IT’S one of Scotland’s best-known and most loved castles, and Culzean in Ayrshire is still capable of throwing up surprises, even nearly 250-year-old ones.

The National Trust for Scotland (NTS) announced yesterday the significant find of an 18th-century walled garden buried below the Fountain Court in front of the castle. It pre-dates the extensive world-renowned architectural reworking of the castle by Robert Adam over 15 years from 1777.

Archaeologists discovered the remains during excavation work for a major project to improve the drainage at the Fountain Court and to make it suitable for staging large public events. Rathmell Archaeology has been conducting a watching brief during the groundworks.

The NTS said yesterday: “During the excavation of a new herring- bone pattern of drains and the installation of an irrigation sprinkler system, stone walls were located and recorded. “It emerged that these walls formed a large rectangular enclosure over 60m long (north-south) by 30m (east-west).

“As the current works presented a very rare opportunity to dig below the well-kept lawn, a larger trench was excavated to locate and expose the southern corner of the garden. Careful excavation and cleaning revealed that the wall at this point survives to more than six courses, standing around 0.7m high.”

The garden wall is thought to result from work undertaken by Sir John Kennedy of Culzean, 2nd Baronet, in 1733, when he extended the walled garden at the foot of the terrace walls on the east side of the castle. This garden is shown on the estate map of Culzean drawn by John Foulis in 1755.

According to NTS experts, it is likely that the walled garden functioned as an enclosed kitchen garden for the castle, with fruit trees lining the south-facing walls of the terraces.

The map appears to show rows of planted beds in a rectangular arrangement.

This garden was abandoned in 1782 and the walls were demolished by Robert Adam’s workmen as part of the wide range of improvements carried out around the castle. Culzean’s completion was one of the final works of Adam – one of the most influential architects in Scottish history – who died in 1792. His iconic clifftop structure is regularly rated as one of the finest buildings in Scotland.

NTS explained what happened to the lost garden, saying: “As was the fashion in the late 18th century, the kitchen garden was moved away from the immediate view of the house and the former site was given over to wider views of the picturesque landscape. A new walled garden was built to the south-east, just out of sight of the castle and the date stone above the gate is 1786.

It is likely that a lot of the stone used for the new garden, the existing walled garden at Culzean, would have been come from the original one.

NTS added: “In the middle of the 19th century the area below the terraces was used as a bowling green before the large, ornate fountain was installed in 1876.

“The area has since come to be known as Fountain Court. Prior to the 16th century it is likely that this area was a narrow glen that formed a defensive barrier to the ridge upon which the medieval castle stood. Derek Alexander, head of archaeological services for the NTS, said: “It is so exciting to see part of the original walled garden at Culzean. Although it was marked on the estate map, until now we never knew that any of it survived below the immaculate turf of the Fountain Court.

“This work has given us the perfect opportunity to explore a hidden aspect of Culzean as, once the lawn is re-seeded, I can’t imagine the gardeners will want us digging more holes.”


Analysis by Hamish MacPherson: Estate has a long and rich heritage from   middle ages to Adam and Eisenhower

MOST people know Culzean Castle, near Maybole, Ayrshire, for Robert Adam’s late 18th-century architectural masterpiece which sits proudly overlooking the Firth of Clyde. Yet the castle and its estate have much more than the Adam house in their history.

According to the National Trust for Scotland, at the last count there were more than 200 archaeological features and structures within the estate, which have been recorded using drawings, photographic surveys, laser scans, geophysics and test pits The original Culzean Castle was an L-shaped medieval tower-house built by the Kennedy family, the lords and later earls of Cassilis, who can trace their lineage back to the Lords of Galloway of that name who fought alongside Bruce at Bannockburn.

The first castle on the site was known as Coif Castle due to the large cave at the bottom of the cliffs.

Inside that cave everything from 18th-century bottle glass to medieval pottery has been found but the most significant discovery was of human remains, radiocarbon-dated to between the 700 and 800 AD, suggesting a much earlier ritual focus.

Flints in the cave also indicate occupation back into prehistory. Indeed, the castle site on the cliff above is likely to have been defended much earlier as remains of a drystone wall and 2000-year-old red deer bones hint at an Iron Age fort on the site.

Until recently the only major period without evidence at Culzean was for the hunter-gatherers of the Mesolithic Age. That changed last year when test-pitting, involving volunteers and members of the public, found a concentration of worked flints in the events field beside Home Farm, which look like they belong to the late Mesolithic or early Neolithic age.

When the Kennedy family left the castle to the National Trust in 1945, they insisted that US President Dwight D Eisenhower have unlimited use of part of it for his lifetime to mark his contribution to the Allied effort in the Second World War. He stayed there four times from 1946, including once during the time of his presidency.