Corsock House

By Fergus Neilson

 

The lands of Corsock, lying beside the River Urr, belonged to the Neilson family from the 12th through to the 18th century. The best known member of this family was that much respected covenanter John Neilson. He was the first Laird to join the Covenanters and it was at Corsock, under his hospitality, that the first Field-Meetings, or Coventicles, took place. Finally, as an old man, he was executed in Edinburgh on 14 December 1666 for his part in the Pentland Rising.

The earliest visible part of the present house, is Georgian and was built a century after what became known as the Killing Times. This house has, on its east side, a Marriage Plaque carefully incorporated into Victorian additions. It bears the date 1588, with the initials and arms of John Neilson and his wife, Margaret Gordon.

The next family to leave their mark on Corsock were the Murray-Dunlops who acquired Corsock in the mid 19th century. Alexander Murray-Dunlop was the leading lawyer involved in the Dissention in the Kirk and became a founder member of the Free Church of Scotland, which has now re-joined the Kirk (Church of Scotland). In 1853 Alexander Murray-Dunlop commissioned the well-known Scottish architect, David Bryce, to add to the house’s east end in the turreted Scottish Baronial style. It was Alexander who began planting the magnificent mature trees that now surround Corsock.

His son, Henry, added more turrets at the west end of the house at the beginning of this century and made many ‘modern’ improvements, including creating his own hydroelectric scheme to bring electricity to the house. He was the first man to own a motor car in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright and his number plate was SW1. Henry died in 1919 and the property was bought by General Douglas McEwan who, with his daughter Veronica, laid out the original rhododendron and water gardens. They are best known for a collection of specie rhododendrons, many of them raised from seeds collected by George Forrest on Himalayan expeditions in the 1930’s to which McEwan subscribed. The General died in 1941.

In 1951 Peter Ingall bought Corsock and with his family lovingly set about restoring the garden and extending it up to the loch. To Peter’s son, Micky, the present owner, are owed the architectural features in the garden and, many of the autumn colouring trees and shrubs.

Corsock is still best known for the collection of specie rhododendrons, in particular R. Phaeochrysum, R. Lacteum and R. Sutchuenense, which have all won the Royal Horticultural Society’s McLaren Cup. They provide a magnificent display of flowers from March, if the frosts are kind, until the end of June. The Water Garden is particularly fine in the autumn and the Woodland Walk to Corsock Loch is planted with a great variety of rhododendrons, trees and shrubs giving good spring and autumn colour. The terraced lawns afford a magnificent view down the valley of the River Urr.

 

The Corsock gardens

As one drives round the British Isles, one cannot fail to notice the effects of the mid- 19th century influx of plants from western North America. At Corsock, 20 miles west of Dumfries, the visual dominance of these exotics is almost complete. As one approaches its policies, the effect is of a bit of British Columbia forest miraculously missed by the loggers.

Much of the garden’s current appearance can be credited to Peter Ingall who bought Corsock House in 1951. He took on a typical post-war ruin of a garden: many of the great trees had been felled, others were threatened and Rhododendrum ponticum had gone its own thuggish way. In his care, and most notably that of his son Micky Ingall, and his family, the garden has been restored, extended and embellished with architectural features. The garden at Corsock House, Castle Douglas, Kirkudbright, opens for Scotland’s Garden Scheme on one Sunday each summer.