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Fairburn (also known as Muirton House)


The designed landscape at Fairburn dates from the late-18th and early-19th centuries. It consists largely of gardens and woodland. The site is known for its specimen trees, especially the exotic conifers planted by John Stirling in the late-19th century. The structure of the formal garden can still be discerned in paths and grass terraces.

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:

Location and Setting

Fairburn House is situated about 6 miles (9.5km) north-west of Muir of Ord. The policies lie along the south side of Strathconon. To the north they run down to the River Conon, and to the south, to a tributary river of the Conon called the Orrin. Upland scenery dominates the landscape to the west and south where the hills lead up to Beinn an Rubha Riabhaich and the Cabaan Forest. To the north the land slopes to the Conon valley and is farmed, mainly with grazing livestock. The soil is mostly boulder clay and some sandy gravel on the low ground with peat soils in areas of poor drainage. The climate is mild and the annual rainfall is about 35" (890mm). There are extensive views north across Strathconon to Ben Wyvis 3,233' (1,060m). The mature woodland canopy and the open pasture of the park are significant in the wider landscape especially from the valley.

Fairburn House lies within 2,000 acres (445ha) of designed landscape. Documentary evidence of the designed landscape is provided by General Roy's map of c.1750, the 1st edition OS map of c.1860 and the 2nd edition OS map of c.1910. They show that the original designed landscape was extended considerably to the west and south between 1750-1850. Embellishments were made in the 1870s and the policies were further extended to the east when the driveway was extended from Muirton Lodge to the Marybank/Aultgowrie road.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Fairburn House, listed category B, was designed by Wardrop & Reid between 1877-78 and built in the Scottish Baronial style in Tarradale stone. The drawings are kept by Mr Davison. Aultgowrie Lodge, listed category B, stands on the south drive on the River Orrin and was also designed by Wardrop & Reid in 1877. The Stable-block is also by Wardrop & Reid; it has been converted into homes for the staff in the nursing home. The Curling Pond, built in 1886, still has its original stones and the necessary facilities required, including floodlights. An Ice House, situated near the Curling Pond, is now overgrown. The Walled Garden and ancillary buildings were built c.1880. Other Buildings and Estate Offices include a Fire Station, Gardener's Cottage, Butler's Cottage, two Kennels and a Sawmill. The Family Burial Ground is enclosed by iron railings and is situated to the north of the south drive near Aultgowrie Lodge.


The parkland extends to the north and east of the house. Much of the wider landscape was improved during the early part of the 19th century when the shelterbelt strips were planted and the land drained. At this time, these outlying areas of parkland belonged to Lord Seaforth of Brahan. They were acquired by John Stirling c.1873. There are one or two specimen trees remaining in the inner parkland including some oak and beech. A plantation of Scots pine, established c.1800 by the Mackenzies, accents the rising hill to the east. Hardwood clumps in the parkland were established by John Stirling, partly for amenity and partly as pheasant cover. Over the past decade, these have gradually been replanted.


Fairburn is famous for its trees and, in particular, for conifers planted by John Stirling in the 1870s. Many are planted around the house and along the Orrin (South) Drive and these will be described under the woodland garden. The policy woodlands extend to the west of the house and were originally planted c.1800. The outlying mature and semi-mature commercial woodlands on the higher ground were felled in World War I and II. Sections of the policy woodlands were replanted in 1920 mainly with Scots pine but the majority of the woodlands were not planted until after World War II under a Forestry Commission Dedication Scheme, with Scots pine and Sitka spruce, although there are some small pockets of oak, ash and beech.

Woodland Garden

The woodland garden extends from the house southwards around the kitchen garden and along the Orrin Drive. The exotic specimen trees were mainly planted by John Stirling, great grandfather of the present owner. Although the majority of the trees are amenity planting, some have always been considered as a commercial crop. There is a planting list dated 1872 and many of the larger specimens can be identified. Alan Mitchell measured 120 trees in 1982; 60 were over 100 ft high and 10 over 150 ft high. The tallest is a grand fir (Abies grandis) over 185 ft high. Some of the finest trees grow around the burial ground; in particular some tall grand firs, a Calocedrus decurrens, a 175 ft tall Pseudotsuga menziesii, and a large Wellingtonia (Sequoiadendron giganteum).

