Relugas is one of the finest examples of the 19th-century picturesque style of landscape design in Scotland, associated with Thomas Dick Lauder, poet, antiquarian and artist.
Type of Site
Large scale nineteenth century 'picturesque' landscape design at the confluence of the Rivers Findhorn and Divie.
Location and Setting
Relugas is situated 8.5km south west of Forres in Morayshire, accessed from the B9007. The designed landscape occupies a site of complex strong relief at the confluence of the Rivers Findhorn and Divie. It comprises hills, rocky knolls and river terraces from which the gorge-like course of the Divie can be appreciated. The 'Doune of Relugas' used to provide a central vantage point from which the core area of the designed landscape used to be viewed but the prolific growth of woodland and shrubs and scrub now limits views over lower ground and the main internal views are obtained from the vicinity of the new Lodge.
Regulas is an extensive designed landscape which relies on its naturalistic design and long footpath trails to provide opportunities for picturesque views. Lauder's Plan of Relugas 1830 concentrates on the core area around the mansion house but examination of the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map indicates an extensive complex pattern of informal open spaces framed by woodlands. Only the open spaces close to the house are defined as ornamental parkland or gardens on the early maps. These represent the core of a substantial designed landscape which merged with its neighbours at Dunphail and Dounduff. The extent of the designed landscape did not change during the nineteenth century. Former areas of parkland defined on the 1st Edition O.S. Map have, however, been infilled by forestry during the twentieth century.
The old Relugas House was demolished in 1957 and a new house (also called Relugas) was built on approximately the same site in 1980. Classical rusticated Gate piers and Wing walls capped by balls are remains from the time of old Relugas House. There are also remains of a bell tower and staff tunnel to Relugas House from the lower terrace. The abutments of the bridge over the lower drive also remain although the original bridge arch has been replaced by a modern deck. The one wing of the original stables remains and has been converted to a dwelling. The adjacent gardener's cottage is a more recent twentieth century development. The Old Well arch survives within the garden of the present house. A gate lodge dating from the 1930s is positioned inside the old gate. On the opposite side of the drive are two buildings; a kennel and a game larder/store. The kennel occupies the site of an earlier building. On the banks of the River Findhorn are two markers dated 1829, indications of the flood level reached during the 'Muckle Spate'. There are also the remains of a walled enclosure on top of the Doune.
Drives and Approaches
The main approach to the new Lodge is from the B9007 via the old gate. The metalled drive then passes the twentieth century gate lodge before progressing through lawn areas towards the 'Lodge'. A spur off the main drive drops down to the lower level of the flower garden and the Stableblock/Gardener's Cottage. This drive passes beneath a pedestrian bridge and in front of the bell tower retaining wall and former staff tunnel entrance.
Paths and Walks
Relugas in the nineteenth century was served by an extensive network of trails and footpaths laid out along the valley sides, the rivers' edge and around the 'Doune'. These routes spanned many changes in level and provided opportunities to view the landscape from numerous exciting vantage points. Many of the original trails remain, although some have been recently undermined by the river. Some of the paths were reconstructed after the 'Muckle Spate' and some were altered during the recent redevelopment of the house and gardens. The grid of paths associated with the flower garden no longer exists.
The Doune is a prominent wooded hill dominating the core of the policies. It is accessed by a spiralling system of footpaths which terminate at an oval shaped enclosure on its summit. This enclosure has a few remnants of shrub planting which may represent the remains of an unsuccessful ornamental garden.
Original open areas of parkland grazing land have been infilled by woodland planting to the north and west of the house. This has reduced the extent of 'parkland' in the core area to the lawns surrounding the house and the two lodges. These lawn areas are well maintained and are partially subdivided by shrub beds and ornamental tree planting.
Outside the core area, irregular open spaces remain in agricultural use. The fields adjacent to the former kennels and to Relugas Mains are important remnants of the open space pattern at Relugas.
Relugas is heavily wooded and contains a mixture of long established woods and newer forest plantations. The majority of the woodland is mixed, comprising conifers and broadleaves that are up to 200 years old. Tree growth at Relugas is prolific and regeneration is extensive. The main species present are beech, oak, sycamore and ash, with Douglas fir, grand fir, silver fir and pine. The new plantations contain Sitka Spruce. The woodland understorey is dominated by rhododendron and laurel. The woodlands provide strong containment of the parklands and gardens but their vigorous growth is restricting views in some areas.
The course of the River Divie was slightly modified to enhance its scenic interest through the creation of rock pools and cascades with adjacent viewing areas. After the 'Muckle Spate', river flood prevention works were undertaken. These included the construction of revetments and stone pitched banks. These structures largely obscured the original mill lade described by Lauder in 'Relugas'.
