This is an outstanding example of late-18th-century picturesque landscape design which makes a significant contribution to the scenic qualities and nature conservation values in Strathspey.
Type of Site
Late 18th century picturesque landscape.
Location and Setting
Kinrara lies in Strathspey, some 5km south-west of Aviemore and 15km north-east of Kingussie. The River Spey forms the eastern boundary of the policies. The western boundary is formed by the B9152, Kingussie-Aviemore road, with the main Edinburgh-Inverness railway line lying just within the policies. The Kinrara policies are contiguous with those of Rothiemurcus (see Rothiemurcus) and Inshriach House, which extend along the opposite banks of the Spey.
Kinrara lies on the western edge of a designated National Scenic Area, the Cairngorm Mountains, some 67,200ha (160,000 acres) in extent. Strathspey is framed by the Monadhliath Mountains to its west and the Cairngorms to its east. Kinrara is situated so as to benefit from the magnificent, panoramic views resulting from this situation. High and low vantage points within the policies focus on the River Spey. The site is exposed to harsh climatic conditions and there are many hollows, which form frost pockets.
Within the policies, the wooded hill of Torr Alvie forms a major highpoint. Crowned by a tall monument to the Duke of Gordon the hill is prominent from within and outside the estate. Loch Alvie lies within the north policies. Kinrara House stands at a height of 457m (1,500ft) on an escarpment above the River Spey.
Kinrara House policies comprise some 380ha (940 acres) within a wider estate of 4,657ha (11,500 acres). Comparison of estate survey plans and maps indicate that the extent of the designed landscape has remained relatively similar to the present day (Roy, 1747-5; Ray, 1838; 1867, OS 6"; 1899, OS 6").
Kinrara House was built in 1804 to designs by John Smith, extended in 1805 by John Sanders, and added to by John Paterson in c 1814 and again in 1835. It may incorporate an earlier 18th century cottage. Additions and alterations were made by Reginald Fairlie in 1939. A Sundial stands on the lawn adjacent to the house.
To the south west of the House, stands the Duchess of Gordon Monument, commemorating Jane, Duchess of Gordon. It is a grey granite pyramid set on a plinth with marble coat of arms and detailed genealogy, within a railed enclosure. Further east, on the top of Torr Alvie, stands the Duke of Gordon Monument, a tall classical column erected by subscription in 1840, in memory of the 5th Duke of Gordon. The Waterloo Cairn, to the south of the Duke of Gordon Monument, overlooks Kinrara House. It was erected by the Marquis of Huntly in 1815.
The Farm Buildings, Keeper's Cottage and Kennels are situated to the north of the house. A stone, whitewashed, Cottage faces south, overlooking the former Kitchen Garden. St. Eata's Well, situated to the south-west of the House midway between the mansion house and the Duchess' Monument, is a stone-lined natural spring.
Drives and Approaches
Two access drives lead off the B9152, crossing the Edinburgh-Inverness line, before entering the policies. The north drive leads past the Bogach Lochan, to pass through woods on the east flank of Torr Alvie. The southern approach leads through woodland and parkland before reaching a series of small informal pastures along the valley floor of the Strathspey. A short spur off this circuit leads directly to the house. Other informal tracks lead to the Farm, Kennels and other buildings.
During the mid-19th century there was an elaborate network of footpaths and tracks (1867, OS 6"). These extended through the woodlands, onto Torr Alvie and along the west bank of the Spey. Some of these tracks can still be followed, but many are now unused and overgrown.
To the south of Torr Alvie, between the Main Drive and the River Spey, meadows are set out along the river, on the low-lying, flatter areas. These contrast with the wooded slopes of Torr Alvie and areas of rough grassland. They line long views across and along the route of the Strathspey.
The 4th Duchess used the natural landscape as a backdrop to a planting scheme using principally Scots pine and larch, extended after 1812 by her daughter-in-law, who added spruce. The woodland includes some fine single-species stands of Scots pine, as well as birch and oak. Naturally regenerated birch and juniper predominate in wetter areas to the north of Torr Alvie.
In the 19th century, stands of ornamental conifers were planted to highlight the Duchess of Gordon Monument, where there is now a dense, Rhododendron understorey.
Around the House the garden is largely laid to lawn. Two herbaceous borders are situated on the south-west side of the House. To the west is the 'Dell', formed by the excavation of earth for the podium on which Kinrara House stands. It seems to be the site of the shrubbery laid out by the 4th Duchess, but the original planting does not survive.
The Kitchen Garden, established by the 4th Duchess of Gordon, was described as 'in the hollow of the hill', growing 'turnips and other crops' (supra Stoddart). It lies 0.5km due north of the house, at the foot of Torr Alvie and is elliptical in shape (Roy, 1838; 1867, OS 6"; 1899, OS 6"). It seems never to have been walled, but is now enclosed by a wooden palisade fence. The garden is disused; some old fruit trees remain and lupins have become naturalised in the grass.
