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Kinnaird Castle

Pgds 20111120 202957 Kinnaird Castle


The extensive designed landscape at Kinnaird Castle dates from the late-18th century. The parkland is still stocked with deer and the policy woodlands retain their 18th-century layout. Mid-19th-century formal gardens around the house feature a grand stairway, a listed gateway and clipped yews.

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

Kinnaird Castle is set 3.5 miles (5.5km) south-east of the town of Brechin and the same distance west of the Montrose Basin. The walled park lies in the valley of the River South Esk which broadens out south of Brechin into a broad plain before flowing into the Montrose Basin. The hills rise up gently to the north and south of the estate and fine views are afforded from the park.

There has been a large park at Kinnaird at least since 1750 as shown on General Roy's map of that date: at that time the park was laid out in rectilinear blocks with two west-east avenues to the west of the house and one north/south avenue to the south. Traces of this pattern in the form of trenches can still be seen in the park to the west of the house after dry weather. The new design by Thomas White and James Playfair in 1790 extended, at its northern limit, as far as Wood Cottage. By the 1st edition OS map in c.1860 the designed landscape had extended northwards to the River South Esk and was enclosed on its remaining boundaries by a park wall 7 miles long and 7' high. Today the boundaries and structure of the designed landscape are similar to those of 1860 and include c.1310 acres (530ha) of designed landscape.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Kinnaird Castle is a large three-storey mansion house, designed by James Playfair in 1790 and remodelled in French Baronial style in 1854-62 by David Bryce. Within the south wing are the remains of the 15th century tower house. The Castle is listed B and has an open courtyard with stables at the rear. The terraced garden and gateway with cast iron gates and open balustrading is dated 1862, attributed to Bryce and listed B. The Temple near the River South Esk, (possibly by Playfair), is listed B, as is the statue of Flora which used to surmount it, but is probably early 17th century Italian in origin. The 15th century private burial ground, the 1675 Sunndial and the North Lodge by Bryce are also listed B. Wood Cottage by Playfair, the 'Dry Bridge', and the octagonal summerhouse of c.1800 designed by Agnes, Lady Carnegie, are all listed C(S). The latter is an octagonal timber-frame construction with latticed windows, a fir-cone ceiling, slate roof and cobbled floor: it is known as 'Montrose View'. There is another summerhouse, known as the Bishop's Seat. Other buildings include the Kennels, Farnell Lodge, Nursery Cottage by the curling pond, East Lodge, and there are also some urns in the formal garden.

Paths and Walks

Woodland walks used to be kept up through the policy woodlands. There were many gravel walks in all directions; one leading to the little wooden, two-roomed hut with a stove built by the 9th Earl and his eldest brother Lancelot, in which many children's tea parties have been held from 1870 onwards. The paths along the Ladies' burn by Lancelot Covert were planted with Rhododendrons and are becoming overgrown with natural regeneration.


The park remains in use as a deer park today and is enclosed by its high walls; there are 100 fallow deer and 40 Soay sheep kept in the park today. The drives extend for two miles to the village and for two miles to the North Lodge. An avenue runs along the east drive towards Montrose. The home farm is outwith the policies. The park has increased in size over the years and Wood Cottage and the east west ride adjacent to it mark the extent of the park in the 1790 Playfair/White design. Paths and a circular ride linked features in the design including the kitchen garden and the burial ground. The temple stands high above the river on its south bank about 1.25 miles north-west of the Castle; but there are former foundations for it overlooking the Craig Pool which is about 0.5 mile further north. It is reputed that the temple was removed from nearby Old Montrose estate when that was bought in 1789. By 1860 the park extended north to the river and incorporated woodland walks to the summerhouses, around Rosamund Pond to the south of the house, and to the new loch. Many of the existing trees throughout the park date from this time. Many parkland trees have been replanted in recent years. A system of canals carried water from the river to the Kinnaird Mill, the Smithy and Sawmill, the Curling Pond and nursery, and to the kitchen garden where there was a built-in cascade. The canals then fed into the Pow Burn into which the loch also feeds. A large weir on the South Esk had been created long before 1860 and is still an impressive feature today.


The layout of the woodlands, clumps and parkland trees dates mainly from the 1790 design and contains hardwoods of mixed species: sycamore, oak, horse chestnut and copper beech. Many of these areas have been replanted to the original design. There is a tree nursery in the old nursery area. There are also coniferous shelterbelts. More ornamental trees are planted to the southeast of the house around where Rosamund's Pond was situated.

Water Features

The loch with its 300' long embankment was created in the 1850s for fishing and as a wildfowl attraction. It is 20 acres in size and had two islands in the 1850s but these no longer exist. The driveway to the west of the loch is on higher ground and permits extensive views across the loch and the park.

