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Leys Castle


The mid-19th-century parkland at Leys Castle is now farmed but retains a few original plantings. Woodland of varying ages is a distinctive feature of the estate. There are early-20th-century formal grass terraces and an arboretum with a collection of yews and cypresses.

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

19th century formal gardens and parkland, with earlier 18th century planting and layout.

Location and Setting

Leys Castle is situated approximately 4km (2.5 miles) south of Inverness city centre, with the B861 (Inverness to Balnafoich) road forming the site's western boundary. The policies extend across a north-west facing hillside. To north and east, the landscape is agricultural, although the 20th century expansion of Inverness southwards along the banks of the River Ness reaches within (0.5 miles) of Leys policies. Panoramic views from Leys look northwards over Inverness to the Cromarty Firth and the Black Isle, Easter Ross and Sutherland. The policy woodlands and shelterbelts are highly significant, forming the local landscape character.

Leys Castle is set above the 500ft contour, lying centrally within the southernmost part of the designed landscape. The 249ha (615 acre) policies, 100-200m above sea level, are enclosed by a regular pattern of shelterbelts. The parkland (143ha/353 acres) includes 48ha (119 acres) of woodlands and shelter belts. The principal change in the extent of the policies is their contraction from Druidtemple, which lies to the west. At its maximum eastern extent the Leys estate lands were bounded by General Wade's Military Road (Hilton-Milton of Leys).

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Leys Castle comprises an early building encased by a later design of 1833 in Tudor Gothic style, with Romanesque detailing, by Samuel Beazley. The north front was remodelled in the 1920s with the first-floor library staircase, relocated to lead down from the fourth garden terrace, situated on the central design axis. The Gardener's House, c 1830, also known as Leys Castle Lodge, south-west of the Castle at the junction of the Back Drive with the West Drive, marks the entrance to the pleasure gardens. It is single-storeyed, remodelled and extended in 1921 by George Gordon Architects. An Ice House lies in woodland, to the north-east of the Gardener's House, alongside the entrance drive. To the south of Leys Castle, stands The Grange a two-storey house of c 1860 in Traditional style.

Leys Home Farm lies to the north of the Walled Garden. This model steading, built in the 1930s, includes a milking parlour, granary and stalls.

Drives and Approaches

The West Drive, the main approach, to the Castle, leads eastwards from the B861. Laid out during the mid 19th century, it leads 2km (1.25 miles) through woodland. Lines of Beech were planted alongside it post-1898 (Estate Map, 1898). It crosses the Back Drive (running north-west to south-east), which previously formed the western march of the Mid-Leys estate, to then pass Leys Castle Lodge. Drives and tracks in the policies tend to be lined with Beech.


The parkland surrounds the Castle and pleasure grounds, both to north and south. Four significant clumps, planted in the 1860s, stand in the North Park, covering an area from 0.4ha to 0.07ha. They comprise broadleaf planting of Fagus sylvatica, Quercus petraea, Ulmus glabra and Fraxinus excelsior. The South Park has smaller clumps. The parks are grazed.


Policy woodlands and shelter belts enclose the parks and agricultural improvement fields. Generally, the shelter belts are 40-50m wide but run for considerable lengths, that along the North March being 1.4km long. Recent study of the woodlands has revealed the landscape development and major planting phases. Twenty-eight trees, predominantly Beech, survive from 18th century planting, mentioned in historical records of 1752. Some of the oldest trees lie close to the Castle, including an ash of approximately 300 years and yews of 250+ years. The policy woodlands east of the Castle include many old pollarded beeches pre-dating the 1820s planting scheme, some with girths in excess of 4.5m. Planting in the 1820s included a plantation of Norway spruce on the East March and yews lining an east-west carriageway east of the Castle.

The predominant species planted during the 1830s by Colonel Baillie is beech, which appear to have been pollarded in their early years. The wood on the west boundary on the main drive is largely beech dating from c 1830 with later additions of pine, spruce, sycamore, and rowan.

Water Features

The water garden, north-west of the Castle, extends around the walled garden. Woodland planting with exotic specimens extends around the boundary of the park, south-east of the Castle, thereby forming a backdrop to the lawn south of the port-cochère entrance to the Castle. North-east of Leys Castle Lodge is the Middle Loch, ornamented on its northernmost banks by a 'picturesque' rockery. From there a burn leads northwards, before issuing down a rock-lined cascade into the Lower Pond. The cascade, long overgrown, has been cleared.

The Gardens

The formal gardens, north of the Castle, comprise a series of seven grass terraces, laid out by Sir Francis Walker in 1925. These have been cleared (late 1990s) of regenerating scrub and, in part, of some of the overmature 1920s specimen conifers which have grown up to restrict the formerly extensive panoramic views from the terraces. On the lowest terrace is Walker's swimming pool.

Set on the north-east axis of the Castle are the remains of formal gardens, originally set with box-lined parterres. Steps lead off the Upper Terrace, planted symmetrically with golden yew, down to a central flagged path. This leads to a round pool, set with a fountain base. The garden is enclosed on its south and north by belts of mature trees and shrubs. At its west end, a box hedge separates the formal garden from a further, lower garden compartment originally housing a lawn-tennis court and a concrete tennis court, the latter built by Sir Francis Walker.

Walled Garden

The walled garden, built in 1831, lies west of the Castle. In the mid 19th century it was symmetrically laid out with intersecting paths (1868, OS 6"). It is walled on three sides; the south side being formed by a low wall topped with iron railings. The north wall was heated with a range of glasshouses.

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts


M A Williamson


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

19th century formal gardens and parkland, with earlier 18th century planting and layout.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

Mid-late 18th century; 1833-68; 1920s-1930s.

