The spirit of fire is the red of the rhododendron and the flame of the maple.”
These words are carved on a chunk of slate embedded in a mossy bank along the Himalayan Gorge route in Crarae Garden.
This path is one of five waymarked trails through this self-styled Himalayan Glen, and is said to have the edge for autumn colour. But with the garden’s impressive variety of maples, birches and rowans, every track puts on a spectacular show this time of year.
The 100-acre woodland garden was created in 1912 by Lady Grace Campbell, whose nephew, Reginald Farrer, was one of those intrepid plant hunters, scouring far-flung corners of the globe for exotic flora. Farrer’s books changed the way we designed our gardens, rejecting stiff Victorian formality for a more naturalistic planting style.
The steep-sided Crarae Glen was the perfect place to experiment with the trees and shrubs brought back from China, Nepal and Tibet. All rocky ravine and rushing water, the Crarae Burn tumbles down to Loch Fyne. Add around 50 different habitats, from cliff-like crevices to wet woodland, and you have the reason three generations of the Campbell family – Lady Campbell, her son Sir George, and his son, Sir Ilay – were able to recreate a corner of the Himalayas in Argyll.
Today, the grand stone house is still owned by the family, but the National Trust for Scotland acquired the gardens in 2001
and set about repairing the bridges and pathways. It might be off the beaten track, but it’s an important spot on the horticultural map. Crarae has 600 types of rhododendron and three National Collections of southern beech.
The waymarked paths take their colours from the ancient Tibetan prayer flags: yellow for earth, green for water, red for fire, white for the air and blue for the sky. The yellow route takes you on a gentle stroll around the garden past a prehistoric burial cairn and churchyard. The green Path of the Panda winds along the burn through a bamboo tunnel. The white Plant Hunter’s Trail climbs high along the ridge, giving you magnificent views of the garden and out over Loch Fyne.
Following the blue arrows takes you through mixed woodland and past an old mill to another viewpoint. Each season has its own highlights, however. In autumn the blowsy purple Disanthus cercidifolius, part of the vibrant shrub layer and with attractive bundles of berries, joins with the maples to set the wood alight with a rich palette of burnished gold, deep crimson and jaunty pink.
How to get there
Crarae is 10 miles south of Inveraray on the A83. There are infrequent bus services from Glasgow via Inveraray and Campbelltown via Lochgilphead, which pass the garden entrance.
Find out more
Inveraray PA32 8YA
0844 493 2210
The garden is open all year, 9.30am-sunset. Visitor centre open 1 Apr-31 Oct, Thurs-Mon, 10am-5pm. Adults £5.50, family £15, concessions £4.50. Dogs allowed on a lead.
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