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Castles

Aberdeenshire is home to over 300 Castles ranging from striking cliff-top ruins to grand fortresses and Royal residences.

Huntly Castle
- lies in the green heart of the Aberdeenshire countryside. It is a noble ruin in a beautiful setting, remarkable both for the quality of its architecture and for its eventful history.  The Earls of Fife built the original stronghold, the Peel of Strathbogie, around 1190, to guard the crossing-point where the Rivers Bogie and Deveron meet. But it was the mighty Gordons who made the stronghold their own from the 14th century and renamed it Huntly Castle.

The surviving remains tell the story of the development of the castle in Scotland, from the Motte and Bailey of the 12th century, through the Tower House of the later Middle Ages, to the stately Stone Palace of the Jacobean era.

The earliest fortifications in Scotland were earthen mounds, surrounded with wooden palisades. They were succeeded by stone and lime "keeps" built in imitation of Norman structures. The presence of the Normans in England during the 11th and 12th centuries drove the Saxon nobility northwards, and they were followed in turn by other Normans, who obtained possession of great tracts of country. The rectangular keeps of the Normans have in consequence formed the models on which most of the Scottish castles were constructed. In the 13th century there were Castles at Strathbogie, Fyvie, Inverurie and Kildrummy. These have mostly been rebuilt in recent times and the more ancient parts have disappeared. The general idea in them all was a fortified enclosure usually quadrilateral.  The walls of the enclosure were 7 to 9 feet thick and 20 to 30 feet high. The angles had round or square towers,  and the walls had parapets and embrasures for defence and a continuous path round the top of the ramparts. The entrance was a wide gate guarded by a portcullis. The comparatively large area within the walls was intended to harbour the population of a district and to give temporary protection to their flocks and possessions in times of danger.  Some of the finer examples, such as Kildrummy, closely resemble the splendid military buildings of France in the 13th century. One of the towers is usually larger than the others and forms the donjon or place of strength,  to which retreat could be made as a last resort, when, during a siege, the enemy had gained a footing within the walls.

Kildrummy Castle
Kildrummy Castle is one of the finest and largest in Scotland, and even in its present ruinous condition gives an impression of grandeur and extent such as no other castle in Aberdeenshire can rival. It was built in the reign of Alexander II by Gilbert de Moravia, Bishop of Caithness. Situated near the River Don, some 10 miles inland from Alford, and occupying a strong position on the top of a bank which slopes steeply to a burn on 2 sides, and protected on the other sides by an artificial fosse, it was a place of great strength. Its plan is an irregular quadrangle, the south front bulging out in the centre towards the gateway. It had 6 round towers, 1 at each angle and 2 at the gate. One of the corner towers the Snow Tower 55 feet in diameter, was the donjon and contained the draw-well. The astle possessed a large courtyard, a great hall, and a chapel, of which the window of 3 tall lancets survives. It was built in the 13th century, and therefore belongs to the First Pointed Period. The stone used is a sandstone, probably taken from the quarries in the locality, where instead of the prevailing granite of Aberdeenshire a great band of sandstone occurs.

This famous Castle passed through various vicissitudes. It was besieged in 1306 by Edward I of England and was gallantly defended, but, in consequence of a great conflagration, Nigel Bruce, King Robert's brother, who was acting as governor, yielded it to the English, he himself being made prisoner and ultimately executed. Some of the buildings date from this period, when it was rebuilt by the English, but it soon fell into Bruce's hands again. Twenty years after Bannockburn it was conferred on the Earl of Mar. The rebellion of 1715 was hatched within its walls. Thereafter being forfeited by Mar, it eventually came into the hands of the Gordons of Wardhouse.  Recently it was purchased by Colonel Ogston, who has built a modern mansion-house close by and crossed the ravine with a bridge, an exact replica of the historic Bridge of Balgownie near Donmouth.

