Sitting within Chatelherault Country Park is one of Scotland’s most historic and beautiful buildings as well as attractive woodland and the spectacular Avon Gorge where beech, oak and birch trees play host to kingfishers, stonechat, squirrels, roe deer and otter. You may also spot a rare breed of white cattle that were bred by the Dukes of Hamilton supposedly from the ancient wild cattle of Scotland.
Chatelherault Country Park was formerly the estate grounds of the Duke of Hamilton and surrounded the magnificent Hamilton Palace. Chatelherault Hunting Lodge was built in 1734 by the renowned architect William Adam (his most famous design probably being Hopetoun House near South Queensferry) to provide estate buildings, stables and kennels for James Hamilton, the 5th Duke of Hamilton (1703-1743). Hamilton Palace was demolished in 1921, due to ground subsidence, but the hunting lodge remains and grants a truly breathtaking focal point to the Country Park.
The name Chatelherault originates from the French town of Chatellerault and, due to close links between the Auld Alliance of Scotland and France in the 16th century, the title of Duc de Chatellherault was presented to James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Arran, in 1548 and subsequently the Duke of Hamilton.
Cutting a dramatic cleft through Chatelherault Country Park is the Avon Water, which begins its 24-mile journey in the curiously named hills of Distinkhorn and Wedder Hill above Kilmarnock in East Ayrshire from where it snakes its way through South Lanarkshire and joins the River Clyde near Hamilton. The name Avon is derived from the Gaelic Abhainn and simply means River.
From the 14th century the Avon Gorge’s ancient woodland was once a key asset of the royal hunting estate of the Dukes of Hamilton. The oldest trees within the wood are the Cadzow Oaks, which are examples of possibly the oldest surviving oak woodland in Scotland. It is thought that they were planted during the reign of King David I (1124-1153) although tree-ring analysis date them from around the mid 15th century making them a remarkable 600 years old.