The landscape appears to have started off as suggested on General Roy's Military Survey 1747-55 as being confined to a small area around the castle. This was expanding in the late 18th century as recorded in the Old Statistical Account, 1796 with 'Improvements 'Mr Gordon of Cluny, one of the Barons of his Majesty's Exchequer, ' has inclosed 200 acres of land about his house, partly with hedge and ditch, and beautiful belts or stripes of planting, partly with stone dykes, and partly with ditches. He has also planted 200 acres of barren ground, with all manner of forrest and ornamental trees, besides many detached clumps upon different eminences, which greatly decorate his estate. But the most valuable and substantial improvement about Cluny, is a large and beautiful meadow of 100 acres; great part of which was formerly overflowed, and, being a marsh, was a defence to the castle, but is now perfectly dry and fit for tillage.' This may be the land to the north-east of the castle which contains the the Pool of Cluny and another larger lake to the north.
Keith's Survey of Aberdeenshire, 1811, notes that the estate is '' well wooded; and by the exquisite taste of another Lady, the late Mrs Baron Gordon, to whom its former proprietor was married, it is ornamented with one of the best gardens in the county.'
Cluny Castle was built in 1820-40, to designs by John Smith, based on drawings by Robert Adam, and incorporates a Z-plan castle of 1604. It has been described by Ian Shepherd as: 'As fantastical a baronial pile as can be found in eastern Scotland.'. The castle is constructed in grey granite, and attached to the north-east corner is a neo-Perpendicular chapel, built in 1870-3, and which includes a rose window. The quadrangular stableblock lies to the north of the castle and has a U-plan two-storey castellated front and central octagonal tower. A turf covered store is situated in the courtyard to the rear. The laundry lies to the rear of the stableblock is two storey of bull-faced granite. It has an arcaded porch on its east side.
The walled garden lies to the south-east of the castle and is built of brick with granite dressings and a granite north-wall. It has neo-classical weep holes on the flued north wall and potting sheds on the north wall. There is a yett style gate in the south wall. There was an extensive range of glasshouses including two display houses. These have all gone and there is only the raggle on the north wall to testify to their existence.
The single-storey Sylvan Cottage to the south of the walled garden on the edge of the designed landscape, was designed by John Smith, 1836-40. The South Lodge, dated 1860 is a two-storey castellated lodge, built of bullfaced granite with round-arched gate. An octagonal game-larder is situated to the rear of the castle built of granite with arched louvred windows and arched door. The East Lodge is now dilapidated. The West Lodge, dated 1864, is a cross-plan granite building with pink granite dressings. The gables have fretted bargeboards and the bay window has fishscale tiling. The curved screen walls are mixed pink and grey granite. The kennels to the south-west of the castle consist of a single plain two-storey cottage with rather more ornate kennels, one range attached to the south side of the kennels cottage, another freestanding to the north of the cottage. Both have attached stone runs with iron bars. The kennels and cottage have crowstepped gables. The designed landscape is surrounded by a solid granite estate wall with granite copes. There is a derelict rustic summerhouse by the Cluny Burn to the south of the walled garden. The Icehouse lies somewhere on the ridge to the north of the walled garden but could not be found. It is possible that it has been overwhelmed by a water storage tank.
Drives and Approaches
The main approach is from the south. The park to the west is arable and would have had a central clump of trees. Scot's Pine is planted along the east side of the drive. The drive at first is level and then begins to go down hill and curves to the north-west. The ground drops to the east and at this point and there is a view into the walled garden. The castle comes into sight at this point. There is a small field, called Mill Park on the 1st Ed OS, 12500(25'), between the drive and the walled garden which is planted with the odd specimen of ash and oak. There are new plantings of oak along the drive at this point, on the western side. This drive diverts to the back of the house. The drive leads to the castle and a gravel sweep by the front door.
The west drive leads to the kirk and opens up with views towards the Fraser Mausoleum in the old kirkyard of Cluny. The mausoleum (not part of the Cluny Castle estate) looks like a temple that belongs to the landscape of Cluny, particularly as the kirkyard is on higher ground. Technically it would be called a borrowed landscape feature, but the siting of the mausoleum matches up in line of sight with the castle. The Pool of Cluny and the pools to the north can also be seen from this drive.
There is an East Drive to the north of the Walled Garden which primarily gives access to the stableyard, although it also gives access to the front of the house. It would be useful for those approaching from the north. The Cluny Burn runs alongside the south side of this drive. The East drive points roughly towards Tillycairn, which was the main castle in the 14th century, and fell into ruins in the 18th century. Tillycairn had been part of Cluny lands but was sold in the 1970s. There is ragged parkland to the north of the drive which forms part of the wet land to the south of the Ton Burn.
Paths and Walks
An extensive system of walks and paths is shown on the 1st Ed O.S. 1864, and these were extended by the 2nd Ed O.S. 1899, particularly in the area around the Cluny Burn where a rustic summerhouse was erected and a waterfall made. The rustic summerhouse is extant but has suffered tree-fall damage. These walks, which have now disappeared, linked up with the beech rides that divide the parks to the south of castle, already described, eventually leading to Pool of Cluny and the pond and boathouse to the north-west of the castle. There was also a walk across the parks called the Seven Gates Walk. The Mill of Cluny shown on the 1st Ed OS map (1:2500, 25') has disappeared by the time of the 2nd Ed. Map.
The main area of parkland lies to the south of the castle on rising ground and is probably part of the improvements referred to in the Old Statistical Account 1796, carried out by Mr Gordon of Cluny. There are four roughly square parks divided by lanes planted originally with beech. These were later underplanted with rhododendron. There is some re-planting going on including beech and oak. At the centre of the walks is a large square cattle water trough. There may once have been an ornamental feature here as the remains of cobbling can be seen around the trough. The walk going west is dyked and raised. The south-east park is now arable but has a mixed deciduous clump in the middle. The other parks are used for grazing cattle. A small park to the north of the walled ground on higher ground is planted with young beech.
The policies of Cluny are enclosed by belts of woodland and in some cases commercial plantations. In some places the planting is very mannered, producing a very definite profile. The perimeter planting in the vicinity of the West Lodge consists of coppiced elm with beech and other species behind. A browse line, produced by grazing animals, also gives further definition.
Although not within the boundary line of the designed landscape it is perhaps worth mentioning Cunningar Wood to the east of the walled garden. The ground here is extremely uneven perhaps reflecting rabbit activity. It appears to be planted in parklike fashion with beech which are now reaching maturity, but may also be the remains of some type of mineral extraction by the estate, as there is a disused quarry in the vicinity.
The extensive gardens around the house consist of fine lawns and specimen trees and shrubs. Over the last 30 to 40 years, ponds have been added in front of the house, and are planted with a variety of willows. There are fine specimen trees, including some notable 19th century Wellingtonias, which were amongst the first to be planted in the country, and which provide a setting for the house. Immediately to the east of the castle is The High Walk, an unusual garden feature, which seems to have its origin as part of a natural ridge which continues to the east behind the walled garden and did continue to the west side of the castle as indicated on the 1st Ed O.S. 1864, 1:2500 (25').
The High Walk is planted with Rhododendrons and Portuguese Laurel. The reference in Keith's Survey 1811 to the 'exquisite garden' may refer to an old formal garden to the east of the castle, and looked down into from the High Walk. There are some old box, yew and hollies in this area, which may have been the structural shrubs in the formal garden. Cluny burn was diverted and moated at some point, to run past the garden at the end of the High Walk. More research is needed to piece together the historical development of the garden here.
The walled garden is still in use for growing fruit and vegetables.