Novar is a unique example of an 18th-century formal layout, combining ideals of land and economic improvement with strict 'military' organisation. Developed between 1770-1805, and relatively unchanged since, the design was executed by General Sir Hector Munro, influenced by his Indian military campaigns.
Type of Site
Mid-late18th century parkland, 'military' landscape and formal walled gardens.
Location and Setting
Novar is situated on the north side of the Cromarty Firth, 3.5km south west of Alness and 1.5km north east of Evanton, on the Alness-Evanton road.
The estate lies on the southeast slopes of Cnoc Fyrish, Cnoc an Deilignidh and Meann Chnoc, to the north-east of Glen Glass. A series of watercourses, Big Burn, Allt Duach, Allt Duilleag, and Allt a' Chadha Mhóir, drain the slopes and lower lying areas of the Novar policies, issuing into Alness Bay.
Novar House lies about 55m above sea level, at the centre of a series of enclosed parklands which ascend Cnoc an Deilignidh to 140m above sea level. The parklands are sheltered to the north, east and west by plantations. This landscape framework directs long-distance views southeastwards over the lower parklands, across the Cromarty Firth to the Black Isle. The designed landscape is ornamented with a series of follies, which highlight major views. Most notable is the Fyrish Monument, a local landmark which can be seen from many miles away. Views into the Novar parklands can be gained from the Alness-Evanton road, which was previously the coaching road, the A9.
Estate maps (Aitken, 1777; 1796) and later maps (1874, OS 6"; 1904, OS 6") demonstrate that the general layout and extent of the designed landscape of c 150ha (371 acres) remains unchanged. Although the management of some areas of 'parkland' has altered, the general configuration of tree belts and drives has survived.
Novar House, built originally for John Munro of Novar in 1720, was altered in 1770, 1897 and 1956. It is south facing, U-shaped in plan and harled with ashlar and rendered finishes. The house is two-storeys with dormer windows, and service wings extending to the north. These flank a courtyard, enclosed on its northern side by a high wall with a central gateway.
The landscape is ornamented with a series of follies. The most prominent is the Fyrish Monument on the summit of Cnoc Fyrish at 453m O.S.D. This landmark, a mock ruin, consists of nine massive circular columns built of mortared rubble, the centre four columns being linked by pointed arches, above which the wall finishes in a series of squat battlements. Two Octagonal Towers are set on one of the junctions of the Main Drive and a Chinese Temple, north of the Walled Garden at the foot of Badger Hill, has been converted to a family memorial. To the south-west of the house, on Cat Hill, are two guntowers built for defensive purposes by General Munro during the Napoleonic Wars; a Square Tower, positioned on the summit of the hill, with a Round Tower lower down the slopes to its south-east. The construction of the water gardens in the 1950s, incorporated the ruins of the former Slaughterhouse as a folly, and a 'Privy', was converted into a pavilion and bridge. The water garden is laid out with a series of bridges, water channels and stone benches. This garden scheme included, on the east side of the house, a rubble garden wall with circular niches set with statuary.
The Mains of Novar is in a prominent situation at the top of the Main Drive, above the parklands.
Novar Walled Garden, north of the House, is subdivided into two sections, east and west, built of coped rubble walls with ornate wrought iron gates. The Gardener's Cottage lies on its eastern perimeter.
Larch Cottage (also known Water Baillie's House or the 'Old Factor's House') is an early 19th century two-storey, three-bay house, harled with ashlar margins.
Novar Stables comprises two late 18th/early 19th century, five bay, parallel blocks linked at the north and south by retaining walls with ball finialed gate piers. All are harled with ashlar margins.
The East Entrance Gates, to the south-east of Novar House are a pair of facsimile gate piers, constructed c 1950, to replace damaged originals. They are flanked by pedestrian entrances. The West Entrance Gates, date from the late 18th century, are ashlar gate piers with cast iron carriage gates linked to square end piers.
Drives and Approaches
The 18th century drives, laid out in a formal rectilinear pattern, survive unaltered. The main approach is along the East Drive, which leads off the B817 by the East Gate. This formal drive, some 1.2km long, is lined with trees, borders the east side of the Lawn and leads uphill, to terminate at the Mains of Novar. A shorter drive leads off at right angles, westwards along the contour to Novar House. From the East Drive, there are intermittent, oblique views across parkland to the house. The 18th century scheme included an ornamental approach along the West Drive. This led through the West Gate, to take a serpentine route along the edge of Cat Hill Wood, before leading up to the stables.