During the 14th century, Scotland, exhausted with the struggle for national independence, was unable to engage in extensive building. Beside, Bruce's policy was opposed to Castle building, as such edifices were liable to be captured by the enemy and a secure footing thereby obtained.  His policy was rather to strip the country, and to destroy everything in front of an invading army, with a view to starving it out. The houses of the peasantry were made of wood and could easily be restored when destroyed. The houses of the nobility took the form of square towers on the Norman model and all Castles of the 14th century were on this simple plan a square or oblong tower with very thick walls and defended from a parapet path round the top of the tower.  The angles were rounded or projected on corbels in the form of round bartizans. At 1st these parapets were open and machicolated. As time went on, the simple keep was extended by adding on a small wing at one corner, which gave the ground plan of the whole building the shape of the letter L.  The entrance was then placed as a rule at the re-entering angle. Such keeps are usually spoken of as built on the L plan. The ground floor was vaulted and used for stores or stables and as accommodation for servants.  The only communication between this and the 1st floor was a hatch. In early Castles the principal entrance was often on the floor above the ground floor and was reached by a stair easily removed in time of danger. Access from 1 storey to another was by a corkscrew or newel stair at one corner in the thick wall. Thus constructed a tower could resist siege and fire, and even if taken, could not be easily damaged.

The 17th & 18th centuries were largely a period of steep decline for Kildrummy Castle . The exceptionally high quality of its stone led to its use as a handy quarry for the area, and the mighty Snow Tower collapsed in 1805. However, in 1898 the Castle was acquired by Colonel James Ogston, who until his death worked steadily to restore parts of it. He died in 1931

Tower of Drum 

Of this kind of keep Aberdeenshire has many excellent examples, the most perfect, perhaps, being the Tower of Drum. It stands on a ridge overlooking the valley of the Dee. To the ancient keep built probably late in the 13th century was added a mansion-house on a different plan in 1619. The estate was granted to William de Irvine by Bruce in recognition of faithful service as secretary and armour-bearer. Previous to that, Drum was a Royal forest and a hunting-seat of the king.  The keep, which stands as solid and square to-day as it did 600 years ago, is quadrilateral and the angles are rounded off. The entrance was at the level of the 1st floor. The main stair is a newel. In the lowest storey the walls are 12 feet thick, pierced with 2 narrow loops for light. In a recess is the well. On the top of the tower are battlements, the parapet resting on a corbel-table continued right round the building.

Hallforest  Castle
- near Kintore is an example of a 14th century keep. It was built by Bruce as a hunting-seat and bestowed on Sir Robert de Keith, the Marischal. It still belongs to the Kintore family but is now a ruin.  The 15th century brought a change in castle building. The accommodation of the keeps was circumscribed and the paucity of rooms made privacy impossible.  One way of extending the space was, as we have said, by adding a wing at 1 corner. Another mode was to utilise the surrounding wall, for the keeps were generally guarded by a wall, which formed a courtyard or barmekin for stabling and offices. This was often of considerable extent and defended by towers. As the country progressed and manners improved, buildings were extended round the inside of the courtyard walls. In the 16th century the change went further and developed into the mansion-house built round a quadrangle. The building was first in the centre of the surrounding wall ; ultimately the courtyard was absorbed and became the centre of the castle.   

Balquhain Castle
- in Chapel of Garioch, 2 miles from Inverurie, was originally a keep like Drum, but being destroyed in 1526, it was rebuilt. Very little of it now remains but its massive, weather-stained walls have a commanding effect.

The barmekin is still traceable. Queen Mary is said to have passed the night prior to the Battle of Corrichie at Balquhain. It was burned in 1746 by the Duke of Cumberland.  Many other Castles on the same general plan are dotted up and down the county. Some are in ruins, some have been altered and added to on other lines, but the original keep is still a marked feature in most of them.

