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Murthly Castle

Pgds 20111121 102011 Murthly Castle


Murthly Castle has an early-19th-century designed landscape overlaying an earlier 17th-century layout. The grazed parkland includes some 17th- and 18th-century trees and several avenues, the oldest of which dates from the early-18th century. There is extensive amenity woodland including a good collection of specimen conifers. The ornamental gardens feature a 17th-century walled garden, remodelled in the mid-19th and late-20th centuries.

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

Murthly Castle is situated on the south bank of the River Tay, a bend of which encloses the policies to the north. The Castle stands on a knoll with long views northwards from east to west, across to the foothills of the Highlands above Dunkeld, which lies some 4 miles (6km) away. The A9(T) now runs through the western section of the park. The east entrance is off the B9099 which forms the eastern boundary at Gellyburn. To the south, beyond the main railway line, lie the extensive woodlands of the Muir of Thorn. The soils are mainly light sandy loam over the deep gravels of glacial moraines, except in the lower areas where the ground is generally marshy.

Murthly dominates the southern bank of the Tay for several miles and thus there are many views into the site from the surrounding roads.

Murthly Castle lies in the centre of the policies which extend over some 2,130 acres (862 ha). The designed landscape has dominated this southern bank of the River Tay since the early 17th century and its extent can be seen on General Roy's plan of c.1750, which shows a formal pattern of avenues and shelterbelts. The layouts of the 19th century designs are shown on the 1st edition OS plan dated 1868 and the 2nd edition of c.1900. Comparison of these maps indicates that the extent of the landscape has remained consistent since the 18th century. There are archives and plans held at the Scottish Record Office which have not been seen during the course of this study, but there are pictures and photographs of the garden at the Castle.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Murthly Castle, listed category A, was originally a Royal Hunting Lodge built by David II in the second quarter of the 12th century. The current castle dates from the 15th century and was remodelled in the 17th century by Sir William Steuart. Futher additions were completed in the manner of William Adam c.1725-40 and more were added c.1800 and c.1855. The middle wing was rebuilt in 1893 by A. Duncan although it is thought that the design may be based on sketches by Leadbetter and Fairley. The Chapel of St. Anthony the Eremite is listed category B. Originally it was built in the 16/17th century, and was remodelled with a large addition in 1843-46 by James Gillespie Graham. The Walled Garden, Garden House etc. is listed category A and was built between 1669-1713. 'The Roman Bridge over Birnam Burn is listed category A and was built of six arches over a deep ravine in the mid-19th century; it is in poor condition. Ringwood Lodge is listed category C and was originally the West Lodge but is now cut off by the A9. Other listed buildings include: the Bridge at Colryden Lodge drive, listed category C; Colryden Lodge listed category B; East Gates listed category C. Other buildings include the Dairy, Murthly Kitchen Gardens and Broadarthur Lodge and East Lodge. Demolished significant architectural features include Murthly New Castle built between 1828-36 by James Gillespie Graham; it was unfinished and demolished in 1949. The Arch to George Steuart VC who died in 1868 was sited at the end of the southern vista from the New Castle and was demolished in 1950.


The Parkland was first laid out in the 17/18th century and was enlarged and completely remodelled by John Wallace in 1830. In his massive scheme, parkland was created throughout the policies and is clearly shown on the 1st edition OS plan of 1867. The Parkland divides into two main parts separated by the Castle and Avenue which form an almost north/south division. The eastern park, edged along the river bank by a long ha-ha wall, contains some of the oldest trees including some very fine old sweet chestnuts, the remnants of the original planting. The majority of the park trees are beech, oak, horse chestnut, and sycamore and their ages range from the 1600s to 1850, and c.1890. A curling pond was created in the late 19th century on Meadow Bog in the south-east corner of the park. The pavilion, built adjacent to it between 1895-1900, is now disused. The western park is smaller and is further subdivided into two by Branders Hill Wood. The parkland trees here only date from the later 19th century periods of planting, although the oak avenue is older. Outwith these two areas, the pastures extend west along the banks of the Tay towards Birnam Hill. Sir William, 7th Baronet, kept a herd of buffalo on the 230 acre Duncan's Hill. John Wallace threaded many winding drives throughout the policies and exploited the dramatic qualities of the site, particularly the panoramic views, and the rugged quality of Birnam Burn. Many avenues were created through the park and these remain significant features today. Of these, one of the most impressive was a magnificent avenue of limes (Tilia x europaea), with yew (Taxus baccata) between them, leading up to the Gillespie Graham House. They are said to have been planted c.1711. Others included an Oak Avenue planted c.1800, and a second Oak Avenue planted c.1870, a good Beech Avenue planted c.1800 and a fine Cedar Avenue (Cedrus atlantica glauca), running along the western drive by the A9(T). A Wellingtonia Avenue flanks part of eastern drive. A particular feature of the 19th century design was the riverside drive which extended from Birnam in the west to Victoria Bridge at Gellyburn in the east. A new Beech Avenue (1977-78) was planted by the River Tay along a section of this drive to commemorate Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee, replacing one of Abies nobilis, planted for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, (felled because of disease in the 1950s).