Site History

Archaeological discoveries on the Leys Castle policies in the 19th century indicate a long settlement history. A late Bronze Age hoard was discovered 'A funicular rod or torc of gold was dug up within the great circle of Leys... in 1824... It measured 22 inches (56cm) long and was hooked at both ends'. The Clava passage-tomb (a Scheduled Ancient Monument), to the east was named Druidtemple during the 19th century, when antiquarians believed it to be a druidical sanctuary. Previously it was called 'Leys' and late 19th century references refer to 'the great circle of Leys'.

Little is known of the early history of Leys Castle. At the time of Culloden, the Robertsons of Inshes, whose estate lay 3.5km to the north-east, were tenants. Accounts of the indiscriminate slaughter after Culloden mention that a man and his nine year old son, ploughing near Leys Castle, were among the victims (Taylor, 1972). A large house set within parkland existed by the early-mid 18th century when the will of Mr Baillie of Leys (1753) mentions the 'recently planted parkland surrounding the Mansion House.' By 1763, the mansion appears to have been ruined. A number of yews estimated to be over 250 years old and an ash of nearly 300 years, may well relate to this 18th century landscape (Saggers, 2001).

By the 19th century Leys estate belonged to Colonel John Baillie (1772-1833). Baillie, the author of The Five Books of Arabic Grammar (1801), had entered the East India Company as a soldier, became a Lieutenant-Colonel and thereafter, between 1801-7, Professor of Arabic, Persian and Mohammedan Law at Fort William College, Calcutta. He served during the Mahratta War (1807-15) as a captain and a political agent in Lucknow. On retirement he became MP for Heddon (1820-30) and thereafter Inverness, 1830-2. He commissioned Samuel Beazley (1786-1851), an architect primarily known for his theatre design, to design the present Castle in 1832-4 (Colvin, 1995). Beazley's Castle seems to encase the earlier house (Saggers, pers. comm.) and is positioned so as to afford panoramic views over the parkland. Baillie died before the building was completed.

Although no evidence survives for the involvement of any landscape designer, planting and enclosure records chart the establishment of the designed landscape in the 1820-30s. Survey and analysis of the woodlands confirm this documentation (Saggers, 2001). In 1831, the walled garden, two bridges and Leys Castle Lodge were constructed (Saggers, 2001). The bridges carried estate roads north-eastwards to join the Military Road, (Hilton-Milton of Leys).

Baillie's daughter, married to a relation of John Baillie of Dochfour (see Dochfour) inherited Leys estate. During her tenure the estate was extended westwards by land purchases at Torbreck and Castle Hill. Thereafter, her eldest son, John Baillie Baillie, inherited the estate. He bequeathed his grandfather's collection of Arabic and Persian manuscripts to Edinburgh University in 1876, and lived latterly at Slackbuie. The Castle was let to Mr Lawson of Golspie, before being sold.

Sometime in the mid-late 19th century a Water Garden was laid out, west of the Castle. This led from the Middle Loch, through woodland, to issue down a 4.3m (14ft) deep rocky cascade, into the Lower Pond. This may be contemporary with a formal parterre garden laid out to the east of the Castle, which survived until the 1920s (Saggers, 2001).

By the early 20th century, the Castle was let to the Countess of Southesk, and during the First World War it was used as a Red Cross Hospital. After the War, the estate passed to Charles Alexander Ogilvie of Dalvie who is thought to have commissioned George Gordon and Co. to design the Gardener's Cottage in 1921 and prepare a survey of the house. In 1920, Mrs Ogilvie commissioned Gertrude Jekyll to prepare planting plans for the formal gardens to the east of the Castle. Jekyll's plans itemised a complete planting scheme for ten flower borders, including a herbaceous border, a rose garden and planting on the Upper Terrace (NMR England). The scheme was unexecuted and the gardens remained as a series of low hedged, bedding parterres cut into the surrounding lawns (early 19th century photographs, Saggers, 2001).

In 1925, Sir Francis Walker (1873-1963) purchased the estate. An architect, born in Inverurie and articled in Derby, he made a considerable fortune in developing property in Cockfosters and Finsbury. A member of Inverness County Council, and Convenor from 1951, he was active in promoting affordable housing in Inverness-shire and the Western Isles in the post-war period and in establishing the publicly-owned Hydro-Electricity Board. He invested in the Leys estate, refurbished the Castle, and remodelled the formal gardens (1926-30). The Castle's north facade was radically changed by lowering the ground level, which originally rose above first floor level resulting in the ground floor rooms looking out onto a series of outdoor cellars. The north-west facing sloping ground was remodelled into a series of seven broad terraces. These were symmetrically planted with a collection of specimen conifers, Chamaecyparis, Abies, Taxus, and Sciadopitys. An enthusiastic and renowned athlete and swimmer, he laid out a swimming pool on the Lower Terrace (1927) fed by the Water Garden.

In the 1930s Walker constructed Leys Home Farm, comprising a modern, 'model' steading for the Leys Castle herd of Highland Cattle. On his death, the estate passed to his son, Mr K.W. Walker, who farms and breeds Highland Cattle.


Victorian (1837-1901)

Associated People
Features & Designations


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


  • Garden Terrace
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
  • Icehouse
  • House (featured building)
  • Description: Leys Castle comprises an early building encased by a later design of 1833 in Tudor Gothic style, with Romanesque detailing, by Samuel Beazley.
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
  • Tree Feature
  • Description: An arboretum with a collection of yews and cypresses.
Key Information





Principal Building

Domestic / Residential


Victorian (1837-1901)





Electoral Ward

Inverness Central




  • Historic Scotland