 Cairnbulg
- recently restored on the north-east coast has a Keep of the 15th century with additions of a century later. Gight, now ruinous, but formerly celebrated for its great strength, occupies a fine site on the summit of the Braes of Gight, which rise abruptly from |the bed of the Ythan. It also is a 15th century edifice built on the L plan. It has a historical interest as having once belonged to Lord Byron's mother, from whom it was purchased by the Earl of Aberdeen.  Another of the same kind is Craig Castle in Auchindoir. It was completed in 1518 and is also on the L plan. So too is Fedderat in New Deer. 

The tradition is, that Fedderat should never be taken till the Wood of Fyvie came to the siege; and that the soldiers of William of Orange, on dislodging the the adherents of the Stuart from Fyvie Castle, and knowing that they had taken refuge in Fedderat, cut down the wood at Fyvie, and carried it with them, to aid them in the siege of the place. . . . and fall it did.

Gight Castle

The Old House of Gight In the 16th century the troubled reign of Queen Mary was unfavourable to architecture, but towards the end of it the rise of Renaissance art began to exert a decided influence, especially on details and internal furnishings, and in the next century gradually but completely dominated the spirit of the art. Another influence at work was the progress made in Artillery. The ordinary Castles could not now resist Artillery fire, and all attempts at making them impregnable fortresses were abandoned, and the only fortifications retained were such as would make the buildings safe from sudden attack. In consequence, what had before been grim fortresses were now transformed into country mansions, whether on the keep or on the quadrangle plan; and sites were chosen as providing shelter from the elements rather than defence against human foes. The Reformation, too, which secularised the Church lands and gave the lion's share to the nobility, was a notable influence in revolutionising Architecture. The nobility being now more wealthy were enabled either to extend their old mansions or to build new ones. Hence the great development that took place in the quiet reign of James VI. The effect of the Union in 1603, which drew many of the nobility to England, was civilising and educative, and raised their ideas of house accommodation as well as their standard of comfort and domestic amenity. The change was of course gradual. The old keeps and the castles built round a courtyard were still in evidence, but picturesque turrets corbelled out at every angle of the building, slated, and terminating in fanciful finials, became the rule. The lower walls were kept plain, the ornamentation being lavishly crowded only on the upper parts. The roofs became high-pitched with picturesque chimneys, dormer windows and crow-stepped gables.

Gight Castle, which looms dramatically over the River Ythan a few miles upstream of Haddo, was for hundreds of years the residence of the Gordons of Gight, distant cousins of the Gordons of Haddo. This spectacular, famously eerie Castle, which is now a ruin, is perhaps most renowned for being the childhood home of George Gordon, better known as the poet Lord Byron, whose mother, Catherine, was the last Gordon to reside there. Due to the gambling habits of Byron’s father, ‘Mad’ Jack Byron, Gight Castle was sold to the 3rd Earl of Aberdeen for his son, Lord Haddo. The latter’s premature death due to a riding accident led to the abandonment of the Castle as a residence and its decline into ruin.

Gight Castle (Meaning wind and pronounced Gecht) was also known as the ‘House of Gight’ or ‘Formartine Castle’ it was built by the Gordon family as an L-plan tower house with stables and coach-house around 1560.  In 1787 Catherine Gordon (1765 to 1811) 13th Laird of Gight had to sell the castle and estate to pay debts run-up by her husband Captain John 'Mad Jack' Byron (d.1791), and it was bought by George Gordon (1722 to 1801) the 3rd Earl of Aberdeen (known in the family as the 'Wicked Earl').   The famous poet Lord George Byron (1788 to 1824) was the son of Catherine and Jack, he was deprived of his inheritance due to his father squandering all of the money.

Thomas the Rhymer prophesised: "When the heron leaves the the tree, the Laird o' Gight shall landless be."

Prior to the sale of the Castle a number of herons which had nested at Gight for many years flew over to the Haddo Estate which was owned by George Gordon and he said "Let the birds come, and do them no harm, for the land will soon follow", which it duly did.  Today Gight is another one of the many Castles in Buchan which has fallen into decay with no sign of any consolidation or restoration forthcoming.