Murthly has always been famous for its woodland and originally it was part of Birnam Wood. It is said to still have one or two ancient deciduous trees. In the late 19th century many of its famous trees were said to be the biggest in the country. Conifer planting throughout the 19th century has ensured that Murthly's fame for trees continues and now it grows some very fine plantations as well as specimen trees. Today there are over 400 acres of amenity woodland, mainly replanted from the 1850s, with a mixture of conifers and broadleaf trees such as beech, oak, Scots pine and larch and there are at least 2,000 acres of commercial forestry growing mainly conifers, mostly replanted since 1950. The garden is laid out on a strong north/south axis between the Castle and the Chapel. It is thought to have been created by John Wallace, and much of the planting was carried out under the influence of Sir William, 7th Baronet. Three parallel walks follow the axis. The western walk was framed by an avenue of Monkey puzzles which were removed during World War II; the central walk is lined by an ancient avenue of yew about 300 years old; and the eastern walk as a dramatic sunk terrace built 1852-53. This terrace was approached by a flight of steps with a grotto underneath. The banks of the terrace were lined with colourful hybrid Rhododendron and backed by magnificent Cupressus varieties. The rhododendrons were replanted with advice from Peter Cox of Glendoick, and whitebeams have replaced the Cupressus which were felled in World War II. Beyond the sunken terrace walk is a lower terrace cut into the escarpment of a knoll and it is planted with a range of conifers in large single species groups. Alan Mitchell measured over 155 of the trees in 1983. They include firs, Abies alba and Abies grandis (one over 180' high); spruce, such as Picea glehnii over 84' high; several fine Picea omorika; some magnificent Douglas fir, Pseudotsuga menziesii, (the tallest over 180' high) ; other Tsuga including several Tsuga heterophylla (the tallest 170' tall) ; and some large Tsuga memertensiana planted in 1862. An avenue of Thuja plicata has an average height of over 100'.

The Gardens

The American Garden was planted by Sir William, 7th Baronet, with many of the American trees and plants he obtained during his travels. It lay to the south of the east drive near Keppie Wood and several ponds were made out of the small burn. The garden was abandoned in 1936 and is now derelict.

Walled Garden

The south wing of the castle, built in the late 17th century, overlooks the enclosed walled garden. The castle sits above the garden on a high terrace with borders along its walls mainly filled with shrubs and ground cover plants including one magnificent Magnolia. Several flights of steps lead down to the formal garden. In the south-east corner stands the delightful hipped-roofed garden house with its date, 1669, carved on it. It is said to have been used as a model for revival houses by architects including Sir Robert Lorimer. Mature yew trees are remnants of the original planting and are sited in the north-west corner of the garden. The garden was remodelled during the 1850s when extravagant parterres were laid out. Photographs record the ornate topiary, most of which became neglected after c.1936. The garden was again remodelled in 1977 to designs by Russell and Greer. The layout followed the traditional four compartments and has created an attractive garden. The topiary has been simplified, a vegetable garden enclosed by existing yew and box hedges was introduced, some of the larger yews were removed, and a rose garden and several herbaceous borders were planted near the house. The old bowling green is entirely grassed.

The kitchen garden is situated at the south-west corner of the policies. It was built c.1840 probably under the direction of John Wallace. Greenhouses were attached and fruit trees trained up the long, curving south-facing wall. In c.1936 all production stopped and it was grassed over. The remaining walls are deteriorating.

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

An outstanding landscape which makes a major contribution to the surrounding Tay Valley scenery and provides an attractive setting for several category A listed buildings. Today's early 19th century layout overlays an early 17th century one, and some early trees can still be seen.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

Early 17th century; 1660 -1713; 1828 -38; late 19th century; 1977

Site History

The Abercrombie family acquired Murthly in the mid-15th century and built the original castle. Sir William, 11th of Grantully, was a page of James VI (I) and high in Royal favour. Known as 'William the Ruthless', he bought the extensive Murthly estates from his Abercrombie cousin in 1615 and began remodelling the castle and gardens. His son, Sir Thomas, built the enchanting garden house in 1669 and is credited with the magnificent Dutch garden created at that time. Sir Thomas may have been influenced by the designs of Sir William Bruce who was building Dunkeld House for the Duke of Atholl at this time. John inherited Murthly and he was succeeded in 1720 by Sir George, 2nd Baronet.

The family continued to live at Murthly and there were no dramatic changes until Sir John Steuart, 18th of Grantully, inherited the Logiealmond estates from his mother. Between 1829-1832 James Gillespie Graham designed a magnificent Elizabethan House for Sir John which was never finished and was later demolished. In 1828 John Wallace was recalled from Forest Hill, Windsor, to lay out the 'gardens and pleasure-grounds'. He was the fourth generation of his family to be a gardener at Murthly. His 'great-grandfather was a journeyman of the Duke of Atholl at Blair, when larch was treated as a greenhouse plant'. (Gardeners' Magazine 1828).

Sir John's brother, William, inherited in 1838. He was a colourful figure who had spent some time travelling especially in America. He brought back two Native Americans who lived in the Garden House for several years. He built the large Arch (in honour of his son, William George) although this was demolished in 1950. In 1890 the estate passed to a distant cousin Colonel Walter Fothringham of Pourie who assumed the additional surname of Steuart. His great-grandson, Thomas, the current owner of the Castle, recently inherited from his father Robert.

Associated People
Features & Designations


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

  • Historic Environment Scotland Listed Building

  • Reference: Chapel of St Anthony the Eremite
  • Grade: B
  • Historic Environment Scotland Listed Building

  • Reference: Roman Bridge
  • Grade: C
  • Historic Environment Scotland Listed Building

  • Reference: The Walled Garden and Garden House
  • Grade: A


  • Dairy
  • Tree Avenue
  • Castle (featured building)
  • Description: Murthly Castle, listed category A, was originally a Royal Hunting Lodge built by David II in the second quarter of the 12th century. The current castle dates from the 15th century and was remodelled in the 17th century by Sir William Steuart.
  • Specimen Tree
  • Description: A good collection of specimen conifers.
Key Information





Principal Building

Domestic / Residential





Electoral Ward

Strathtay and Dunkeld




  • Historic Scotland