Our second garden trip whilst in Scotland this year involved a bit of a trek to the south-western coast of the Isle of Skye, from our base further north. The 20,000 acre estate of the Clan Donald is centred on an historic castle (now a ruin) and gardens, along with a rather interesting museum that guides you through 1500 years of history and culture of the ‘Kingdom of the Isles’.
Our visit, with friends Richard and Ann, was once again blessed with warm, sunny weather. After arriving and a light lunch at the Castle restaurant, we set off along Lord Macdonald’s Drive via a coast-side walk and viewpoint across the sound, towards the imposing shell of Armadale castle. As the Castle’s website explains:
‘The Clan Donald established itself on Skye in the 15th century, occupying castles at Dunscaith and Knock, both within a few miles of Armadale, and Duntulm Castle at the north end of the island.
From the 1650s, the MacDonald chiefs also began to stay at Armadale. From the 1700s onwards, the mansion house at Armadale was used as a dower house (a large home occupied by the widow of a late owner or chief) and then rented out to others.
A number of famous historical figures have visited Armadale over the years. Flora MacDonald, famed throughout the world for helping Bonnie Prince Charlie to flee Scotland after the Jacobites’ defeat at Culloden, was married here on 6 November 1750. Samuel Johnson and James Boswell visited in 1773.
Around 1790, a new mansion house was built at Armadale and this, combined with the start of the plantings you see around the gardens today, became a real demonstration of the wealth and lifestyle of the landed aristocracy.
In 1815, the mansion house was extended to form Armadale Castle, designed by the renowned architect James Gillespie Graham. In 1855, fire destroyed much of the original house, which was replaced by the current central section (designed by David Bryce). In 1925, the MacDonald family moved to a smaller house leaving the castle to the wind and rain.
Today, the Gillespie Graham section is a sculptured ruin and garden with the staircase and facade often used for wedding ceremonies. Housed in what remains of the original mansion, dating from around 1790, the Somerled Rooms offer a unique conference facility.’
From the castle we took in the formal gardens and woodland walks and eventually arrived at the Museum of the Isles, which was fascinating. Even more impressive were the linked pools outside where gardeners were preening the planting and the sun reflected beautifully off of the water surfaces.
Armadale Castle Gardens are testimony to years of patient restoration; the result is 40 acres of varied gardens and woodland, featuring some magnificent trees, some almost 200 years old. Through spring and summer there are carpets of bluebells, orchids and wildflowers and there is clear evidence of long-term thinking as below the giant trees are the young firs which will eventually replace them, as well as the growing collections of elegant birch and beech trees.