Ardmarnoch Estate

Extended history

For a long time and certainly up to the end of the 17th century the lands here were Lamont owned. Around 1820 a John McIver purchased a series of farms and built a mansion house. Before this there had been a small farm house on the site and the other inhabited property was Barpuntaig, a ferry point for Tarbert. When records were written down after the ’45 it was 2 pence for a human and 1 penny for a cow McIver is reputed to have gone bankrupt and sold the property twice. He absconded to Australia where he became a well regarded early settler; there is a Wilson-McIver society in his honour. In 1852 the Nicol family from Liverpool, bought the property, then 8000 acres for 15,250 guineas. This brought a period of prosperity for the estate. By the early 20th century it had expanded to 20,000 acres, extended to Tighnabruaich and even for a time included Ardlamont at the tip of Cowal. The scale of the estate can be appreciated by some extant shooting leases from before 1914 which allow for the shooting of no more than 999 brace of grouse in the month from August 12th to September 11th on land stretching over 9000 acres; for the then substantial sum of 440 guineas. In the 1890’s, at a time when Mr Nicol was the MP for Argyll and probably at a pinnacle of wealth, the house was extended and a large 3 storey wing added on the north side in the Scottish baronial style; this was of great ugliness and out of keeping with the almost Palladian purity of the main house. We demolished this in 1998 and added a wing in strict conformity with the rest of the house. The Nicol family were responsible for the extensive development of the estate. During the 1860’s and 70’s, the policy woodlands and the arboretum were planted behind the house and to the North and South. There are still many interesting trees including a Caucasion Wingnut, Monterey Pine and Cypress, Atlas Cedar, Holm Oak, Thujas, Japanese Red Cedar as well as numerous good Beeches and Limes. The steadings buildings and cottage plus the half walled garden date from this time. The fields were laid out in irregular patterns to create a “designed landscape” with paths and field patterns designed to reveal extended views at key points and to enable enjoyment of the landscape in many different ways and places. The estate was laid out to be approached by sea via Ardmarnoch bay; this can still be appreciated today as, when coming up from the bay, the house is suddenly viewed in its idyllic setting. Ardmarnoch became a classic example of a particularly British landscape aesthetic. From the 1920’s however the Nicol family and the estate went into a near terminal decline. The family had lost 3 sons in the First World War. They still own the graveyard in the arboretum and no better location could be conceived in which to be buried. Farms were sold and the estate shrank. By the 1960’s the last gardener was gone and the property was down to 850 acres including the home farm, based in the buildings around the courtyard – the Steading. The Nicol family sold the property in 1986 following the death of the head of the family in Northern Ireland. They had long been a military family in keeping with so many Scottish land owning families. Ardmarnoch was owned briefly by a gentleman who went bankrupt – it seems to be a hazard of ownership. Then the bank owned it for 2 years before Livius Jurgens, a Dutch man bought and proceeded to commence a restoration. By this time only one person lived on the estate, in what is now Swallws Nest, though at that time it was only half the current size. The Steadings roof was half off, dereliction abounded. Drainage in the fields had collapsed. The woodlands were infested with Rhododendron Ponticum to a state of impenetrability. The house was uninhabitable having been leaking water from the roof since at least the end of the 2nd World War. Locals still alive when we arrived remember dining here in 1946 with buckets in the corner of the dining room. Livius worked hard for 7 years but never tackled the house, garden or the woodlands. We have planted numerous shrubs and trees including over 250 roses and many hydrangeas. One hundred camellias have also been planted this winter. In the next few years certain areas of the woodland will be converted into a garden with innumerable azaleas and “good” rhododendrons and other shrubs and trees. We have so far catalogued over 1500 varieties of shrubs and trees. Although Ardmarnoch is now only 700 acres it encompasses a very wide variety of habitats as there is a sea coast, pasture, garden, policy woods, native oak woods and numerous ponds which support a rich range of wild life. We have observed over 110 species of birds and amongst mammals there are red squirrels, pine martin, otters, badgers, foxes, red deer and roe deer. The estate is currently owned by Ardmarnoch Trust whom purchased the estate in 2012. Please note: we do not have historical documentation or artifacts with further information than is displayed on the web site.