To the east of the East Drive, the policies are laid out on a gridiron plan. This comprises three, straight, parallel, tree-lined drives which lead off the East Drive, on a north-easterly alignment. The remains of two Octagonal Towers flank the junction of the middle drive and East Drive.
The east parks are arable (2001), and as a result several of the dividing shelter belts have become fragmented. The west parks (The Lawn, Temple Park and Firish New Park) are permanent grassland with a strong parkland character. The parkland has seen little change, although some clumps have been removed and others have lost trees. This results in a more informal landscape character. Due to the maturity and size of the parkland trees, there are many impressive specimens. Species include lime, Scots pine, sycamore, beech, horse chestnut and oak.
In the 18th century scheme, parkland extended on both sides of the East Drive. That to the east was divided into a series of five rows of enclosures regularly laid out into rectangular compartments. Those directly along the slope from Novar House were planted with geometric-shaped tree clumps. West of the East Drive, the parkland extended over south-facing slopes below Novar House. It was expansive and contained numerous geometric-shaped clumps of trees; squares, circles, triangles, crescents, ovals and diamonds using, for most clumps, single species.
Novar designed landscape is sheltered to the west and north, by hillside plantations. These comprise commercial conifer plantations with significant stands of Scots Pine and old semi-natural woodland.
The parklands are surrounded by, or subdivided by, woodland belts containing exotics. These belts also border the plantations on the west side of the policies. A tree survey (1980) identifies many significant specimens. Of particular note are eight giant fir (Abies grandis) over 48m (160ft) high, five Douglas fir between 45m and 51m (150ft-170ft), three Sitka spruce over 39m (130ft), larch and Wellingtonia over 30m (100ft). In addition, a survey identifies cedar, Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba), Monkey puzzle (Araucaria araucana), katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) and a tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera).
To the west of the house is a Water Garden, developed from c 1950 onwards, along the Allt Duach. A series of interlinked pools with cascades and water channels, incorporate the former 'privy' and 'slaughterhouse' as follies. Recent enhancements to this area include an extension to the perimeter wall and management of the ornamental woodland (1990s).
A lochan in the south western corner of the park was created during the 1950s. This is fed by the Allt Duilleag and is retained by an earth dam with a small weir outlet. It is visible across the parkland from the house.
The Walled Garden, directly north of the house, is subdivided into two square compartments by a central wall (lying north-south). This wall is flanked by ornamental beds and pierced by three, arched gateways. The eastern compartment, which contains an oval pond in its south-western quarter, was laid out in four sections by crosspaths (1796, Estate Plan; 1874, OS 6"). It is now maintained as lawn, and the alignment of the paths can still be traced. The western compartment contains a croquet lawn, vegetable plots, orchard and a belt of ornamental trees running east to west along the centre-line of the garden.
The main entrance into the Walled Garden lies in the centre of the south wall, on an axis with the north court of Novar House. A flight of steps lead up from the drive, through an arched gateway and onto the Long Walk. This raised, terrace walk is lined by a parapet wall and runs the full length of the south wall.
The inner face of the north wall is brick-lined with stone buttresses. It supports several espalier fruit trees and large vines.
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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
A unique example of an 18th century formal layout, combining ideals of land and economic improvement with strict 'military' organisation. Developed between 1770-1805, and relatively unchanged since, the design was executed by General Sir Hector Munro, influenced by his Indian military campaigns.
Main Phases of Landscape Development
1768-1805, late 19th century.
Novar House was built in 1720 by John Munro, on the site of an earlier house belonging to Robert Munro of Novar and his wife Helen (a reset date stone of 1634). Little is known of the landscape at this time.
Colonel, later General, Sir Hector Munro (1726-1805), M.P. for Inverness, Nairn, Forres and Fortrose, undertook major landscape work at Novar, which falls broadly into two phases. His long military career started in 1747. After working his way up the ranks, he was put in command of the Highland Regiment (raised on the Gordon estates), serving in India from 1760-5. He received handsome prize money, rewarded to him for his victory at the Battle of Buxar (17th October 1764), when 7,000 men routed the confederated princes of Hindustan, who had a combined force of 50,000. He returned to Novar in 1766 where until 1777, he undertook a scheme of building and land improvement. He extended the house (c 1770) and improved land, draining the mosses and incorporating the latest agricultural methods.
