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Tarbat House


Tarbat House is an informal designed landscape incorporating features surviving from a baroque landscape established in or by the 17th century. Although somewhat degraded, some features are still evident.

The following is from the Historic Environment Scotland Gardens and Designed Landscapes Inventory. The site was removed from the Inventory on 28/04/2016.

Type of Site

An informal designed landscape incorporating features surviving from a baroque landscape established in or by the 17th century.

Location and Setting

Tarbat is situated 7km (4.5 miles) north-east of Invergordon, by the village of Milton. It is accessed by the B817 off the A9 trunk road.

The Tarbat landscape encompasses a raised beach and its bluff slope on the north shore of the Cromarty Firth at Nigg Bay. Tarbat House lies on higher ground, above the raised beach from where there are views south over the Cromarty Firth and the Sutors of Cromarty. Tarbat House and its surrounding parklands are prominent in views from Cromarty and the northern shores of the Black Isle.

The designed landscape of 188ha (465 acres) at Tarbat has remained consistent in extent since the early 19th century. It extends to the edge of Milton to the north, to the Balnagown River valley to the east and to the B817 Milton-Kilmuir road to the west.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Tarbat House, designed by James McLeran in 1787, is a classical mansion comprising three storeys and an attic, with a seven-bay front, the centre three bays advanced and pedimented. Attached to the north-west is a stable pavilion, extended eastwards from five to six bays in the early 19th century. McLeran designed a matching pavilion to the north-east, which was unexecuted. The mansion house is built of imported droved ashlar except the rear elevation, which is rendered. Tarbat East Lodge, a two storey building of 1889, with a rustic porch stands at the Balnagown Bridge gateway. It was originally a game-keepers house with kennels and a game larder alongside.

Tarbat Mains, a 19th century farmsteading, has been largely demolished and the site redeveloped. The 19th century Stable Block has been demolished. The Walled Garden lies south-east of Tarbat House, on the site of the formal gardens associated with New Tarbat House. The rubble built, freestanding walls are brick-lined on the inside north wall, which is partially retaining. The south-west and south-east corners of the Walled Garden are curved. The foundations of some glasshouses survive. A Garden Bothy is located in the middle of the south wall. The 19th century Gardener's House stands to the east of the Walled Garden.

Drives and Approaches

The main approach is from the west, entering the grounds from the B817 Kilmuir-Balnagown Bridge road. This follows the route of the 17th century diagonal avenue until it meets with the main avenue oriented east-west. The drive leads along the north side of the avenue and widens into a turning area at the west front. Beyond the house, the drive continues eastwards to connect with the approach from the north.

The North Drive commences at the Lodge adjacent to Balnagown Bridge and follows a long south-easterly route through woodland before swinging westwards towards Tarbat House. This approach led over the Balnagown River by a bridge, since demolished. To the west of this, an avenue of 17th century lime lines the drive.

There is also a network of footpaths, which lead along the wooded banks of the Balnagown River. These lead through ornamental woodlands to the Walled Garden and Shore Road.


Tarbat House is surrounded by several parkland enclosures, each framed by belts of woodland. On the west front is the 17th century broad grass ride. To the north, the parkland contains a number of mature deciduous trees and to the south, parkland has been partly infilled by late 19th century woodland planting. In parkland south of the Walled Garden, some significant parkland specimen trees survive, in particular sweet chestnut and lime. The outer parklands are in agricultural use as improved pasture or arable fields. These have lost most of their parkland trees.

East of the site of Milntown Castle is a lower terraced garden containing yew trees aged 400-500 years, possibly associated with Milntown Castle.


The woodlands of Tarbat form the parkland framework. They comprise a series of woodland belts laid out with drives and paths. The woodlands are elm-ash dominated and, in the core area around the house, are set with ornamental specimens, particularly conifers: Wellingtonia, giant fir and noble fir, Western Red cedars and deodar cedar. A line of red horse chestnut, a number of sweet chestnuts and 18th century larch form distinctive stands on the raised beach embankment. The woodlands are of local importance for nature conservation, although affected seriously by exotics especially giant hogweed.

The Gardens

At the east end of the avenue, below the site of Milntown Castle is a rectangular, terraced garden with a circular mound at its centre. The mound, a man-made feature, is named 'Piper's Knowe' and is formed by concentric terraces. A Wellingtonia and other conifers have been planted on the summit, while five yew trees c 400-500 years old surround it. The age of the yews indicates the Terraced Garden to be contemporary with Milntown Castle, a single vault of which survives nearby. May's survey (1753) shows Piper's Knowe surmounted with a statue.

Walled Garden

The Walled Garden lies below the raised beach embankment to the south east of Tarbat House and immediately below the site of New Tarbat House. Now grassland, it originally comprised eight compartments defined by footpaths. These compartments are still partially defined by old fruit trees and overgrown box hedges. Dead or dying espalier trees remain along the garden's north wall.

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts

The following is from the Historic Environment Scotland Gardens and Designed Landscapes Inventory. The site was removed from the Inventory on 28/04/2016.

Reason for Inclusion

An informal designed landscape incorporating features surviving from a baroque landscape established in or by the 17th century. Although somewhat degraded, some features are still evident.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

16th century (?), 17th and late 18th-early 19th centuries.

Site History

In 1656 Sir George, Viscount Tarbat, Lord MacLeod and Castlehaven (1632-1714), created Earl of Cromartie (1703), bought the lands of Milton from Sir Walter Innes of Inverbreakie (Invergordon). At this time Sir George's seat was the Tarbat peninsula, 20km to the north-east, comparatively remote from Milton which lay within easy reach of Dingwall, Cromarty, Tain and the safe, navigable waters of the Cromarty Firth. He renamed this property, 'New Tarbat', and developed a new house beside Milntown Castle, a tower house built by the Munros in the 16th century. This was to form the new centre of his northern estates, providing a suitable location for developing the ports and shipping essential for the success of Tarbat estate's grain trade.