Thomas the Rhymer also prophesised: "At Gight 3 men by sudden death shall dee, And after that the land shall lie in lea."

In 1791 George Gordon (b.1764) Lord Haddo fell from his horse on the Green of Gight and died suddenly.  Gight Castle was abandoned after this tragedy.  A couple of years after at Home Farm of Gight a servant met a similar sudden death.  Prior to the farm being turned into lea, one of the farmhouses was being demolished, and a farm worker casually mentioned that Thomas the Rhymer's prophecy hadn't come true.  Less than one hour later a wall fell down on top of the said farm worker and crushed him to death, thereby fulfilling the prophecy.

Craigievar Castle

All these features so characteristic of the mansion-houses of the 4th period (1542-1700) are well marked in Craigievar, which is one of the best preserved Castles of the time. Its ground plan is of the L type, but the turrets and gables are corbelled out with ornamental mouldings and the upper part of the castle displays that profusion of sky-pointing pinnacles and multifarious parapets which mark the period. The same is seen at Crathes and at Castle Fraser.   A former un-named member of the Gordon clan is said to haunt the blue room in the tower, he is said to have fallen from the bedroom window to his death there.  The ghost of a fiddler is also said to haunt the castle, the fiddler is said to have fallen down a well and drowned, his ghost is said to only appear to people named Forbes.

Castle Fraser
The last is altogether an excellent specimen. It consists of a central oblong building with 2 towers at the diagonally opposite ends, one square and the other round, and is therefore a development into what has been called the Z plan or stepped plan induced by the general use of firearms in defence

Crathes Castle, Kincardineshire
Here, as at Craigievar, gargoyles originally used to carry off rain water from the roof are brought in as a piece of fanciful decoration, apart from any utilitarian purpose, and project from the walls at places where rain-spouts are irrelevant.  The Castle has a secret chamber or "lug" in which the master of the house could over-hear the conversation of his guests in the dining-hall. Nothing could better illustrate the treachery and cunning which had been bred by the difficulty of the times. Mr Skene, the friend of Sir Walter Scott, minutely investigated this contrivance as it exists at Castle Fraser, and no doubt his account of this ingenious but dishonourable device for gaining illicit information suggested King James's "Lug," so happily described in The Fortunes of Nigel. Castellated buildings of this class are so numerous in Aberdeenshire that it is possible to name only a few.  

Fyvie Castle
One of the finest is Fyvie Castle on the banks of the upper reaches of the Ythan in the very centre of the county.

It is not like many others a ruin, but a mansion-house modernised in many respects, but still retaining all the picturesque features of the olden time. It occupies 2 sides of a quadrangle, with the principal front towards the south, one side being 147, the other 137 feet in frontage. At the 3 corners are massive square towers, with angle turrets and crow-stepped gables. Besides these towers, there are in the centre of the south front 2 other projecting towers, which at 42 feet from the ground are bridged by a connecting arch, 11 feet wide, the whole forming a grand and most impressive mass of masonry called the “Seton" tower, a magnificent centre to what is perhaps the most imposing front of any domestic edifice in Scotland. At the south-east corner is the "Preston" tower, built by Sir Henry Preston, and the earliest part of the building, dating from the14th century. In the south-west stands the "Meldrum" tower, so-called from the succeeding proprietors (1440-1596). They erected this part and the whole range of the south front except the "Seton" tower already referred to, which is a later addition. The Setons succeeded the Meldrums and it is to Alexander Seton, Lord Fyvie and Earl of Dunfermline, that the Castle owes its greatest splendours. Besides planning this tower, he ornamented the others with their turreted and ornate details. He also built the great stair-case, which is a triumph of architectural skill. It is a wheel or newel staircase of grand proportions, skilfully planned and as skilfully executed. The Gordon tower on the west was not added till the 18th century, by William, 2nd son of the 2nd Earl of Aberdeen. Its erection necessitated the destruction of the Chapel. Here one may see how the Renaissance ideas were creeping in, especially the desire for balance and symmetry. Two of everything was beginning to be the rule.  One wing must have another to balance with it; one tower another to make a pair.

