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17 Jun 2022

A new entrance for Crathes Garden

Written by Chris Wardle, Gardens & Designed Landscape Manager, Aberdeenshire and Angus
The new garden entrance, currently under construction
The works are nearly complete on the new garden entrance at Crathes Castle. Find out more and take a look inside before it opens for business this summer season.

Up to 2018, the entrance to the enchanting gardens at Crathes Castle had been via the main garden gate adjacent to the long West Wall. However, this was in fact never intended to be the main entrance to the garden; it was moved there when visitor numbers grew hugely in the mid-1980s. The original entrance was supposed to be through the small gate on the North Wall, or even by the (now missing) turret steps that were embedded in the Queen Anne wing, which sadly burnt down in the 1960s.

A view of Crathes Garden from the old drawing room

The entrance was temporarily moved to the garden between the impressive topiaries, but this soon became unworkable due to the number of steps. There are steps down to the croquet lawn, which in turn has a set of steps leading away from that area – this was not accessible for those with mobility issues visiting the garden, so everything moved to its current location. Even from its earliest days there was a small entrance box or sentry box where money was collected or memberships checked. The latter was made slightly better in the form of a shed!

A photo of the old entrance shed, dated 1985!

The buildings were never quite satisfactory for the stature of the garden and in recent times access was becoming more open with fewer people paying for entry to the garden than ever. For example, in 2013/14 alone we recorded numbers of visitors through the garden gate at approximately 70,000! Something had to be done, both to make sure that visitors were being captured and revenue wasn’t lost, and to make a building more befitting of Crathes: a space to interpret the stories of the garden and its long and varied history.

A plan was conceived around six years ago, and thanks to the generosity of the Young family as major donors and supporters of the property, funds were allocated to work up a new design and concept for the entrance. Using in-house design skills and development input from the garden team, the following idea was decided on and planning submitted.

The concept plan was to be based around materials appropriate for the site while also being as environmentally sustainable as possible. It was settled on an oak frame building, as this mirrored the main building material of the castle. The flooring would be Caithness slab from a local source. The lighting would be low energy, the roof would be a green roof ( yet to be laid), and all contractors and suppliers were to be as local as possible. The gardeners have had a huge hand in the project, undertaking much of the ground clearance as well as the landscaping; a task made less easy at a time of high workload due to the unforeseen events of the winter storms of Arwen and Malik.

During the ground clearance, no one could have foreseen that the bedrock was very extensive and as close to the surface as it was! Yet another headache when need to laying drains and foundations.

Inside the building will be areas of interpretation about the history of the garden, as well as a map and a ‘what’s in flower’ guide. There will also be a small activity zone so that young families will have something to see and do whilst visiting the garden. Access will be via a token system, which will either have to be purchased or obtained on showing of a membership card at the ticket kiosk.

Inside the new garden entrance, currently under construction

Due to the storms that happened recently we will also be commissioning a bench for people to sit on, hewn from a felled oak tree from the Crathes site.

The works are nearly complete and the new building should be open for business just in time for the main summer season. Sometimes the best things are worth waiting for! And Crathes will finally have the entrance that it always deserved.

Our charity would like to thank Professor Ian Young and his wife Sylvia, who enjoyed a long association with and a deep love of Aberdeenshire, for supporting this project.

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