New Tarbat House seems to have been designed by Lord Tarbat himself. The building and furnishing of New Tarbat was a major project from the 1650s until the 1710s, alongside the building of Royston House, his Edinburgh mansion. Several gardeners were employed from the 1680s onwards, notably William Frogg (d.1718), and extensive formal gardens were laid out with parterres set below a formal terrace to the south, overlooking the Cromarty Firth. The main approach to the mansion was diagonally from the west, along a double avenue, the northernmost arm of a patte d'oie. On meeting the main axis the avenue widened out into a broad grass ride, on an axis with the House and lined by a single avenue of trees (May, 1755). The entrance court before the house was set with lead statues including one of Cain and Abel, and another of Neptune sent up 'north in John Morison's ship 4th October 1712' (Clough, 1990, p.83). Also in the consignment was 'A Large box with the head of THE IRON GATE...Two garding SPADES' and a 'water ingan' (engine, or fountain) first conceived in 1706. It is described in an order placed with the sculptor Ibrach (Rysbrach?), London in 1711. The ornate fountain was:

'according to Sir John Mayor's pattern as good in all respects as that was when first made of brass and iron and led to force water thirty or forty feet high through a pipe two inches boore and more if required, and also three figures, one a man and two wimmen wone with a (moon?) and the other a swan standing by them and the man with the sunn at his feet al three five foot high and more and also twenty yeards of lead pipes 2 inches boore at two pence the pound, the three figures and Ingen coming to twenty-five pounds''.

In the event the fountain was never erected and lay in boxes, being noted subsequently in various inventories (Clough, 1990, pp.92-8).

To the south of the mansion was a stone terrace with a central flight of steps leading down to a Long Walk oriented east-west. This allowed views out southwards over a parterre, with compartments laid out probably in scrollwork. To either side lay a wilderness of bosquets with cross-paths and to the east of the mansion was an enclosed court, with a long lawn set with a mount (site of Milntown Castle?) beyond.

Between 1714'25 John, Master of Tarbat, 2nd Earl of Cromartie (c 1658-1731) spent his time in Edinburgh and London. By the time George MacKenzie, 3rd Earl of Cromartie (1704-61) came into possession of New Tarbat on his coming of age and marriage in 1725, the farmland was run down and New Tarbat was suffering from lack of investment. He refurbished and repaired the house, harled the exterior and improved the grounds. He directed the mason Alexander Stronach to build gatepiers and erect the iron gate sent from Royston in 1712 (see above). Land improvements were carried out at New Tarbat and Castle Leod (see Castle Leod).

When the Tarbat Estates were forfeited between 1746-84, the house was neglected while the gardens gradually fell into ruin, although the gardener and a team of men were kept on between 1749-53. In 1760 the Factor of the Annexed Estates of Lovat and Cromartie considered the acquisition of timber at New Tarbat for smelting. An account of the standing timber in the policies details that the parkland and gardens were planted with ash, elm, lime and white poplar. There was a preponderance of alder, whin and sycamore including a number of:

'young forest trees in and about the garden of New Tarbat which may be cut down without hurting the Policy'. There is mention of vandalism in the gardens where 'some time ago some wicked fellowes have cutt off a part of the lead of one of the statues at New Tarbat, in the night time, and have disfigured one of them very much. It is a statue of Cain and Abel who stood before the entry of the house and it is a pity that such insolence should pass unpunished'some time ago there was an Arm cutt from another of the statues of which no discovery was made.' (Clough, 1990, pp.96-7).

The house deteriorated, Thomas Pennant's account in 1774 mentioning 'the swallows flying in and out and making their nests in the fine plasterwork of a once-great mansion'. The house was thereafter used as a girnel, for a short time as a spinning factory and eventually Captain John Mackenzie of Avoch became tenant of the Home Farm with his living quarters in part of the mansion. By 1784, when John MacKenzie, Lord MacLeod (d.1789) regained his estates, New Tarbat was ruinous and it was demolished. He commissioned James McLeran to design a new classical mansion house, Tarbat House, said to incorporate some of the remains of New Tarbat house. Retaining the avenues, he embarked on a replanting programme, which was unfinished on his death in 1789.

There were few developments at Tarbat until the estate was inherited by Ann Hay MacKenzie (1829-88), in 1849. Her marriage with George Granville Sutherland-Leveson-Gower, Marquis of Stafford, later to become 3rd Duke and 21st Earl of Sutherland, brought investment into the Tarbat Estates. On Countess Ann's death in 1888, the estate passed to Francis (her second surviving son), who was succeeded five years later by Sibell Lilian MacKenzie, the last member of the family to reside at Tarbat. Sibell married Colonel Edward Walter Blunt-MacKenzie and the family lived at Tarbat, Castle Leod and Kildary House. When widowed, she took up permanent residence at Tarbat. On her death in 1962, the estate was sold, changing hands several times between 1962 and the present. In 1987, Tarbat House was the subject of arson and left in a semi-ruined condition. The house remains in private ownership.


  • 18th Century
  • Late 18th Century
Features & Designations


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




  • Mansion House (featured building)
  • Description: Tarbat House, designed by James McLeran in 1787, is a classical mansion comprising three storeys and an attic, with a seven-bay front, the centre three bays advanced and pedimented.
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
Key Information





Principal Building

Domestic / Residential


18th Century


Part: standing remains



Open to the public


Electoral Ward




  • Historic Scotland