Importance of Site
A site included in the Inventory is assessed for its condition and integrity and for its level of importance. The criteria used are set out in Annex 5 of the Scottish Historic Environment Policy (December 2011). The principles are represented by the following value-based criteria and we have assigned a value for each on a scale ranging from outstanding value to no value. Criteria not applicable to a particular site have been omitted. All sites included in the Inventory are considered to be of national importance.
Work of Art
The contemporary accounts of the gardens designed by Mawson give Dunira outstanding value in this category.
The existing plans and records, together with the association with the 1st Viscount Melville and the Dundas family, give Dunira high Historical value.
Horticultural, Arboricultural, Silvicultural
While there are records of interesting trees and plants in the past at Dunira, there has never been an important plant collection but the Pinetum gives it a little Horticultural value.
The designed landscape has provided the setting for a collection of architectural features and houses which together give it high value.
Dunira makes a major contribution to the surrounding scenery.
The moorland, woodland and burnside habitats provide high value for Nature Conservation.
Location and Setting
Dunira is set on a terrace above the valley of the River Earn where it broadens out between the hills of Mor Bheinn 2,100' (640m) to the south, and Creag Liath 1,637' (499m) to the north. The estate lies within the River Earn National Scenic Area, some 2 miles (3km) west of Comrie and 7 miles (12km) east of Lochearnhead. The Glen Boltachan burn cuts steeply down over waterfalls through the hills to the north- west of the park and flows through the west park to join the River Earn. The policies are sheltered from the north and east winds by the hills and the woodlands on their slopes, and the climate is relatively good, as are the soils. There are views from the site of the house across the valley to the Aberuchill Hills but the hills shelter and enclose the estate, confining the views from the policies. The main A85 forms the southern boundary of the policies and the designed landscape is significant in the view from the road.
The main house was set on terraces above the Allt Eas an Aoin; it was burned down in 1948. The designed landscape is bordered to the south by the A85 through Strathearn and is enclosed by the policy woodlands and hills on its other sides. The extent remains the same today as that shown on the 1st edition OS map of 1859. An outlying feature which is important to the views is the obelisk put up on Dunmore Hill to the east of the park near Crieff in memory of Viscount Melville who died in 1811. There are now 864 acres (350ha) in the designed landscape.
The parkland landscape was laid out c.1798 after Viscount Melville purchased the estate and he was possibly assisted in its design by Henry Holland. The terraces around the new house were constructed in 1852 by William Burn and the gardens were designed by Thomas Mawson in 1920.
The estate was purchased by the 1st Viscount Melville in 1784, along with neighbouring estates totalling 20,000 acres (8,000ha), as a country retreat from Melville House on the outskirts of Edinburgh. In 1798 he commissioned Henry Holland (Capability Brown's son-in-law) to design a new house at Dunira and possibly to design the gardens also, although it is thought that Lord Melville himself designed the wide park. The building is described by Tait as a 'bleak, classical house' which was situated further to the west of the later house and was subject to periodic flooding from the burn. The building was carried out by the architect William Stirling between 1803-09. Lord Melville's son sold the estate in 1824 to Sir Robert Dundas of Beechwood, one of the principal Clerks of the Court of Session. He had the walled garden built by the Perth architect W.M. Mackenzie and a West Lodge was added in 1827.
Sir Robert died in 1835 to be succeeded by his son, Sir David, who, after repeated flooding of the house, ordered its demolition and replacement with a new house on higher ground. The new house was designed by William Burn in 1852 and four large terraces were constructed round it above the park. David Bryce designed some additions to the house in 1864 in the form of a porte-cochere and an extension to the offices. The Pinetum was established by Sir David by 1870. Sir David was succeeded by his son Sir Sidney James Dundas in 1877 when the estate was about 5,600 acres in size. A new steading was added in 1879 and many other improvements were made at that time including new estate cottages. Sir Sidney died in 1904 and was succeeded by his brothers Charles (until 1908) and George.