Castle of Dunnottar
N
ow the stately and magnificent ruin thus feebly sketched - stands on an isolated rock 200 feet perpendicular, washed on 3 sides by the sea, and on the other separated from the adjacent land by a wide and deep chasm, from which by a gate in the wall, nearly 40ft high, there is an entrance to the fortress. Leading upwards from this gate there is a long steep passage, partly arched over, and formerly secured by 2 drawbridges, the grooves for which are still visible. At the inner end of this passage is another gate, opening into the castle area, which is enclosed by a wall, and occupied by buildings of various epochs. Of all the buildings on this rock the chapel is the most ancient, and there is reason to believe that it originally served as the Parish Church of Dunnottar. The Castle, or the peninsular rock on which it stands, makes its 1st appearance in Scottish history during the wars of Bruce and Baliol, when, it is alleged by some modern authorities, the Castle was erected by Sir William Keith as a place of safety for himself and friends. According to Blind Harry and Hector Boece, Dunnottar was surprised and taken by Sir William Wallace in 1297, and the Blind Historian relates that Dunnottar was occupied by 4,000 English troops, who had fled before the victorious arms of the Liberator; and that when Wallace made the onslaught, as many of them as the church would contain took shelter there, in the hope that consecrated ground would not be violated by their slaughter; but, says the bard, -
"Wallace on fyre gart set all haistely,Brynt up the kyrk and all that was thairin."

In the year 1336 Dunnottar was fortified and garrisoned by Edward III; but immediately after his departure for England it was attacked and carried by the gallant Sir Andrew Moray, who destroyed the fortifications of the Castle, so that it might not again afford ready protection to an enemy.

 

Glenbuchat Castle

In 1701 it was bought by a different branch of the Gordon family and became the home of another John Gordon who came to be known as 'Old Glenbucket' (an older spelling of Glenbuchat).

He was a prominent supporter of the Jacobite cause and a hero of the Jacobite Risings of 1715 and 1745. Such was his infamy that he is said to have haunted the dreams of King George II.

By 1738 the castle had been abandoned as the Gordon family home and was already partly unroofed when it was sold to the Duff Earl of Fife. 

Delgatie Castle

Dating from 1030 the Castle is steeped in Scottish history yet still gives the atmosphere of a lived in home. It has some of the finest painted ceilings in Scotland dating 1592 and 1597.  It has a Mary Queen of Scots bed chamber; fine furniture and paintings are displayed throughout.  Delgatie has the widest turnpike stair in Britain.

A ghost of a woman with red hair is said to haunt one of the towers, she is also said to take great delight in making people jump.  She was regularly seen during WW2 when troops were billeted here.

Tolquhon Castle

Aberdeenshire is graced by many historic castles, but Tolquhon is one of the most picturesque. It served as a noble residence for some 300 years. The oldest part is the stump of an early 15th-century Tower House, probably built by one of the Prestons of Formartine, who once held the Barony. The castle we can see today was built by Sir William Forbes, 7th Lord of Tolquhon. In 1584, he instigated a comprehensive rebuilding programme which, when completed 6 years later, gave to William and his spouse, Elizabeth, a house that was amongst the finest of its day.  A stone plaque beside the front entrance records:

‘AL THIS WARKE EXCEP THE AULD TOUR WAS BEGVN BE WILLIAM FORBES 15 APRILE 1584 AND ENDIT BE HIM 20 OCTOBER 1589’.

The ‘old tower’ in question has long been known as Preston’s Tower. In 1420 William Forbes’s ancestor, Sir John Forbes, married Marjorie Preston, heiress of Sir Simon Preston, Lord of Formatine. Preston’s Tower may well have been built around 1420 as a new family home for the couple. 

