An introduction to Brahan Estate
Brahan House, set in a surrounding of lawns and established trees. The present house was converted from the stables of the old Brahan Castle.
Today, a direct descendant of the Hooded Lassie owns the Estate, and with his wife Judith Andrew Matheson ensures that the three demands of farm, forest and leisure management are met with little loss in the wild richness of the natural environment. There are still beautifully overgrown gardens to explore, long driveways lined with exotic trees, dark lochs and swampy ponds bustling with bird life, and the mature River Conon winding its way through the Estate has excellent trout fishing available.
The Estate covers 4000 acres of rich wooded farmland that rises gently into the hills above the River Conon. There are 19 restored farm cottages hidden away around the grounds. Each of the cottages has its own particular charm and can sleep 2 to 12 persons. Tourism continues to he a growing part of the business plan for the Estate.
Farming – 700 hectares – Main crop seed potatoes, also wheat, barley, oilseed rape and oats. Forestry – 700 hectares of forestry. The Dell area is of considerable interest as there are not many areas in the country where individual trees (with their planting date) can be identified. Fishing – There is fishing on the River Conon for wild brown trout and pike and eel on Loch Ussie. Day, week or season permits can he arranged. There is also a stocked pond with brown and rainbow trout. Shooting – Rough shooting is available in season and clay pigeon shooting all year round.
Brahan Estate - 'Memories' (the trees)
As you come into Maryburgh from the east you immediately notice the huge trees standing like sentinels up on the hill behind the village. These trees are known as “The Memories” and in the heyday of Brahan Estate stood beside the main driveway leading from the East Lodge up to Brahan Castle.
The ‘Memories’ derive their name from the custom held in Lord Seaforth’s day when he received many guests in the castle, who would come for their Highland holidays. These guests would often bring with them an exotic sapling tree to be planted on the estate as a memory of their visit. Included amongst the Memories are Giant Sequoia, Monkey Puzzle, Douglas Fir, Western Red Cedar and Japanese Cedar.
Walkers are welcomed onto the estate and there are many interesting trees to see. As you progress up the driveway there are magnificent mature oaks and beech as well as yew, chestnut and others. Another group of Memories guards the top of the hill; approaching the site of the castle the avenues of oaks are impressive. Here, too, is the Dell, which was established around 1800 and is a wonderful example of a mature planting of “exotic” tree species (trees not native to this country). The trees in the Dell are all labelled. Special features are the display of rhododendrons and azaleas in early summer – and the Beech Circle, which is a circle of 29 huge beech trees. Sadly some of these beeches are now reaching the end of their days. Within the circle is the old tree where Lord Seaforth would come for peace and quiet to read his books. He and his wife are buried here, at his request.
Tree planting on the estate continues today and as well as conifer plantations new little oaks and beeches are establishing everywhere to become the giants of to-morrow.
Brahan Estate - The Dogs 'Graveyard
For nearly 200 years the owners of Brahan Estate have followed the tradition of burying their pets here and visitors are charmed and impressed when they wander into this secluded part of the gardens. Once surrounded by rhododendrons, the graveyard has now been exposed due to this invasive plant being removed in a programme of elimination conducted by the estate in 2014.
Monument to Cruiser, Lord Seaforth’s charger. The inscription reads: In memory of Cruiser, for fifteen years the faithful friend and companion of Colonel Stewart-Mackenzie of Seaforth. He accompanied the 9th Lancers throughout the Afghan Campaign 1878 – 79 – 80, including the march from …. (indistinct) …… 1893. [It is recorded that while Lord Seaforth was seriously wounded on a battlefield, Cruiser remained with him for ?two? days until Lord Seaforth was rescued.]
Brahan Estate - An Extract from 'Gardener's Magazine' 1835
Part of the parish of Urray lies within the boundaries of Inverness-shire, but by far the greater portion is in Ross-shire, in which part the principal proprietors are Major J. A. F. H. McKenzie of Seaforth, Brahan; Mr G. J. Gillanders of Highfield; Mr Thomas Mackenzie of Ord; The Chisholm, Rheindown; and Mr John Stirling of Fairburn.
All these estates, except Brahan, are situated on the southern side of the River Conon, the greater part having a northern exposure.
Occupying the tableland of Ussie, and stretching from the range of hills which form the southern side of the valley of Strathpeffer down to that of the Conon, is the finely wooded estate of Brahan. Its extent is about 10 square miles, with a southern exposure, and an altitude ranging from sea-level below Maryburgh village to 550 feet at ‘The Cat’s Back’ hill, its highest point.
