Turas gu Aldourie - Two Trips to Aldourie
Aldourie Castle is first mentioned in records as long ago as 1626. Then a laird’s house, it has changed form many times over the centuries. Today, it exists in final form as a quintessential Victorian baronial fortress.
The estate is located near to the Highland capital of Inverness and sits right on the bank of Loch Ness (the infamous mythology of which I need not address here). The castle and its grounds are now part of Wildland, a project overseeing the management and restoration of a number of Highland estates. The new ownership is dedicated to the re-wilding of many of these, diversifying their economies so as to not overly rely on trophy hunting which has been the main income and tourism drive of such places for decades.
The gardens at Aldourie have been redesigned by the wonderful Tom Stuart-Smith, with their ongoing care now in the hands of Elliot Forsyth and his team. Speaking with Elliot and the other gardeners, it was nice to learn that several have artistic backgrounds themselves. Many are painters or share other creative practices and bring this sensibility to bear upon decisions in the garden. I’ve always felt that there is a clear alignment between artist and gardener - there are certainly no end of artists or collectives whose practice in the studio is as significant as their botanical contribution - Cedric Morris, V Bell and D Grant at Charleston, Ravelious to name but a few British examples. The list goes on and on, in every place and time.
I spoke with Elliot about this whilst we looked about the castle’s kitchen garden. Working closely with materials, coming to know the ways and ‘needs’ of materials in a process feels very similar to the relationship a garden caretaker builds with the tools and specimens they tend. Intention is met halfway, compromises, and responds to the needs and will of the very thing you are crafting. It’s not the only way to work, I know, but it’s a way I enjoy and feel brings about a more embodied practice.
Any reason to return to Scotland is a welcome one and something felt particularly fitting in making my pilgrimages around two special dates. Journeying up for Midsummer and All Hallow’s Eve, it was an opportunity to see the grounds in two very different states. The later trip also a nice opportunity to head beyond the kitchen garden walls to forage the very last of the year’s mushrooms around the loch.
Structure over the year is a key element in the design of Aldourie’s gardens - grasses and standing seed pods provide interest when the green has gone. I gathered iris pods and grasses (native species laced in with sister varieties from prairies) for casting and pressing. The second wintery trip also provided the opportunity to return a couple of orchard fruits to their garden of origin, picked at the height of summer, now cast and preserved in bronze.
I look forward to continued play with specimens collected here.