall, although those that once grew on the outer, south- facing wall have been replaced with sea buckthorn. There are proposals to restore the garden buildings.

The garden can also be overlooked from the museum, built as a summerhouse in 1732, to the east of the garden. The 1st edition OS map shows a large circular garden layout to the east of the museum; this is labelled as the Nursery on the 1900 estate plan. A rock garden of over a quarter of an acre was once laid out behind the museum but it is now overgrown. (This has since been cleared and is to be replanted as a rock and fern garden).

Walled Garden

The 1829 plan shows a small area of garden to the west of the road to the pier, behind the pier cottage, now the gardener's cottage, built in 1740. This was extended to form a four acre kitchen garden when the former garden was laid out as a flower garden in the mid 19th century. The western compartment was divided into quarters devoted to vegetables edged with herbaceous borders. The eastern half was laid out in a more informal manner with choice shrubs and some ornamental trees. During the 1960s the western half of the garden was used for sports pitches for the School. It was later used as a market garden and is currently disused. There are still some interesting shrubs in the north- eastern corner of the garden including a fine Eucryphia. Vegetables are grown in the south-east section today.

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts


01408 633177

Access contact details

The site is open between April and October. For details see:


Dunrobin Castle is 50 miles north of Inverness on the A9. For details see:


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

One of the oldest inhabited Scottish castles, dating back to the 13th century, Dunrobin has a long association with the Earls and Dukes of Sutherland. By around 1600 a garden was recorded at Dunrobin, but the existing layout dates mainly from the mid 1800s, under the design influence of Charles Barry, architect of the Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament). The designed landscape consists of impressive parterre beds within formal gardens, kitchen garden, parkland and woodland. The entire composition is a valuable work of art and makes a major contribution to the surrounding scenery.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

No information available.

Site History

A garden was recorded at Dunrobin by c.1600 and a designed landscape is shown on General Roy's map of 1750. The informal parkland landscape was extended between 1829 and c.1860 but the designer is unknown. The formal gardens were laid out in the mid 19th century and incorporate some features designed by Sir Charles Barry.

Dunrobin was founded in 1275 and is one of the oldest inhabited houses in Scotland. In the early 16th century, Elizabeth Sutherland succeeded her brother, the 9th Earl, as Countess in her own right. She married Adam Gordon of Aboyne. In c.1600 the 12th Earl's son, Sir Richard Gordon, a noted historian, described Dunrobin as 'a house well seated upon a mote hard by the sea, with fair orchards, where there be pleasant gardens planted with all kinds of froots, hearbs and floors used in this kingdom, and abundance of good saphron and rosemarie, the froot being excellent and cheeflie the pears and cherries.' The summerhouse was designed in 1732 for William, Lord Strathnaver, who succeeded as 17th Earl in 1733.

Dunrobin was captured briefly by Prince Charles Edward's troops during the Jacobite uprising. The 18th Lord and Lady Sutherland died in 1766 leaving a young daughter, Elizabeth, whose succession was contested in the House of Lords, but it was decided in her favour in 1771. In 1785, she married Viscount Trentham (later appointed as British Ambassador to Paris) who succeeded as Earl Gower and Marquess of Stafford and was created 1st Duke of Sutherland in 1833 for his support of the Reform Bill. Lady Elizabeth became known as the Duchess-Countess. In c.1807, the Duke and Duchess commenced the agricultural improvements on the Sutherland estates which led to the unpopular Highland clearances.

Most of the improvements to the Castle and within the policies were undertaken for the 2nd Duke and his Duchess, Harriet, who commissioned Sir Charles Barry, architect of the Houses of Parliament, to make additions to the Castle in 1845 and to provide a Royal Suite for the visit of Queen Victoria. The Castle was improved in the Scottish Baronial style, and formal gardens, including a rose garden, were laid out at this time.

The 3rd Duke succeeded in 1861 and continued the improvements to the estates, reclaiming land, building new roads and supporting the construction of the northern railways. He was Western Europe's largest landowner. The 4th Duke's wife, Millicent, was also a great improver on their several estates, and started a technical school for boys in Golspie. She was a great social and political hostess of the late Victorian/Edwardian era, particularly at Stafford House in London, later sold by the 4th Duke, but which remains as Lancaster House today.

During World War I, Dunrobin was used as an auxiliary naval hospital, while the Duchess was herself running a field hospital in France. Fire broke out in the Castle and destroyed part of it. After the war Sir Robert Lorimer was commissioned to carry out the repairs and alterations. The most notable external changes are to the two towers and several turrets.

After the 5th Duke's death in 1966, the Dukedom passed to a descendant of the 2nd son of the 1st Duke and the Duchess-Countess; the 6th Duke of Sutherland lives at Mertoun in Borders Region. The Earldom passed to the 5th Duke's niece, Mrs Elizabeth Janson, who is Countess of Sutherland in her own right. From 1965 - 1972 Dunrobin Castle was run as a non profit-making school. It has been open to the public since 1973 and a flat is kept for the Countess's use. From 1984-87 proposals have been under discussion for leasing part of the Castle and an area of the grounds to a Swiss holiday development company.


Victorian (1837-1901)

Associated People
Features & Designations


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


  • Cottage Ornee
  • Description: Mid-19th century Dairy Cottage
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  • Dovecote
  • Description: Mid-18th-century dovecote.
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  • Icehouse
  • Description: Late 18th-century icehouse.
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  • Mansion House (featured building)
  • Description: Dunrobin Castle is a large turretted mansion dating from the 13th century. It was enlarged by Sir Charles Barry and William Leslie in the mid-19th century and repaired in 1920 by Sir Robert Lorimer.
  • Avenue
  • Kitchen Garden
  • Parterre
  • Grove
Key Information





Principal Building

Domestic / Residential


Victorian (1837-1901)





Open to the public





  • Historic Scotland