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Kildrummy Castle


The site comprises the ruins of a 13th-century castle, a small amount of parkland and richly-planted quarry gardens associated with an early-20th-century house, which is now a hotel. The gardens were created in the ancient quarry and are made up of several large pools and magnificent rockwork, with a bridge spanning the ravine. There is waterside planting, an alpine garden and a wide variety of shrubs and trees.

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

Kildrummy Castle Garden is situated on the headwaters of a tributary of the River Don called the burn of Back Den, in the foothills of the eastern Grampian Mountains. The town of Rhynie is some 6.5 miles (10.5km) to the north and Alford some 10 miles (16km) to the east. The A97 runs along the eastern boundary, and the wooded slopes of Cook's Hill and The Deelat border the site to the west. The soils are of a gravelly loam, with some clay in the valleys. There are extensive views north-east to Tap 'North and the Correen Hills. The Calliver Hills can be seen from both the castle and the house, beyond the River Don. Trees within the gardens restrict views to these features.

The Castle is situated on a knoll on the east bank of the Back Den overlooking the surrounding landscape. Kildrummy Castle Hotel (formerly Kildrummy Lodge) stands on the west bank and the gardens are sited in the ravine below. Only a few tall trees make any scenic impact on the surrounding landscape.

Kildrummy Castle Hotel stands within some 25 acres (10ha) of designed landscape which extends along either side of the Back Den and includes the ruins of Old Kildrummy Castle. Documentary evidence of the development of the designed landscape is confined to Roy's map of c.1750, the 1st edition OS of c.1860 and the 2nd edition of c.1900. Reference to the 1st edition OS shows that there was a designed landscape established at Kildrummy by this time which included a park but, by c.1900, this feature had been lost and today only a few trees remain.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

The garden is dominated by the ruins of Kildrummy Castle, listed category A. Originally built in the 13th century, it was repaired and extended during the 16th century. Burnt in 1690, it was partly repaired and then finally dismantled in 1715. The crumbling walls were extensively repaired from 1898. In 1952 the ruin was given by the Yates family into the guardianship of the state under the care of the Historic Buildings and Monuments Directorate.

Kildrummy Castle Hotel, formerly Kildrummy New Castle, is listed category B and is leased from the estate. It was built by A. Marshall Mackenzie in 1900 for Colonel Ogston. To the south there are extensive terraces set on top of the hillside with fine balustrades capping tall retaining walls. The New Castle and its terraces are English neo-Jacobean in style. Kildrummy Bridge is a fine single-span bridge across the gorge; it was built at the same time as the New Castle by A. Marshall MacKenzie and is a replica of the Brig O' Balgownie. The Lodge too was built c.1900, following the construction of the new drive. Castle Cottage is now occupied by the Head Gardener. Several interesting stones have been sited throughout the garden. Stone Benches, with sculptured lion supports from Warter Priory, Yorkshire, are thought to date from the 18th century.


There was a small area of parkland to the south-east of the Castle and today only one or two trees remain. The driveway curls above the ravine and recently a small car park for visitors to the Castle has been cut out of part of the park.


The shelterbelts surrounding the garden are mainly of beech although some were replanted c.1900 with mainly conifers. To the north of the hotel the shelterbelt was planted with deciduous trees during the 1960s. The north side of the avenue to the Hotel is lined with beech. The west shelterbelt is a mix of soft and hardwood specimens.

The Gardens

In 1904 the flowing burn of the Back Den was dammed and turned into several large pools connected by a series of intricate cascades. The magnificent rock work was constructed by a Japanese firm of landscape architects. The Yorkshire firm of Backhouse under the direction of Mr David Peary transformed the old quarry. The banks are spanned by the imposing single-arched bridge. The steep sloping sides are planted with a range of unusual trees and shrubs, many of the more tender varieties growing in the warm shelter provided by the quarry face. Alpines are grown in the quarry.

