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Brief history of Benmore Centre

Many years ago the place we know as Benmore was called “Innasraugh” which means 'The sheltered valley'. At this time, entrance to Benmore was at Uig near Eckford house, where the ford is still usable.

Humble beginnings

Our story begins in 1801, when John Lamont who was disowned by his family left his home in Toward and set off for Trinidad. Although only 19 years old, he found work as an apprentice overseer on a sugar plantation. He must have applied himself well, for within eight years he was able to buy his own plantation, and went on  to become a principle landowner and local dignitary on the island.

Now a wealthy man, he visited his homeland in 1849 and purchased Benmore for £13,000 for his nephew and arranged for a new house to be built. Sadly, on his return to Trinidad he died suddenly and never saw the completed property. The nephew, not ready to settle down, sold the estate and went off to Africa.

Expansion and extension

House with galleryAfter the estate changed hands a couple of times, the house was extensively reworked in 1862 by an American gentleman, James Piers Patrick who built the Tower, added the estates of Kilmun and Bernice, and also planted the now impressive avenue of Sierra Redwoods. In 1870 the property came to philanthropist James Duncan, who planted over six million trees and built an imposing gallery on the east wing of the house to display his considerable collection of fine paintings. This attracted over 8,000 visitors in the summers of 1881 and 1882.

The Edinburgh connection

Unfavourable business conditions forced the sale of many of Duncan's assets including Benmore which was bought by Edinburgh brewer H.J. Younger in 1889. During the Younger tenure, the gallery and conservatory were demolished and many exotic shrubs and trees were introduced to the gardens. In 1924 the estate was gifted to the nation for the purpose of science and education, with most of the forest land assigned to the Forestry Commission. The gardens were handed over to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh in 1929.
Benmore house was then utilised as a training facility for Forestry Commission apprentices until 1965 when it was acquired by Edinburgh Corporation as an outdoor education centre for Edinburgh schools.


Things to look out for

When Kayaking on Loch Eck, ask the instructor to point out the Paper Caves on the western hillside (Clach Bheinn). Archibald Campbell, 9th Earl of Argyll supported the ill-fated rebellion against James VII (James II). Sentenced to death, he escaped, causing the King to order the destruction, "...of all houses, goods and persons of any who join with Argyll...Burn all houses...destroy Inverary Castle and all castles..."

However, in Scots law ownership of land could not be transferred without possession of deeds. The Campbells knew this and hid the documents in the Paper Caves so the estates remained in their hands.
If you go on the caving activity, these are the caves you will  visit.

Golden gates

 

 

The Golden Gates which stood at the Glen Masson entrance to the gardens bear the initials "J.D" of James Duncan (see above), sugar merchant and philanthropist who regularly gave away one fifth of his annual salary to good causes. The gates are now back in position, having recently been away for a complete refurbishment.

 

 

The giant Sierra Redwoods at the entrance to the gardens were planted in 1863. Originally there were 50, but one blew down in a gale in 1968.  They can live for 3,500 years, grow to 91 metres, and weigh over 6,000 tons - so they have a bit more growing to do yet!
(Co-incidence: In the Mayacamas Mountains on California's "Redwood Coast" near Sacramento lies 'Benmore Valley'.But this has nothing to do with our Benmore - it's name comes from a well known local cattle rustler named Benjamin More!)

Giant redwoods