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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
An outstanding example of late 18th century picturesque landscape design which makes a significant contribution to the scenic qualities and nature conservation values in Strathspey.
Main Phases of Landscape Development
Jane Gordon, (1748-1812), née Maxwell, wife of Alexander Gordon, 4th Duke, known as the 'beautiful Duchess of Gordon' laid out the picturesque designed landscape at Kinrara. She married Gordon in 1767 from whom she became estranged in 1789, having borne him two sons and five daughters. Thereafter, her attention turned to building a country retreat at Kinrara, which became her summer residence from July to November. During the London season she lived at her house in Pall Mall, where she formed a social centre for the Tory party. She was prominent in social and political society, a spirited figure who, amongst her many activities, established the Gordon Highlanders Regiment.
In designing the grounds, the Duchess is said to have been influenced by Uvedale Price's Essay on the Picturesque, first published in 1794 (Stoddart, 1801). Price advocated an appreciation of the practicalities of planting and farming, combined with local circumstances. Design, both in the landscape and architecturally, combined utility with beauty. The picturesque reflected a sense of place and a picturesque landscape was to be lived in, not just looked at. This approach reflected the contemporary background concerns for farming, forestry and a fear of social stability during the period of the Napoleonic Wars. Price considered that the picturesque landscaping of estates should be carried out by the owner and be sensitive to local landscape change. The agrarian character of Kinrara, in contrast to the sporting estate laid out at Glenfiddich by the 4th Duke, was greatly admired in Robertson's General View of the Agriculture of Inverness (1808) where mention is made of the sheltered gardens growing turnips and other crops.
In 1798, Grant described her setting up a 'wooden pavilion', thereafter described in 1801 as a 'mere Highland Morayshire farm' (Grant, 1898; Stoddart, 1801). Initial architectural schemes for embellishing the house were not implemented, nor were plans for an intended model village. Later the house was rebuilt, and the garden, created 'in a hollow of the hill' (Stoddart, 1801), was then extended to include a shrubbery around the house. Seeds and plants were ordered from Dickson's of Perth between 1802-10, the gardener in charge being David Cameron.
By 1835, a description of the Duchess' work 'upwards of 30 years ago' mentions her planting on 'an extensive piece of barren moor, chiefly with Scots firs, mingled with some larch trees that now combine shelter with ornament.' This was situated on the south drive while 'A few years later, she planted, on the north drive, a piece of equally barren ground, and nearly of the same extent, with the same kind of wood which is considerably advanced in growth.' (New Statistical Account, 1835).
After the Duchess' death in London, in 1812, she was buried at Kinrara ' as she wished. The estate passed to her eldest son, George Marquis of Huntly (1770-1836) and his wife Elizabeth (1774-1864) who used Kinrara as a summer residence. The Marchioness continued tree planting on 'another piece of ground ' between the Spey and the approach to the cottage at Kinrara, with larch, spruce and Scots firs, which are thriving.' (New Statistical Account, 1835).
When George became the 5th Duke in 1827, regular visits thereafter ceased and the estate was let for shooting to Sir George Sitwell, Bt. In 1836, on the 5th Duke's death, Kinrara was inherited by his nephew, Charles, 5th Duke of Richmond and Lennox (1791-1860), who assumed the additional name of Gordon. Robert Roy's plan depicts the pattern of land-use at Kinrara (Roy, 1838). A series of arable fields lay alongside the Spey with a major north-east to south-west route lying along higher ground above the flood plain, and linking the Cottage, Offices and Duchess of Gordon Monument. Elsewhere there was a mosaic of 'Old Grass', presumably unimproved pasture, adjacent to the river at the north-eastern part of the site, and other areas of 'Pasture', including one to the north of the house. Torr Alvie was wooded apart from an area on its south-west slopes.
On his death he was succeeded by his son, the 6th Duke of Richmond and Lennox, created Duke of Gordon and Earl of Kinrara in 1876. The house remained let until the 1930s. In 1939, Lord Bilsland, who purchased the property from Sir Theodore Brinckman, Bt. of Nairnshire in 1937, extended the house. In 1961 the estate was sold and remains in private ownership.
- Late 18th Century
- 18th Century
- Features & Designations
Historic Environment Scotland An Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland
- Country House (featured building)
- Description: Kinrara House was built in 1804 to designs by John Smith, extended in 1805 by John Sanders, and added to by John Paterson in c 1814 and again in 1835. It may incorporate an earlier 18th century cottage.
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- Key Information
Late 18th Century