Glamis Castle

Glamis Castle is situated at the heart of Strathmore Estate and is the ancestral home to the Earl’s of Strathmore and Kinghorne. It was the childhood home of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, birthplace of HRH The Princess Margaret and legendary setting for Shakespeare’s play Macbeth.  The Castle itself is a striking piece of architecture, shrouded in history, legends and myths and set in landscaped grounds and gardens

Cluny Castle

Cluny Castle, situated in the tranquil undulating farmland of Aberdeenshire known as Gordon Country, is hidden from view by over two hundred acres of landscaped policies.  Dating back to 14th century it continues to be a much loved home of the Gordons of Cluny.  Between 1820 and 1870 a smaller castle was transformed into the magnificent crenellated mansion that exists today.  The name “Cluny” originates from the Gaelic word for ‘meadow’, and at Cluny Castle superb exuberant architecture and beautiful grounds of a great Scottish castle combine perfectly to create a secluded and romantic pastoral retreat.

Cluny Castle was acquired by John Gordon, I of Cluny, after the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion – it had previously belonged to another branch of the Gordon family which was not closely related to the new purchaser.  John Gordon, who was secretary to Elizabeth, Duchess of Gordon, and curator to the 3rd and 4th Dukes, lived mostly at Fochabers, and his sons Cosmo and Charles, who in turn succeeded him, preferred to spend their time in their legal practices in Edinburgh. The 1st of the family to take an interest in Cluny Castle was John Gordon, IV of Cluny, the Colonel. Colonel John had no illusions about the state of his Castle, and invited a kinsman to stay:

‘with this understanding, on my part, that you leave all notions of English Luxury and Comfort behind; for as my Castle is neither Finished nor Furnished, and as I am Roughing it in what is, ultimately, intended to be Accommodation for Servants, I cannot venture to promise you more than a Well Aired Room, badly furnished, some Good Home Fed Mutton, and a Hearty Welcome’ [19 November 1836,]

Colonel John lived an active life and was close to his family, his 4 illegitimate children John, Charles, Susan and Mary. He began to restore Cluny to be a family home probably in the 1830s, and it is from that point that we start to have mention in the collection of staff at Cluny, stablemen (Colonel John was a keen horseman), dairymaids, butlers in charge of china, glass, bed and table linen as well as of Colonel John’s clothing (there are several inventories), and gardeners. Outdoor servants tended to change quite frequently, often because of drink problems. Each time a gardener left, an inventory was taken of the garden tools and signed by both the outgoing and the incoming gardener to guard against theft.

Leslie Castle is located outside the village of Leslie, 45 kilometres (28 mi) northwest of Aberdeen.  The building that stands there now dates back to the 14th century. In the late 1970s, plans started for the Castle to be restored and by the end of the 1980s this was completed. In 1995, a Leslie Clan Gathering was held at Leslie Castle. The Castle is now a private home.

Inverugie Castle
They built the current (ruined) stone castle of Inverugie south of the original wooden motte in around 1660. In the 19th century an oak Heraldry shield was found in a local cottage with the arms of William Keith 7th Earl Marischal and its date was carved as 1660.

The Keith lands were forfeited after the Jacobite Rebellion and some time after 1745 the Inverugie Estate passed from the Keiths to James Ferguson the 3rd Laird of Pitfour who kept the building in a perfect state until he died in 1820. However, the 5th Laird stripped the Castle of all the restoration undertaken and his successor exasperated the neglect even further.  By 1890, the Castle was in poor condition and was unable to withstand inclement weather. Gales in April 1890 resulted in the collapse of some walls and the stair tower. It was declared unsafe by the Local Authority following further storms on New Years Day 1899. The estate factor, William Ainslie, probably acting under instruction from the Laird at that time, arranged to have much of what was left of the ruins blown up, weakening the remaining structure. Within a fortnight, little remained of the castle


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Last modified: 01/09/2013