Stonefield Castle Hotel 3130

Tarbert, Scotland

Brief Description

Stonefield Castle Hotel has a dramatic setting overlooking Loch Fyne. The woodland landscape around the hotel dates from the mid-19th century onwards and contains a notable collection of rhododendrons and other unusual trees and shrubs. Many of the rhododendrons are grown from seed from original introductions by Sir Joseph Hooker.


Stonefield Castle was the seat of the Campbell family. The designed landscape dates from the mid-19th century. The estate was sold and divided up in 1960.

Detailed Description

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

A plantsman's garden established in the first half of the 19th century, hosting an outstanding and unusual collection of trees and shrubs, particularly rhododendrons, picturesque walks, wild and walled gardens and seaside policies.

Location and Setting

Stonefield Castle is situated off the A83 some 2 miles (3km) north of Tarbert and 10 miles (16km) south of Ardrishaig. It lies on the west shore of Loch Fyne opposite the isthmus of Barmore Island on the lower slopes of Knapdale Forest. The designed landscape covers the valley of Barmore Burn and extends over Barr Hill 390' (119m). On the western side, it is bordered by the main road and on the east by the sea. The policies run north along the shoreline for about 1 mile (1.5km) between the road and the sea. The soil is light, gravelly and fairly acid. The climate is affected by the Gulf Stream and the maritime conditions. The rainfall is high, the annual average being about 40" (1,000mm). The steep slopes of the valley and the woodland protect the gardens from the prevailing south westerly winds which can blow fiercely up Loch Fyne.

To the west of the policies lie the uplands of the Knapdale Forest, the lower slopes of which are covered by commercial forestry, managed by the Forestry Commission. There are long views south to the Sound of Bute framed between Barmore Island and the mainland. The views north are more open and look up Loch Fyne to Lochgilphead and Otter Ferry. From the trunk road the collection of ornamental trees provides some variety in the surrounding scenery and their canopy hides the Castle and its gardens from view.

In the centre of valley Stonefield Castle lies on the slightly rising ground overlooking the Loch. The designed landscape was laid out in the mid-19th century at the same time as the Castle was built and it is shown on the 1st edition OS plan, dated 1865. In the 1960s, it was reduced by over a half when the southern section was planted up as commercial forestry. Today it extends to an area of about 366 acres (148ha).

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Stonefield Castle, listed category B, was built in the Scottish baronial style in about 1837 from designs by William Playfair. It is an L-shaped, two storey building with attics. In the 1970s, a large bedroom wing and dining room extension were built on to the north and west sides. These extensions, particularly when seen from the seashore, appear rather cumbersome in comparison to the Castle.

The Stables and Coach House, listed category B, were also designed by W. Playfair in about 1839. They are built around three sides of a courtyard and have recently been converted into staff accommodation. The South or Tarbert Lodge, listed category B, is also by Playfair and was completed in about 1843. The North Lodge was built at the same time and has recently been modernised.

The Viaduct over Barmore Burn, listed category B, was designed by Playfair and constructed in about 1838. The Tower, listed category C(S) was probably built by Playfair at the same time as the viaduct. It is a romantic "gothic revival" tower with a crenallated parapet, built as a "picturesque" ruin. In 1855, the Mausoleum, listed category B, was designed for John Campbell, who died in 1857, the same year as Playfair. The Farm Steading, listed category C(S) was built in the Scottish vernacular style in the early 19th century. The Gamekeeper's Cottage, listed category C(S), with kennels adjoining it, were both built in the 1840s.


On the 1st edition OS plan, dated 1865, the policies ran along the southern side of the Burn in two narrow strips divided by woodland. By the seashore, the strips opened out into a small oval park with several trees in it. The grass sward continued over the narrow isthmus to Barmore Island. The only tree on the island was a Monkey puzzle planted as an eyecatcher on its summit. On the west side of the main road, there was a larger park planted with many single trees. Today all the grassland has been planted with conifers by the Forestry Commission.


The woodlands are divided by the Barmore Burn into two sections, the southern one was planted with conifers in about 1960 and the northern section was planted with mixed conifers and hardwoods in the 1840s. The conifer woodland now covers the policies, Barr Hill and Barmore Island. Extensive conifer plantations were also planted along the west side of the main road. The remains of John Campbell's ornamental planting extends along the north side of the entrance drive and for about another mile along the seashore to the North Lodge. This woodland consists mainly of hardwoods including beech, sycamore and oak with some Scots pine and Douglas fir. Along the boundary with the garden, several exotic conifers were planted, particularly around the Mausoleum. Little attention has been given to the woodland for the past 20 years and many of the older trees are declining.

The Gardens

The Wild Garden extends around the Castle, up to the walled kitchen garden and down to Barmore Burn. In it, grows an extraordinary collection of trees, shrubs and rhododendrons including many of the original plants grown from the first seed introduced into this country. Many of them are immense and some have even naturalized themselves, either by seed or by layering, particularly the larged leaved Rhododendrons of the Grande series.

