Day 5: 15 August 2019 – Cawdor Castle and Gardens
Cawdor Castle with its iron yet gate, moat & drawbridge, turrets, turnpike stairs and vaulted 16th century kitchen is steeped in intrigue and history.
This ancient medieval tower house built for the 3rd Thane of Cawdor has been home to over 23 generations of the Cawdor family.
This fortification founded by William the Lion in 1179 was sited to command the ford over the river Nairn near the sea. That castle has since vanished without trace.
The family had another residence at Old Calder which, according to the Exchequer accounts, was last repaired in 1398. Again, not much remains of that building apart from faint crop-marks. A new, more efficient site was chosen. The imposing, rectangular tower-house consisted of four storeys and a garret with only one entrance to the outside world. Repaired and enlarged every century since, the Castle as you see it today is a family home like no other.
The legendary tale goes that the Thane of Cawdor, decided to build a new, stronger tower. Following the instructions received in a dream, he loaded a coffer of gold on to the back of a donkey and let it roam about the district for a day: wherever the animal lay down to rest in the evening, there his castle should be sited and it would prosper for evermore. The donkey lay down under a tree, which is now petrified at the base of the old tower at Cawdor.
Cawdor Castle is set in wonderful gardens, divided into distinct and very different parts. What is fascinating is that each of the three distinct gardens has its own unique history. in addition, there is a large area of woodland directly behind the castle, known as the Big Wood. This woodland is all that remains of an ancient Caledonian pinewood and boasts some marvellous old trees, with nature trails winding through them.
South of the castle is the Flower Garden, which was laid out around 1710 by Sir Archibald Campbell, brother of the then Thane of Cawdor. Though his brother held the title, Sir Archibald actually managed the Campbell estates across Scotland. He had studied in France and was influenced by the gardens he saw there to create the formal layout of the gardens at Cawdor.
Though much has changed since Sir Archibald’s time, the clipped yew hedges have survived as have several of the fruit trees he planted. The 18th-century design was enclosed by lavender borders in 1850, designed by Lady Cawdor. She also added the long herbaceous borders which ensure colour well into the autumn.
Laburnum arches surround the maze on three sides, creating a cascade of colour through the height of summer. Other sections of the garden include a Knot Garden planted with aromatic herbs, and a hidden ‘Paradise Garden’ protected by high yew hedges.
This is the oldest garden at Cawdor and may date to the 16th century and perhaps earlier. There may have been an orchard here originally but by the late 17th century it had been planted with a profusion of exotic plants. The section nearest the castle has been developed as a hedge maze inspired by the Minotaur’s Labyrinth at Knossos in Crete. At the centre of the maze is a modern sculpture depicting the Minotaur.
Between the castle and Cawdor Burn is this semi-hidden garden, reached through a doorway in the Flower Garden wall. This delightful, informal area provides a stark contrast with the formality of the Walled Garden and Flower Garden. Here you will find profuse plantings of primulas, rhododendrons, and azaleas along with spring daffodils, bamboo clusters, and willow trees. Amongst these familiar species are rare plants native to Tibet. The Wild Garden leads into the Big Wood; 750 acres of mature trees dissected by meandering trails.
Thank you very much for taking the time to join me on my travels through Scotland. I hope you enjoyed it just as much as I did.
Till next time, safe travels and keep dreaming.
Have a fabulous day.