The estate was sold before 1920 to Mr W.G. Macbeth who commissioned Thomas Mawson in 1920 to design the gardens around the house 'as he would like to see them'. They were two years in the making and are illustrated in a Country Life article of 1931. The main house was destroyed by fire in 1948 and, although the office court survived and is used as a dwelling today, the associated gardens have not been maintained for many years.
Dunira House was destroyed by fire in 1948. The east side of the house and its offices remain, as do the surrounding terraces. There are old photographs of the Baronial two-storey house designed by William Burn with additions by David Bryce. The walled garden and its associated conservatory were put up in c.1826 by W.M. Mackenzie and there is also an attractive small conservatory in the terraced gardens. The West Lodge dated from 1827 and the row of workers' cottages and the new steading were added in 1862 and 1879 respectively. The old steading remains near the walled garden, and there are some new houses within the designed landscape. Viscount Melville's statue erected in 1811 is a 72' high obelisk.
The parkland landscape at Dunira is very distinctively defined by beech hedges, trimmed to A-shape, which enclose grazed pasture. The wooded knolls and roundels of beech, oak and birch with some conifers are significant features in the landscape viewed from the main road. There is a young beech and spruce avenue to the east steading.
The steep slopes of the surrounding hills are clothed with plantations and in 1883 the plantations of larch, spruce and oak coppice were much admired (Woods, Forests and Estates of Perthshire, T. Hunter). Today the commercial woodlands are mainly of mixed coniferous species. Within the policies there are a greater variety of deciduous species including birch, oak and beech. There are numerous grand waterfalls in the glens within the woodlands and walks were made in the early 1800s, particularly up Glen Boltachan, where bridges cross the stream at its most picturesque points.
To the south of the formal terraced gardens, the Allt Eas an Aion has been channelled through a carefully constructed rock garden of boulders, cascades and rockpools created out of the natural surroundings, and flows into a small loch which is still fringed with weeping trees and rock platforms. Much of the early rock garden planting, as described in the 1931 article, has since been lost and the loch has become invaded by reeds but the structure of the design remains.
The gardens laid out by Thomas Mawson between 1920-22 are beautifully illustrated and described in the Country Life article of 1931. Prior to their formation, the bold terraces constructed at the same time as the 1852 Burn house had been left as grass banks. Mawson added balustrades and flagged paths to the upper terrace with two stone staircases descending to the lower terrace to the rose garden, the central feature of which is a narrow canal which was fed from a wall fountain at its eastern end. At the far end are the remains of a circular pool and, parallel to the rose garden, the second set of steps led down to the circular paved area which was enclosed by lavender and centred on a sundial, which has since been lost.
A ha-ha fenced the garden from the park and a holly hedge now forms the boundary. On the lowest terrace level are the huge yew hedges which once were clipped low around a parterre of lawn with island beds filled with bedding plants and subdivided by trellis arches flanked by clipped hedges and adorned with climbers. The trellis is now enveloped within the enormous hedges but the lines and former arches can still be discerned.
The walled garden lies to the north of the older, west, steading. It is 4.5 acres (1.8ha) in size, with attractive curved walls. There was once a 360' range of glasshouses which included vineries, peach-houses, greenhouses and the very attractive conservatory which has been retained. The garden is shown on the 1st edition map of 1863 as divided into ten main compartments, the eastern two of which appear to have been planted as orchards. In recent years, it has been put to grass and is at present used for grazing horses.
This was established in the later half of the 19th century by Sir David Dundas, and specimens recorded in 1883 included Abies menziesii, Cedrus deodara, several Araucaria and Sequioa, and three Thuja craigiana sent from British Columbia. Many of the specimen conifers survive in the area to the south of the ornamental gardens and are visible from the main road. Other interesting trees include a fine weeping birch and a Turkey oak, and Alan Mitchell has measured and recorded the several varieties of conifers along the West Drive.