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Touch House


The parkland around Touch House is now largely farmed but elements of the 18th-century layout remain. The walled garden dates from at least the early-19th century and is divided into compartments. It features largely shrub and herbaceous plantings and a peat garden with dwarf rhododendrons. An ornamental woodland garden has 20th-century additions including several tender rhododendron species.

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

Touch is situated in the broad valley of the River Forth some 3 miles (4.5km) west of Stirling. The A811, the main route from the west into Stirling, runs along the northern boundary of the site. To the south, the Touch Hills rise to a height of 1,444' (440m) and to the north, beyond the Forth, lie the Braes of Doune.

Despite the apparent shelter from these hills, the policies are extremely exposed to the prevailing winds. The surrounding floodplain landscape of the River Forth is largely agricultural with the lower slopes of the Touch Hills clothed in forestry. Views out can be gained to the Touch Hills and east, on a clear day, to Stirling Castle and the Wallace Monument. The policy woodlands are of some significance in local scenery.

Touch House stands within some 658 acres (266ha) of designed landscape which extends north to the minor road which links the village of Cambusbarron with the A811, south and east to the woodland strip which encloses the parkland and west to Garshelloch Wood. Documentary evidence of the development of the designed landscape is provided by General Roy's map of c.1750, a survey plan by J. Bell in 1797, an improvement plan of 1797 by Thomas White, a copy of this plan made in 1801, a plan of the estate and farms by John Leslie dated 1810, the 1st edition OS map of c.1869 and the 2nd edition OS map of c.1900. Comparison of Roy's map with Leslie's survey plan of 1810 indicates that the policies were extended to the west and east in the course of the improvements made in the latter half of the 18th century and early years of the 19th century. The extent of the designed landscape today remains consistent with that of 1810, with the exception of a small area on the southern boundary where the Touch filter station now stands which can now be considered outwith the policies.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Touch House, listed category A, is known to have been built between 1758- 65. Plans were prepared in 1747 (with the name James Steinson on verso) but the designer is uncertain. Previous attributions to William Adam are now thought unlikely, and there are similarities with work of his son, John, but the identity of the designer remains uncertain. Designs for alterations were prepared by James Gillespie Graham in 1809, and by Sir William Burroughs, a friend of the family, in 1815, but neither of these plans was carried out. Alterations were finally carried out by Sir Robert Lorimer in 1928. It was the finest early Georgian house in the county of Stirling.

Seton Lodge, listed category B, was built as offices between 1797-1810. It was used for a period as the dower house for the estate but is now let. The Doocot, listed category B, dates from 1736 and is presently in a poor condition. The gateposts and lodge were built by Lorimer in 1928 and the gate pillars are surmounted by falcons carved by Phyllis Bone. Mary Seton's bower, a semi-circular seat, is situated within the walled garden and is named after the famous companion of Mary, Queen of Scots.


The parkland at Touch encircles the house on all sides except to the immediate west between the walled garden and the Touch Burn. Reference to Roy's map indicates the presence of 'Tuke Park' c.1750 enclosed and divided by strips of shelter woodlands. The boundaries of the park were softened in the 18th and 19th century improvement schemes but they did retain the avenue to the north of the house which is shown on Roy's map. The plan by Leslie of 1810 indicates a double row of trees in the avenue and it could have been replanted around this time, as some lime trees remaining today date from this period whilst none are as early as pre-1750. The avenue is presently being replanted with lime and copper beech.

Reference to the 1st & 2nd edition OS maps indicates the presence of tree clumps; those to the south-east of the house may have been planted following the White plan of 1797. It showed tree clumps throughout the parks but these are not indicated on later OS maps. The low parks to the north and east of the house have been ploughed since World War II but the roundels which were part of the original design have been retained. Two have been joined and all have been recently replanted, mainly with sycamore and some conifer nurse species.


The woodlands at Touch were established after 1750 and mainly after 1779 by Sir Henry Seton-Steuart for his brother-in law, Archibald. Of these, the most significant was Garshelloch Wood, on the hill to the west of the house which is now largely conifers, having been replanted since 1947.

The woods along the northern boundary are predominantly beech of mixed age whilst the woods on the eastern boundary are poplar and mixed conifers, planted since 1945. A small open woodland on the south side of the main east drive is composed of mixed deciduous species including sycamore, elm and horse chestnut, the earliest of which dates from c.1780 with additional planting in the mid- 19th century. Traces of woodland walks remain, particularly the walk up to Prince Charlie's Cave under the waterfall on the Touch Burn.

Woodland Garden

The woodland garden lies to the south of the walled garden which is sheltered by its canopy, composed largely of yew and holly. Seventeen trees were lost in the gales of 1968 and, in the resulting clearings, new plantings have been established of both trees and shrubs. Considerable improvements have been made to the garden since 1962 by Mr and Mrs Patrick Buchanan. They inherited some hybrid Rhododendrons from previous plantings but none of any horticultural value. No records existed of the previous horticultural content. Mr and Mrs Buchanan have established a collection of species Rhododendrons, many considered elsewhere to be too tender for the district. A record book has been kept of all planting since 1962.

Walled Garden

The walled garden lies to the west of the house and appears to have been established on this site since at least 1810 when it appears on the survey plan by Leslie. The White plan of 1779 suggests siting of the walled garden on the northern boundary of the policies to the east of the house, but this does not appear to have been carried out. The walls of the garden, constructed of brick, appear to have been heightened at some time and are in poor condition. The landform within the garden is undulating. The garden was originally divided into four compartments with intersecting paths which are shown on the 1st edition OS map.