The most of the ground now under wood has already yielded crops of fir and larch, most of which, we understand, was cut down from ten to twelve years ago. The plantations at present are principally hardwood, but judging from their appearance, the greater part has been long left in a very neglected condition, requiring thinning, pruning, and draining. Beginning at the eastern end of the estate, there is Maryburgh plantation, at an altitude of 150 to 200 feet, with an eastern aspect, on a loamy soil above gravel. This plantation is a mixed one, but consists principally of oak, ash, beech, and natural birch, from thirty to eighty years old, with an average height of about 50 feet. A part of it is under Scots fir of about thirty-five years’ standing, seemingly in a flourishing condition. Further west is Dunglust [Dunglass?] plantation, at an altitude of from 100 to 200 feet, growing on loam overlying a gravelly till. The greater part of the wood is of the same character as the last, but it contains a fine clump of ornamental trees beside the approach to Brahan Castle, known as the ‘Grove of Friendship’ having been planted by ‘friends’ of the Seaforth family. Each tree bears a label, on which is the name of the planter and the year in which the tree was planted, which appears to have been mostly between 1860 and 1865. This fine clump grows on a good loam, at an altitude of about 200 feet, and several of the trees are now between 30 and 40 feet high, all being in a very healthy state. The most flourishing varieties are the Picea and Abies families, comprising Picca Nordmanniana, P. nobilies, P. grandis, P. Parsonii, P. Pinsapo, Abies Douglasii, Ab. Albertinum, Ab. Morinda, Wellingdonia gigantea, and Thujopsis borealis.
Extending from Loch Ussie, in which there are three of four very pretty wooded islets, to Moy, is Marybush [Maryburgh?] plantation, situated on a sandy clay and peat resting on conglomerate, at an altitude of from 400 to 500 feet above sea-level.
The surface herbage of this plantation, the exposure of which is to the west and north-east, consists of thick heather and brackens. The trees are Scots firs and larch, from twelve to fifteen years old, appearing very healthy where the ground is not too wet, and reaching a height of from 10 to 15 feet. Brahan Wood stands further south, on the north side of the public road from Maryburgh to Moy, at an elevation varying from 300 to 400 feet. The soil is a loam above gravelly clay resting on the conglomerate and sandstone formations. This wood faces south, and consists principally of hardwoods, oak, ash, elm, beech, and Spanish chestnut of various ages from 30 to 150 years. Noticing that this wood was too thin to be profitable, we asked for particulars, and were told that it formerly contained a quantity of larch, which having been removed, had left it so thin that the present trees have far too much room, and of course are rapidly growing to head and branches. Some very fine oaks and Spanish chestnuts are to be found in parts here; however, some of them upwards of 12 feet in circumference at 3 feet from the ground, and 70 feet in height, with a clean bowl of upwards to 20 feet. There is a clump of larches, standing in a sheltered hollow with a southern aspect, of which we are told that the largest trees got blown down in 1860 and 1868 but there are still about 30 left, some of which stand from 90 to 100 feet high, and contain 120 cubic feet of timber. They are all of the red flowering variety. There is also a clump of Norway spruce above the North Lodge, some of which have been blown down lately. They are about 100 feet in height, and fully as many years old. The old castle of Brahan stands about mid way up the slope that rises from the left bank of the Conon and terminates at the base of the precipitous wall of conglomerate known as the ‘Brahan Rock,’ which latter, with its crown of dark firs, frowns majestically on the expansive and varied landscape spread out beneath. Nestling under this shattered cliff, are some fine old pines towering amid the brackens. Many noble specimens of hardwood giants grow in the fine parks around the castle, to the east side of which there is a nice clump of limes, exposed to the south east, and situated on a heavy loam resting on a sandy clay. They are of large size, and seem very healthy. A little to the south east of Brahan Castle, in a sheltered situation called ‘The Dell’, there is a circle of very large beeches, about 150 years old, but still very vigorous. They are between 30 and 40 in number and average about 11 feet in circumference at 3 feet from the ground. Here are some very good Spanish chestnuts and Turkey oaks, and a first rate collection of Rhododendrons and Azaleas. A fine clump of 8 very old Scots firs, which is growing south of the castle on the bank of the River Conon, is believed to be about 200 years of age. The whole policies of Brahan are extensively and splendidly wooded, but, with the exception stated, there has been very little planting done on this estate for a good many years; however, we are informed that the cost, including draining, roads, fencing, price of plants, and planting, is generally about £5 per acre. Numerous hedgerow trees and hedges run up along the sides of the fields above the Conon, besides several small plots and beltings, principally ash and oak, none of which are valuable or worth special notice. The ash is in some districts in the county of very frequent occurrence as a hedgerow tree, but it is ruinous to grain crops within the range of its roots, and it can only be recommended along roadsides and meadow or pasture lands. The plantations on Brahan are infested with squirrels which have done a great deal of damage to the fir plantations; while the larch have suffered from the ‘larch bug’ Addyis luricis. Rabbits are numerous as well as fallow deer, which latter will prove a great annoyance whenever any of the waste ground comes to be planted up. Among the less common botanical specimens met with in the district, Linnoca borralis is found in Brahan woods.
A few days ago, when at Brahan Castle, I noticed a small tree, of what I think is U’lmus crispa, beatifully variegated. In the return paper sent to you from Brahan it was called variegated elm. I may just observe that Vèrbena chamaedrifolia and V. pulchélla stood the winter without protection, and are now in flower. Vèrbena pulchélla albida [Vol. X. p.586] is very showy, and contrasts finely with the others.
Coul, September 4. 1835.