In 1775, Matthew Culley noted that 'Colonel Monroe of Navarre...was improving a very barren soil in a most spirited and expeditious manner. The situation of the Colonel's house exceeds everything in all this pretty country, and he lives in the most elegant manner, everything being in the cleanest and neatest stile we have hitherto seen.' He noted how Munro was expending his prize money 'in cultivating and improving extensive wasts, whereby many a barren field' was made 'to smile with plenty population & happiness'. (Culley, 1775).
A survey plan of 1777 outlines much of this work, as well as a series of proposals aimed at increasing the amenities of the mansion (Aitken, 1777 notes among other proposals, 'A Lawn intended around the House'). The gridiron series of enclosure fields and drives he laid out were planned with military precision. The execution of Aitken's survey and plan may well have been spurred on by Munro's projected return to India for, that same year, he was appointed a brevet colonel and then to the temporary council of Madras in command of the army in India.
His second term of service in India was no less victorious. He captured Pondicherry from the French (1778), was instrumental in Sir Eyre Coote's victory at Porto Novo (1 July 1781) and captured Negapatam from the Dutch, after a four week siege (12 November 1781). In ill-health, he returned home in 1782, where he recommenced investment in the Novar policies. By the 1790s, he had converted upland areas to sheep runs and laid out a series of gardens in the extensive walled garden (1796, Estate Plan; Richardson and Clough, 1989). The parkland planting, initially modest in scale, was augmented with a series of clumps, roundels and platoons, which decorated The Lawn (planned in the 1770s), the largest area of parkland, extending south of the house. Further ornamentation of the Lawn included a large statue of the Novar Eagle, the heraldic crest of the Munros, perched on top of a mount in the west Lawn. Two plantations, to east and west, flanked the house. Many of the enclosure parks were named after Munro's campaigns or Indian places: 'Buxar Park, Bombay Park, Madrafs Park, Negapatnam Park, Mount Delly Park, Nilafaram park, Mattalloy Park, Taujore Park, Trichenopoly Park, Surat Park, Calcutta Park, Benerafs Park...' as well as the more functional 'Sheep Park, Kiln Park' or the more local names 'Firish New Park... The Inn Park' (1796, Estate Plan).
Munro built the Fyrish Monument, probably as famine relief work, dated variously to c 1783 or 1800 (Close-Brookes 1995; Gifford, 1992). Tradition says that it is a copy of the gates of the fortress of Negapatam on the Coromandel coast. Although not a copy, it loosely follows Indian architectural styles in the shape of its three arches. It is likely that Munro designed it himself, to commemorate his victory in 1781. Southey noted General Munro's work in his Journal in 1819:'There are extensive plantations on the hills behind the house, and some odd edifices on the summits which he is said to have designed as imitations of the hill-forts in India. One of them appeared like a huge sort of Stonehenge; but we saw it only from a distance.' Other follies included a Chinese Temple, built on the edge of Temple Park.
Munro, although not married, had three children. Both his sons were killed in India. One by a tiger (a well known incident) and the other by a shark. His daughter Jean was unable to inherit Novar in her own right, so the property was left to his brother Sir Alexander Munro, who was for many years consul general at Madrid and thereafter, a commissioner of excise. His son, Hugh Alexander Munro (d.1865), followed him. He died without any legitimate heirs and the property reverted to Jean's family as she had by now been married to General Sir Ronald Ferguson of Raith, Kirkcaldy, hence the change of name to Munro Ferguson. In the late 19th century, many of the existing exotic trees and shrubs were planted in the grounds. In 1890, additions and alterations were made to the house for Ronald Munro Ferguson, including a porch (removed in 1956).
Arthur Munro Ferguson made major improvements to the gardens in the 1950s. He designed and developed a water garden around the slaughterhouse and privy, planted gardens to the west of the house and constructed a garden wall with statuary niches. He constructed a lake fed by the Allt Duilleag in the southern parkland. A series of architectural features bought from the demolition of Rosehaugh in 1972 (see Rosehaugh) were incorporated into Novar House.
- 18th Century
- Late 18th Century
- Features & Designations
Historic Environment Scotland An Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland
- House (featured building)
- Description: Novar House, built originally for John Munro of Novar in 1720, was altered in 1770, 1897 and 1956. It is south facing, U-shaped in plan and harled with ashlar and rendered finishes. The house is two-storeys with dormer windows.
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- Key Information
Late 18th Century
Alness and Ardross