Leith Hall: Estate is worth a visit even at the start of the year

Aberdeenshire AB54 4NQ

Why should we visit

Leith Hall is a fascinating baronial mansion, set in the vast countryside of Aberdeenshire and with the Grampian Mountains in the distance.

Starting from an original tower house, Leith Hall was extended by successive members of the Leith-Hay family, who occupied it for over 300 years, and the end result is an impressive white harp building with fairy tale turrets at the corners.

The house is full of artwork and treasures collected by a long line of soldiers and colonial officials and it is said to be inhabited by various ghosts, known to make an appearance for the residents.

What is most remarkable about Leith Hall, however, is its garden, which contains a fine collection of historic features worth visiting even at the start of the season, when only snowdrops and aconites are in bloom.

History of the garden

Wide lawns surround the house and any trace of the 17th century formal garden that once occupied this space has long since disappeared. In their place is a six-acre walled garden which, in addition to growing flowers and vegetables for the home, was used during World War II to grow food for the war effort.

Several generations of the Leith-Hay family have marked the garden, digging huge ponds, planting trees in the grounds and creating hedges to protect the fonts from the south-westerly winds that blow across the moors.

Strong points

Located 600 feet above sea level, it’s a wonder anything actually grows in this exposed location, but although the growing season here is short, the long summer days mean growth accelerated that makes long herbaceous borders a spectacular sight when they are in full bloom. In the walled garden vegetables are still grown, as well as fruit trees and there is an avenue of Sorbus ‘Joseph Rock’ which, with their yellow berries and scarlet foliage, are at their best in autumn.

Don’t miss

A huge circular moon gate leads from the garden to the old toll road which was once the main route to Aberdeen.

There is also a large rock garden, which was created in 1900 before being demolished later. In recent years it has been rebuilt from the original stones and planted with alpine species.

Everything to look for

Leith hall houses an important collection of Pictish carved stones. Among these, the Percylieu stone, which was unearthed in the neighboring Clatt in 1840 and then used as paving in a stable before being saved.

It features a bow design and part of a fish. Even more remarkable is the Wolf Stone, with its easily decipherable wolf carving, a feature rarely found in Pictish remains.

The spiral of mowed grass that is created each year at Leith Hall is a nod to the stone circles that litter this landscape.

Best time to visit

At the height of summer, when the flowers are in bloom and the ponds are surrounded by lush vegetation, Leith Hall shows its charms, but the elegant structure of the house, gardens and grounds make it an atmospheric place to visit all year round.

All recommendations in the area

Climb the steep slopes of Tap O’Noth Hill near Rhynie and visitors are rewarded with the remains of one of Scotland’s greatest ancient fortresses.

More than 100 platforms of houses were discovered on 21 hectares surrounded by a massive stone rampart. This stone is vitrified, which means that it has been subjected to such intense heat that the stones have fused together.

At the very top is a cistern carved into the rock.

Directions:

Leith Hall is one mile west of Kennethmont on the B9002

Details:

Gardens open all year.

Tickets: £3.50.

www.nts.org.

Not far from Leith Hall are some exceptional private gardens, both open to visitors by prior arrangement, and both filled with interesting plants. Bruckhills Croft in Rothienorman is a large cottage garden with a wildflower meadow and pond. A polytunnel and greenhouse are used year-round, while the white border, yellow driveway and vegetable garden come alive with the seasons.

Last year the Bruckhills Croft snowdrops were given ‘national collection’ status and these, together with the winter walks through the garden, will be accessible until March 11 by agreement with the owners.

Closer still is Laundry Cottage in Gartly where an informal garden has been developed along the banks of the River Bogie. The steep slopes down to the river have a wild character while the areas closest to the house are more intensively gardened, with shrubs and trees planted to give year round interest.

Details of how to arrange visits to both gardens are available at www.scotlandsgardens.org.

In association with Discover Scottish Gardens. See www.discoverscottishgardens.org.

About Maria Hunter

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