A block conifer shelter planting has been established at the south-west corner of the garden to replace a small wood which was outside the garden wall until 1955. Since 1962, the northern half of the garden has been planted with an emphasis on shrubs, whilst the southern half was initially grassed, but as more of the plants which the Buchanans propagate become available it is also being planted up. A mature yew hedge bisects the north-east and the south-east quarters, and is lined on its northern side by a mixed shrub and herbaceous border.

Fruit trees are grown against the south-facing wall at the west end, and next to it, in cages, are espaliered apple trees and other fruits, including even blueberries. At the east end of this wall, the original glasshouses, removed in the 1970s, have been replaced by a modern heated greenhouse, used for propagating Rhododendrons under mist. Outside the greenhouse, within the conifers of a new box hedge enclosure, is a peat garden which includes many dwarf rhododendrons, heathers, and specimens placed for colour such Parrotia persica and Prunus serrula 'Tibetica'.

The cultivated northern half of the garden is further sub-divided into two areas by a topiary hedge which has incorporated in it the seat known as Mary Seton's bower. This seat overlooks the north-eastern area which is largely lawn with a central feature of a circular shrub bed surrounded by specimen trees. A cherub statue stands in paving in the centre of the shrub bed. The north-western area of the garden is informally laid out with specimen Rhododendrons, a collection of shrub roses, and includes unique features such as a golden thyme path, another of which is planned.

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts

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

The Touch designed landscape has a long association with the Seton family and is renowned for its artistic layout, plant collection and architectural features.

Site History

The present designed landscape was established between 1742 - 1818. An improvement plan for the work was prepared by Thomas White in 1797 but only part of this was acted upon. The actual design incorporated features of the earlier landscape such as the avenue to the north of the house which appears on Roy's plan of c.1750.

The Setons were a powerful Scottish family who, in return for their loyalty to the Crown, were created Barons of Seton in 1361 and Earls of Winton in 1585. Alexander Seton, head of a cadet branch of the family acquired Touch in the mid-15th century from the Fraser family but it was his son, of the same name, who became the 1st laird of Touch in 1480. Sir Alexander's grandson, Sir Walter Seton, the 2nd laird, was the first to actually inhabit the property before his death in 1568. When the first Setons lived in Touch it was principally a tower, reputedly built by the previous owners in the 14th century.

In 1742, Elizabeth Seton inherited the property from her brother and, just before her marriage to Hugh Smith on the day of the Battle of Prestonpans, she allowed Prince Charles to stay at Touch. After their marriage Hugh and Elizabeth Seton, having retained the family name, commissioned a new house adjoining the original tower. Money was borrowed to cover the cost of the building and considerable improvements were made to the grounds. John Ramsay of Ochtertyre described the improvements at Touch as being of a scale similar to those being carried out at the same time by Hugh Seton's friend, Lord Kames, at Blair Drummond. The architect of the house is uncertain but it is known that Gideon Gray was the stonemason for the works and was retained thereafter as factor for the estate.

Elizabeth Seton died in 1775. Hugh Seton continued to borrow money and amassed debts which resulted in his imprisonment at Dover Castle. On his release, he changed his name and left the country. His son, Archibald, had gone to India in 1779 where he joined the East India Company and achieved considerable success eventually becoming a member of the Council. Through his efforts the financial fortunes of Touch were redressed. In Archibald Seton's absence, Touch was managed by his brother-in-law, Sir Henry Seton-Steuart of Allanton. It was during this period that the designed landscape which remains today was established. Thomas White was commissioned in 1779 to prepare an improvement plan but, according to the survey plan of 1810 by Leslie, only some of this appears to have been carried out. Sir Henry is said to have planted about one million trees at Touch and many of these were established on Craigbrock Hill to the west of the house which roughly accords with White's ideas. His suggestions for clump planting as part of an extensive scheme for informalising the park were not all taken up and his plans for a serpentine lake to the east of the house appear to have been dismissed.

In 1818, Archibald Seton died and the estate passed to his sister Barbara. In 1835 it passed to her niece, Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Henry Seton-Steuart, and in 1866 to her son Sir Henry James Seton-Steuart. Little appears to have been altered on the estate during their time although some ornamental conifers were planted in the manner of this period.

Sir Henry Allan Seton-Steuart inherited in 1884. He lived at Allanton, and Touch was let. His younger brother, Douglas, the last Seton baronet, sold Touch to Mr C.A. Buchanan in 1928. The new owner commissioned Sir Robert Lorimer to restore the interior of the house. Lorimer also designed a new lodge and realigned the approach drive to the house.

During World War II, Touch was used as a convalescent home. After 1945 the family returned and, since 1962, their son and daughter-in-law, Mr & Mrs P.B. Buchanan have lived at Touch. The gales of the winter of 1968 caused severe damage to the woodlands and recovery has been slow but Mr & Mrs Buchanan continue their series of improvements, particularly in the garden.

Associated People
Features & Designations


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


  • Dovecote
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  • Garden Seat
  • Description: Mary Seton's bower in the walled garden.
  • House (featured building)
  • Description: Touch House, listed category A, is known to have been built between 1758- 65. Plans were prepared in 1747 (with the name James Steinson on verso) but the designer is uncertain.
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  • Avenue
Key Information





Principal Building






Open to the public





  • Historic Scotland