Most of the Rhododendrons are planted in an arc around a small lawn to the west of the castle where a swimming pool has been built. The Rhododendrons include some magnificent examples. The most important ones were grown from seed sent from Hooker's expedition and they are R. falconeri, R. eximium, R. arboretum album, and R. niveum. David Hannah, in his guide book, describes several unusual trees and shrubs growing at Stonefield, including Philesia buxifolia, Fuchsia excorticata and Pieris forrestii, as well as most of the Rhododendrons. The more tender shrubs, such as Lomatia myricoides, Crinodendron hookerianum and Pittosporum tenuifolium are protected by the canopy of some interesting trees including a large Nothofagus cunnighamii and an Abies lasiocarpa var Arizonica. Most of these grow between the castle and the kitchen garden. Some plants still retain their labels, hand written by Hannah.

Rampant hybrid Rhododendrons have swamped the picturesque walks particularly along the Barmore Burn ravine and under the magnificent viaduct. From the stream, the crenallated tower next to the bridge looks impressive. Both these were designed to be seen from the drive but today they are hidden by foliage. In the 1920s, two clay tennis courts and a small wooden summerhouse were built in the park surrounded by several unusual conifers.

To the south of the castle there is an enormous rockery which is now covered by overgrown shrubs and colonised by other vigorous vegetation. Recent clearing has cut paths through it and some of the plants have been drastically pruned to open up views of the Loch. On the 1st edition OS plan, it can be seen that many paths once wound through the garden and woodlands; now most have become overgrown by tangled vegetation, except for those near the castle which have been cleared. In July 1981, Alan Mitchell visited Stonefield and measured over 76 conifers of 39 different species and varieties. He included the tender long needled pine (Pinus montezumae var Hartegii), which was over 22m (72 feet); a Sciadopitys verticillata over 15m (50 ft), and the tallest tree, a Wellingtonia over 42m (138ft) high. He also measured 10 broadleaved trees including a Myrtus luma over 9m (30 ft), and a Magnolia campbellii over 15m (50 ft) tall.

Walled Garden

The kitchen garden was built on the south facing slope between the Castle and the stables. It is enclosed by a stone wall and divided into two terraces by a retaining wall. The top terrace, is now derelict. The lower terrace grows vegetables for the hotel. The glasshouses are also derelict and part of the garden wall needs repair.

  • Mausoleum
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  • Hotel (featured building)
  • Description: Stonefield Castle was built in the Scottish baronial style in about 1837 from designs by William Playfair. It is an L-shaped, two storey building with attics.
  • Earliest Date:
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  • Planting
  • Description: Many of the rhododendrons are grown from seed from original introductions by Sir Joseph Hooker.

Detailed History

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 attractive wooded landscape set in spectacular Kintyre peninsula scenery and hosting an important collection of trees and shrubs, especially Rhododendrons by seed raised from original introductions.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

1840s-50s, additional planting throughout the 19th century and the estate divided up in 1960.

Site History

The landscape was designed in the 1840s and the 1850s and throughout the 19th century many unusual trees and shrubs were planted. The estate was sold and divided up in 1960.

In 1746, Archibald Campbell, Sheriff of Argyll, purchased the Barmore estate from the McAlisters of Barmore who had built the first house. This house burnt down in 1792. In 1837, John Campbell, the Sheriff's great-great grandson, began building the new House and laying out the policies. He changed its name to Stonefield, the English translation of Achnacloich, an earlier Campbell estate on the shores of Loch Etive. By the 1850s, he was raising some of the first Himalayan Rhododendrons which were sent as seed from India by a cousin and close friend, Dr Archibald Campbell. Dr Campbell (1805-1874) had previously sent seed of plants growing around Darjeeling but the Rhododendrons came from the plant hunting expedition to Sikkim undertaken by Campbell and his friend, Sir Joseph Hooker, between 1849-50. Hooker named Magonolia Campbellii, which has been described as the 'aristocrat of the Magnolia species', after Dr Campbell. Over 21 rhododendrons introduced by Hooker still grow in the gardens and are illustrated in his book "Rhododendrons of Sikkim, Himalayas".

In 1838, Playfair designed a tall viaduct across the ravine of the Barmore Burn and built a ruined tower as a folly. Planting continued and many of the exotic trees and shrubs flourished. Later in the 19th century, the estate was inherited by John Campbell's grandson, Colin George, who in 1894 married Lady Ileene Hastings, daughter of the 13th Earl of Huntingdon. They both were interested in gardening. The gardens were also managed by their son. In 1960. their grandson sold the property. The estate was divided; the southern policies, including Barr Hill and Barmore Island, were sold to the Forestry Commission and the Castle and gardens were sold to an hotel. For many years, the gardens were looked after by the head-gardener, David G. Hannah, a recognized expert on Rhododendrons. Since he retired, the gardens have been maintained by several gardeners and interest in the important collection has lessened.


  • Victorian (1837-1901)
Associated People