A small pinetum was planted along the drive and includes many interesting Chamaecyparis varieties including a large Chamaecyparis nootkatensis 'Pendula'. The pinetum is underplanted with species rhododendrons. Other specimen trees were planted in the old garden and along the drive. The garden extends to the river and alongside the spectacular Orrin Falls.

The Gardens

The formal gardens around the house have been neglected but overgrown hedges, grass terraces and paths indicate the original design. On the west side of the house, a path, lined with yew trees, leads to the site of a rock garden which was laid out by the grandmother of Mr Stirling. There are several interesting trees including one enormous Picea sitchensis planted in 1874 which has a large skirt reaching down to the ground, and three large Monkey puzzles. Double white Narcissus and pheasant eye are established in the understorey in large numbers.

Walled Garden

The walled garden was laid out by John Stirling c.1874. It extends over some one and a half acres. Soil was imported from neighbouring areas and a deep drainage system was installed. Lean-to glasshouses, with a central conservatory, lined an inner face of the north wall. Under this glass, grew fruit and flowers, whilst pot plants were grown in the conservatory.

A rose garden was sited adjacent to the conservatory, covering approximately a quarter of an acre. A Caithness stone path led to a large stone font in the centre. The rose garden was removed in 1976. Vegetable plots lay beyond the rose garden. They were enclosed by a row of apple trees, then a border in which grew Primulas, irises and daffodils. Around this border was a gravel path with a box hedge. Between the path and the wall was a perimeter bed filled with flowers for cutting, bedding plants, vegetables and soft fruit.

Outside the west wall of the garden was an orchard which extended over an acre. Outside the south wall was an area of more fruit and flower production. Beyond the east wall an area was set aside in the present owners' time as the 'Children's Gardens.'

Before World War II some lilies, Meconopsis and flowers for cutting were grown commercially. After the war, production was considerably increased including tomatoes, carnations, lettuce, soft fruit, vegetables and cut flowers. Lady Stirling raised daffodils acquired from Brodie Castle which she sent to Covent Garden for sale. Production at this level ceased in 1971 and, following Sir John's death in 1975, the garden was leased to Highland Liliums.

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

Dating from the late 18th / early 19th century, the designed landscape consists of gardens, woodland and architectural features, and together makes an impressive impact on the local scenery. Fairburn is famous for its trees, especially conifers planted by John Stirling in the 1870s.

Site History

The present designed landscape was established in the late 18th/early 19th century. It was redesigned and extended in the late 19th century by John Stirling when the house was rebuilt. There are no known designers.

The name of Fairburn was taken from a 15th century tower, built as a Mackenzie stronghold, which lies to the south-east of the present house. The Mackenzies built Muirton House, now known as Fairburn House, around 1800. John Stirling bought the property of Muirton and Achonachie in c.1872. He demolished the existing house and built a new one on the same site between 1874-78.

He made a fine woodland garden and planted many exotic species. He also extended the east drive and established the beech hedge and woodland which flanks it today. His son inherited in 1908. The house was used as a convalescent home during World War I and foreign servicemen on leave were welcomed into the Stirlings' home during World War II. Sir John Stirling KT handed the estate over to his son, the present owner, as a wedding present in 1963. Sir John remained as tenant of Fairburn House until his death in 1975. The house was let for a short period thereafter but was sold, with some 80 acres of ground, in 1982; since then it has been used as a private nursing home.


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


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


  • Icehouse
  • Pond
  • Description: A curling pond
  • House (featured building)
  • Earliest Date:
  • Specimen Tree
  • Description: The site is known for its specimen trees, especially the exotic conifers planted by John Stirling in the late-19th century.
Key Information





Principal Building

Health And Welfare


18th Century (1701 to 1800)





Open to the public





  • Historic Scotland