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Pluscarden Abbey (also known as Pluscarden Priory)


The gardens at Pluscarden Abbey may be the oldest in Scotland. The precinct walls date from the early-13th century and enclose a fruit and vegetable garden. There are also a few fields used for the cultivation of arable and other crops and some mature trees. Four Irish yews in the walled garden may date from the original layout.

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

Pluscarden Abbey lies in the broad Vale of Pluscarden, 6 miles (9.5km) south- west of Elgin. The Black Burn flows northwards past the Abbey to join the river Lossie not far from its estuary at Lossiemouth. The Abbey is sited at 200' (61m) above sea level just to the south of the Heldon Hill escarpment which rises steeply to 767' (234m) behind it. To the south of the Vale, the Hill of the Wangie rises more gently to over 1000' (305m). The Morayshire climate is known for its mildness with an annual rainfall of 30", and the soils at Pluscarden are deep sandy loams. There are fine views south across the valley and the Abbey can be seen from the Elgin road nestling amidst its shelter plantations.

Pluscarden Abbey does not have a large designed landscape attached to it; there is a walled garden and there are some fields in arable use sheltered by tree belts to the west and south. This structure has remained constant since at least 1860 according to map records, and there are 28 acres (11.3ha) in the designed landscape today.

The hill to the north was planted up in the time of the Earl of Fife's ownership, when it was called Eildon Hill. The woods are now let to the Forestry Commission. The old road used to run along the edge of the hill and entered Pluscarden from the north-west. The Earl of Fife moved the road to the south of the Abbey in c.1820 at about the time when repairs were made to parts of the Abbey, enabling it to be used as a local church and community hall. The Volunteer Rifle Range was set up in a field to the east of the Abbey, the Butts being at the edge of the wood. A new gateway and lodge were put in at this time.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

The Abbey is a scheduled monument and is listed category A. It was founded in 1230 and reconstructed in the 15th century after the fire in 1390. Traces of the early priory buildings remain on the south and west sides. The Precinct encloses ten acres within a massive rubble wall whose original entrances were on the north and east sides; and this could be the oldest garden in Scotland. The Northgate was originally protected by a gatehouse in the base of which was a prison cell; it possibly also combined a courthouse. A gateway and lodge were built in 1820 at the south-east corner. Recent restoration work has been carried out to the designs of Ian Lindsay & Partners, 1945, and since 1968 by William Murray Jack of Cunningham Jack Fisher Purdom of St. Andrews.

The Gardens

The ten acres of precincts include the Abbey garden which is enclosed on three sides by walls. Within the north wall are some bee boles which still accommodate straw skeps and bees to this day. Originally bees would have been kept for their wax for candles. The garden is planted with soft fruit and vegetables. Two old interesting trees are growing within the walls; one, a Scots pine, is literally growing within the north wall, which appears almost to have been built round the tree; the other a fine, large Cedar grows near the north wall. From the north gate, an avenue extends southwards to the Abbey buildings; on the west is an extension of the garden containing more bee hives. The fields are planted with barley and potato in rotation. The gardens in early monastic times were used for growing herbs and vegetables, and were later famous for being planted in 1540 by the French gardening expert, Guillaume Lubias, who successfully cultivated them and planted them with fruit trees (The Vale of St. Andrew, M.W. Simpson, Scotland's Magazine, Volume 48, 1952). After a period as a tree nursery for the Earls of Fife, the gardens have been brought back into vegetable and fruit cultivation by the monks. Four Irish yews, planted where the paths met, may date back to the original laying out of the gardens. To the south-west of the Church is the cloister garden planted with old box hedging and the remains of an old Acacia tree. To the east of the Abbey buildings are some older large tree specimens of holm oak, copper beech, lime, cypress and two very old yews. A new shelter plantation of pine has been put in the south-east corner and the monks have also planted an avenue along the drive. To the east of the walled garden is the private burial ground.

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts

Access contact details

Opening hours - 4:30am to 8:30pm, every day.


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

Thought to be the oldest gardens in Scotland, dating from 1230, the designed landscape also provides the setting the A-listed Abbey buildings and makes a significant contribution to the surrounding scenery.

Site History

Pluscarden Priory was founded in 1230 by Alexander II for the purpose of 'christianising and civilising the peoples in all that part of the country', along with two other communities founded in Scotland: Beauly in Ross and Ardchattan in Argyll. To these priories came monks of the Valliscaulian Order from Burgundy. There is a tradition of earlier religious use of the site, of a hermit's cell and of a well dedicated to St. Margaret. In 1345 the priory was taken under the surveillance of the Bishop of Moray and, possibly related to this, it was attacked and burnt at the same time as Elgin Cathedral in 1390 by Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan, illegitimate son of Robert II, known as 'the Wolf of Badenoch'. The priory was restored and in 1454 Pope Nicholas V, in response to a petition from the Prior of Urquhart (a few miles to the east of Elgin), united the two priories. The monks changed from the white habits of former years to the black habits of the Benedictines under the Royal Abbey of Dunfermline. The last monastic Prior was Alexander Dunbar from 1533-60, who belonged to one of the leading Morayshire families, and the first of the lay priors after the change of religion was Lord Alexander Seton (Lord Urquhart).

The priory escaped sacking and the monks continued to live at Pluscarden until c.1586 under the authority of the lay Commendator. From Lord Urquhart it passed as a lay property through seven families including, in 1594, Mackenzie of Kintail, in 1662 the Brodies of Lethven, and thence to the Duff family in 1710. For most of this period it lay unmaintained although it was still described in the 1700s as having a fine garden and the remains of perfect fresco painting. The Earl of Fife in c.1820 moved the road to the south of the Abbey and built a gateway and lodge in the south-east corner of the site. Part of the church was restored at about this time and the grounds were laid out as 'shrubberies and walks'. In 1885 the OS Gazetteer records that 'the old monastery grounds are now used as nursery grounds for young trees to be used in plantations on Fife Estates in the neighbourhood, but a number of old trees dating from monastic times still remain, particularly a fine pear tree'. In 1897 the property passed from the Earls of Fife to the 3rd Marquess of Bute, whose son Lord Colum Crichton-Stuart offered it to the Benedictine community of Prinknash, Glos. in 1943 for restoration. An ambitious scheme for restoration began and the community was able to take up residence in 1948. By 1955 the central tower of the church was restored and by 1966 the Priory had been granted independence. In 1974 the monastery was elevated to the status of an Abbey. Today restoration work continues and stained glass work is one of the main occupations of the community.

Associated People
Features & Designations


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


  • Bee Bole
  • Garden Wall
  • Description: Precinct walls.
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
  • Priory (featured building)
  • Description: The Priory was founded in 1230 and reconstructed in the 15th century after a fire in 1390.
  • Earliest Date:
Key Information




Food/drink production

Principal Building

Religious Ritual And Funerary





Open to the public





  • Historic Scotland