The paths zig-zag down the escarpment, leading the visitor through the fine collection of plants. Along the valley floor and around the water's edge, bog plants are carefully placed. The most notable bog plants are Lysichitum americanum and Ranunculus lyalli from New Zealand. Under the face of the quarry is a rock garden in which gentians and other interesting plants are well established. Several small stones decorate the garden and a small summerhouse has recently been turned into a museum.

The guidebook lists over sixteen pages of plants and particularly notable are Quercus robur 'Purpurescens', Embothrium lanceolatum, Rhododendron varieties including 'Hummingbird', 'Fabia' and many others. Euonymus europaeus 'Hamiltonianus' and a particularly fine Schizophragma hydrangeoides grow up the cliff face. Throughout the slopes there are further collections of Primulas, Meconopsis, Gentians, Violas and other acid-loving plants. Many of the plants have been grown from seed collected throughout the world especially in New Zealand. At the western end of the ravine, Alan Mitchell of the Forestry Commission has measured over 24 tree specimens including a large larch (Larix decidua) (121'), a multi-stemmed Sciadopitys verticillata (the Japanese Umbrella Pine), a large cut-leaf beech, and a yellow elm (Ulmus glabra 'Lutescens'). During the last 25 years the Smiths have added an interesting collection of trees and shrubs, including specimens of Wellingtonia (Sequoiadendron giganteum), Cryptomeria japonica, Sequoia semprevirens and Metasequoia glyptosroboides.

Two large terraces surround the hotel on the south and west sides established following the construction of the house c.1900. Large rhododendrons, planted around this time, swamp the balustraded walls and mask views to the Castle. An enormous Hydrangea petiolaris grows up the walls of the building but otherwise there are few interesting plants and the terraces are grassed. In the north-west corner there is a sundial surrounded by stone seats.

Walled Garden

The kitchen garden lies on a south-facing slope just below the large terraces of the New Castle. Enclosed by beech hedges it was made at the same time as the house was built. Today it is run as a small nursery supplying plants for sale at the garden. There are also two small greenhouses; one is heated. Part of the garden is lying fallow whilst the remainder is used for growing vegetables.

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 gardens contain a vast range of plants and are laid out to great artistic effect in a dramatic ravine. The wider designed landscape contains architectural features of significant interest.

Site History

Kildrummy Castle was built in the 13th century for the Crown. Robert the Bruce sent his wife, daughter and brother to Kildrummy for safety; the latter was killed there. The various constables of the Crown lived there at times and the King occasionally visited the fortress. After the attainder of the Earl of Mar in 1716, the Crown took Kildrummy Castle Fortress in hand and for a short time let it to Lord Elphinstone. The Crown later returned it to the heirs of the Earldom of Mar, the Erskines. In 1739 James Erskine of Grange and David Erskine of Dun sold the reduced estate to John Gordon of Wardhouse. The Gordon family were responsible for the layout of the designed landscape shown on the 1st edition OS map of c.1860.

In 1898, Colonel James Ogston, a soap manufacturer from Aberdeen, bought the property from Raphael Gordon. In 1931 he left the property to his great-niece, Mrs R.J.B. Yates, with a life interest to his nephew. Brigadier General Ogston died in 1944 and the Yates looked after the garden until 1954 when they sold the estate to Mr and Mrs J.P. Smith. In 1968 a charitable trust was formed for some 25 acres (10 ha) of the policies by the Smiths.


  • 20th Century (1901 to 1932)
  • Early 20th Century (1901 to 1932)
Associated People
Features & Designations


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


  • Ornamental Bridge
  • Description: A single span bridge over the ravine built as a replica of the Brig o' Balgownie.
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  • Ruin
  • Description: The ruins of the 13th-century Kildrummy Castle.
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  • Garden Terrace
  • Description: Two grass terraces with balustrades associated with the hotel.
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  • Castle (featured building)
  • Description: Kildrummy Castle Hotel, formerly Kildrummy New Castle, is listed category B and is leased from the estate. It was built by A. Marshall Mackenzie in 1900 for Colonel Ogston.
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Key Information





Principal Building



20th Century (1901 to 1932)





Open to the public





  • Historic Scotland