Below Relugas House on terraces beside the River Divie, were the nineteenth century flower and vegetable gardens. These were fenced gardens of informal shape. Closest to the house and adjacent to stables was the flower garden. This was subdivided into four compartments by footpaths. The flower garden area is still maintained as an ornamental feature but has a different layout. It is now mostly lawn with a circular flower bed at its centre. A rockery established c.1920 by Dobbies, wraps around the lawn on its north and western sides.
To the south of the flower garden was the vegetable garden, occupying a narrower river terrace. This area is now unmanaged and contains several mature conifers at its southern end.
- Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts
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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
Relugas is one of the finest examples of the nineteenth century picturesque style of landscape design in Scotland, associated with Thomas Dick Lauder, poet, antiquarian and artist.
Main Phases of Landscape Development
Nineteenth century development of a pre-existing estate.
Relugas estate belonged for over two centuries to the Cumin or Cumming family. The house pictured by Thomas Dick Lauder in the early nineteenth century was started as a tower house in 1785; however, it is possible that there was an earlier house on the estate. Thomas Dick Lauder visited Relugas in 1803 when on a 'Pedestrian Tour of the Highlands' which he later described. He met and married the heiress of Relugas, his third cousin, Miss Charlotte Anne Cumin, in 1808 and shortly afterward the house was 'enlarged and beautified'. Mr. Alexander Wilson of Berwickshire carried out agricultural improvements, tree planting and built a new bridge over the River Divie at this time. In 1813, Thomas Dick Lauder began his largest work, called 'Relugas', which records the visits of his friends to Relugas, including Hugh Williams, Rev. John Thomson of Duddingston, James Brodie of Brodie, and Dr. John Gordon. His experiments with garden design are described in the 'Notes'. 'Relugas in the 1820s became a focal point for the picturesque movement in Scotland' (Rock).
After succeeding as 7th Baronet, Lauder had sufficient funds to commission large additions to the house which comprised 'a very handsome suite of apartments'. A later plan by Lauder of Relugas in 1830 shows the layout of the grounds and gardens. Elizabeth Grant of Rothiemurchus described the house having an Italian front and Italian tower raised above the offices 'and with neatly kept grounds, it was about the prettiest place ever lived in!' By 1824, Lord Cockburn and the Findhorn Club travelled to Relugas every year; 'after the hospitality of the house, it was the landscape at Relugas which was the greatest attraction' (Rock).
In August 1829, Relugas was devastated by floods, which destroyed many properties in Morayshire, including the thatched temple at Relugas. Lauder described the 'Muckle Spate' and drew pictures of Relugas before and after the flood.
'Entering the Relugas property from the Dunphail march, a branch of the pleasure-walks led down to the left bank of the Divie, for above two miles, quite to the point of its junction with the Findhorn' The rocks and recesses of the woodland banks and the little grassy slopes were covered in a wild way with many thousand shrubs, of all kinds, especially with laurels, rhododendrons, azaleas, lilacs and a profusion of roses' whilst the rocks were covered with the different saxifrages, hung with all sorts of creepers and enamelled with a variety of garden flowers, all growing artlessly, as if sown by the hand of Nature' On the Mill Island itself, the greatest care was lavished, the peaceful mill-stream, the lawny grass glades, the winding walks and the rocky ridges, having been adorned with all that was most rare, till it was converted into a spot of delightful retirement. At its lower extremity the mill-stream returned into the river over a broken cascade, crossed by picturesque bridges, where a little rustic Doric temple, partly constructed of masonry and partly of unpeeled spruce trees, occupied an isolated rock.'
The family spent less time at Relugas over the next decade and after the death of Lady Lauder's mother, the estate was sold in 1847 to W. McKilligan Esq. It was sold again in 1852 to G. R. Smith Esq., whose daughter-in-law, Miss Smith, held 1,084 acres in 1885. The OS Gazetteer recorded that Relugas 'occupying a romantic site and surrounded by pleasure grounds of singular beauty, it is a picturesque, irregular edifice in the cottage ornee style.'
In 1896, Thomas North Dick Lauder, the 9th Baronet, drew Relugas for Country Life. In the early part of the twentieth century, Relugas changed hands several times. A few developments were undertaken, namely, the creation of a rockery garden below the house, the partial demolition of the Stableblock and its conversion to the Gardener's Cottage. However, after the First World War the house and policies went into decline. By the start of the Second World War Relugas House was in a poor condition, but sufficed as a military shooting school during the war years. In 1957, the house was demolished after being uninhabited for a number of years.
The gardens continued to be managed by estate staff who occupied the remaining buildings at Relugas. The flower and vegetable gardens were maintained in their original location until c.1960. In 1980, a new 'Lodge' was built on the site of Relugas House by the current owners of the estate. The policies have been partially restored since that time and new gardens laid out around and below the house.
- Features & Designations
Historic Environment Scotland An Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland
- House (featured building)
- Description: The old Relugas House was demolished in 1957 and a new house (also called Relugas) was built on approximately the same site in 1980.
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- Key Information