The Gardens

The garden to the south-west of the house was put in in the 1850s by the present Earl's grandfather. It is symmetrical, divided in two, with a grand staircase from the house to the terrace, and a gravel walk leading to the B listed gateway designed by Bryce. Clipped yews help to form the pattern and the gardens are enclosed by a shaped yew hedge. A photo in 1880 shows gravel beds surrounded by box hedges to complete the pattern. The south-east garden parterre in front of the burnt skeleton of the large conservatory is planted out with vegetables rather than flowers and its structure remains. Lord Southesk intends moving the 1675 sundial from the nursery to the formal garden.

Walled Garden

The kitchen garden dates from 1790 and is devoted to vegetable crops today; it used to be sub-divided into four main compartments which were, in turn, divided by hedges. There are two glasshouses, which used to be heated. A dividing wall was demolished five years ago. The Garden Cottage is to the north-east corner of the walled garden. The garden in future is to be used as a final stage for standard hardwood trees.

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

A very attractive designed landscape on a grand scale, the layout seen today dates back to a late 18th century re-design by Thomas White and James Playfair, with formal gardens designed by Bryce in the mid 19th century.

Site History

The Carnegie family have lived at Kinnaird since 1401, when Duthac de Carnegie by purchase and marriage acquired the estate and built the original castle in 1402. Duthac de Carnegie died in 1411 and his son Walter was involved in the Battle of Brechin after which the Earl of Crawford burnt Kinnaird Castle in 1452 in revenge for Walter having sided with the Earl of Huntly. In 1567 extensive alterations to the Castle were made by the 5th laird Walter's greatgreat-grandson Robert, who was Ambassador to France; this castle entertained James VI, Charles I and II and the Chevalier. In 1616 David, the grandson of Sir Robert, was created Lord Carnegie of Kinnaird and in 1633 he was raised to the Earl of Southesk. By 1685 Robert, the 3rd Earl, was reputed to have a great house, with gardens and parks with fallow deer. The 4th Earl, Charles, in the 1690s commissioned plans for the improvement of the house and grounds from William Bruce and Alexander Edward and these plans are preserved today at Kinnaird Castle, although it is doubtful if much, if any, of the designs were carried out as the 4th Earl died in 1698 when his son James was still in his minority. There are references though to account receipts from Alexander Edward for the importation of plants which would suggest that some work was carried out, perhaps the avenue plantings which appear on General Roy's map of 1750.

After the 1715 rising the 5th Earl was exiled and his estates and titles attainted, and the estate was purchased by the York Building Company. By 1718 the house was reputedly in a 'decaying condition' and although it was tenanted from then until 1763 little was done to keep it up. On the insolvency of the York Building Company, a large part of the estate was repurchased by the last Earl's third cousin, Sir James Carnegie of Pittarrow, Bt. He died before l the completion and it was left to his successor, Sir David Carnegie, to carry out repairs. In 1790 he made extensive alterations, commissioning Playfair to rebuild the house and Thomas White Snr to lay out the grounds. Sir James, the 6th Baronet and the present Earl's grandfather, succeeded in 1849. In 1855 the Earldom was restored with original precedence and in 1869 he was also created Baron Balinhard of Farnell. He commissioned David Bryce to carry out further alterations to the house between 1854 - 1862, and the policies were extended to the north and west at this time, large woods and a 20 acre loch being added to the grounds. He also planted a great many clumps of hardwood trees and roundels in the Park about 1860.

Bryce added the front porch, stairs, balconies and terraces to the house. The terraced gardens along the south-west and south-east fronts of the house were constructed involving considerable earthmoving to create a flat area where previously there had existed a steep slope. By 1885 the estate contained 22,525 acres and resembled 'an ancient French chateau with many lofty steep-roofed towers and turrets, long stone balconies and balustraded terrace walls. The park, three-fourths of which are occupied by the deer park, with four hundred fallow deer, comprises between 1300 and 1400 acres... most of the trees were planted towards the close of the last century, but there are several 170-400 years old'. (OS Gazetteer)

In 1921 a fire gutted all the south-east end and the west and central south-facing part of the Castle. The 10th Earl rebuilt the west and central parts but decided to just put a roof over the east end.


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


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


  • Mansion House (featured building)
  • Description: Kinnaird Castle is a large three-storey mansion house, designed by James Playfair in 1790 and remodelled in French Baronial style in 1854-62 by David Bryce.
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  • Sundial
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  • Lake
  • Description: A loch created in the mid-19th century.
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  • Summerhouse
  • Description: An early-19th-century octagonal summerhouse known as Montrose View.
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  • Temple
  • Steps
  • Description: A grand stairway.
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  • Gateway
Key Information





Principal Building

Domestic / Residential


18th Century (1701 to 1800)





Open to the public


Electoral Ward

Brechin South Esk




  • Historic Scotland