Moray AV12 5RD
Why Should We Visit?
There has been a castle at Cawdor since 1179, long before Shakespeare awarded the title of Thane to Macbeth and set him on his murderous path. All that remains of that earlier fortification is a series of indentations on the ground, but an ancient holly tree around which the subsequent castle was built has been radiocarbon dated at 1372.
At times the castle has been in the front row of history, with the battles of Culloden, Auldearn and Cromdale unfolding on its doorstop. Cawdor’s ancient walls remain steeped in character, but today the only clash of steel is the sound of cutlery being wielded in the cafe and spades digging the borders of the immaculate and extensive gardens.
Story of the Garden
There are three separate gardens at Cawdor. The Flower Garden, to the south of the castle, was laid out in 1710 by Sir Archibald Campbell, brother to the then Thane. The Walled Garden was originally the kitchen garden, but it has been extensively modeled by the present Dowager Duchess, while the Wild Garden is set amongst the tall trees of the Big Wood, which is criss-crossed by nature trails.
The clipped hedges, topiary and parterres of the Walled Garden are amongst the most striking features of Cawdor. They were planted in 1981 but have the appearance of being much older. The holly maze here is currently closed to allow for recovery from excessive foot fall, but it still makes a striking presence in the garden.
Art is central to the gardens at Cawdor. A bronze Minotaur by sculptor Gregory Ryan towers above the maze; the Orchid Tree bird feeder in the Flower Garden is by Illona Morris; the statue of Adam and Eve Leaving Paradise is by French artist, George Jeancloss, while the huge orb in the Wild Garden, made with slate and lead removed while the castle was being re-roofed, is by renowned Scottish sculptor, James Parker.
Anything Else to Look Out For?
Cawdor’s kitchen garden was created by celebrated landscape designer, Arabella Lennox-Boyd and it has always been run along organic principles. Cut flowers are grown here for the castle, including heritage varieties of sweet pea.
Best Time to Visit?
Cawdor opens from the end of April until the beginning of October, so much of the planting is at its best during the summer months, with flowerbeds filled with lilies, galtonias and rambling roses scrambling over the walls. For the last 10 years the Castle has been hosting outdoor theater productions and next on the bill is a performance of Jane Eyre, which takes place on Wednesday, 3 August.
Any Recommendations in the Area?
Clava Cairns near Inverness is a Bronze Age burial site that will be familiar to fans of the TV series ‘Outlander’. It includes a circular chamber cairn that is aligned with the midwinter sun. The site, which occupies a terrace about the River Nairn, is around 4000 years old and is one of a number of similar burial complexes found around the Moray Firth.
Cawdor Castle sits three miles south of Nairn on the B9090
The gardens are open daily until 2 October, 10am until 5.30pm.
Tickets for the castle, garden and grounds are priced at: £13.50/ £12.50/ £7.50.
Gardens and grounds only tickets are: £8/£6.50
The gardens are accessible, with many benches, and there is free admittance for carers.
Hugh Miller was a stonemason, folklorist and amateur geologist whose fundamental Christian beliefs led him to be one of the founders of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland. His huge collection of fossils is housed in the thatched cottage where he was born and which was built by his grandfather, who was a pirate.
Miller lived in the Georgian house next door, which was built by his father, with a distinctive spiral staircase that curves around a ship’s mast. The space between these, which was once Miller’s workspace, has been transformed into a secluded courtyard garden called ‘Miller’s Yard’, which features stone carvings and ferns, while the adjacent garden contains wild flowers and birch trees as well as a sundial plinth carved by Miller himself.
Cromarty is one of the most beautiful villages on the east Coast, with many fine Georgian houses, wide sandy beaches and a heritage as one of Scotland’s main trading ports for salted fish.
Hugh Miller Museum and Birthplace
Inverness IV11 8XA
In Association With Discover Scottish Gardens. See www.discoverscottishgardens.org.