On a slightly overcast morning a group of SCA members gathered at BALBITHAN HOUSE, near Inverurie. The group were received and guided by the Lady of the house. Balbithan is an L plan house of three stories with attic above. The corner of each wing has a conical roofed bartizan. The oldest part is the south wing with a rectangular tower in its NW corner, containing the entrance. Over this is a stair turret carried out on a high cone and corbelling bearing a human mask. The former Hall, in the north wing, contained a fine collection of books. Whilst the floor below held an interesting array of farming objects and curios. Balbithan House contained several interesting original features, particularly in the region of the staircase.
Going through Kintore, the group visited HALLFOREST CASTLE, a ruin situated on the edge of a field. Dating from the 14th century, Hallforest Castle was once a seat of the Keith, Earls Marischal. The tower still retains vaults on two floors, the uppermost supporting the floor under the roof. The wall was apparently breached to allow cattle access. The original entrance was on the first floor, where the turnpike would rise to the upper stories and parapet, unfortunately nothing of which now survives.
After lunch the group reconvened at HARTHILL CASTLE where they were welcomed by the castle staff, who gave a guided tour. Harthill Castle is a pink rendered Z plan castle, with one square and one round tower. A fragment of the Barmkin still survives together with a portion of the outer face of the gate house. Harthill was restored in the I970s, retaining many original features. The well, in the present kitchen, is glazed over in the centre of the floor. The beamed great hall has a very fine large fireplace and buffet recess. A short parapet walkway leads to one of four capped Bartizans which contains a fire escape (a length of rope).
The group travelled to the ruined BALQUHAlN CASTLE, formally the seat of the Leslies of Balquhain, a major Cadet House of the Leslie family. Balquhain was built above a burn which acted as a natural protection on two sides. Foundations and low walls indicate the extent of the former courtyard, together with fragments of a round corner tower. One full wall and the majority of the gable walls are all that is left of this once powerful castle.
FETTERNEAR HOUSE was another seat of the Leslies of Balquhain. Patrick Leslie of Balquhain was created Count Leslie in the Holy Roman Empire, and a Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece. Above the entrance is a fine Heraldic panel depicting the Arms of Count Leslie. Fetternear House began as a Bishop's Palace, built in the 1330s for Randolph, Bishop of Aberdeen. The present structure has been greatly added to and adorned so as to turn an ancient structure into a Victorian castelated mansion. An archaeological dig has been carried out to the front of Fetternear, which discovered an array of foundations.
On the sunny Sunday morning the group met at LICKLEYHEAD CASTLE. This castle has always been inhabited, therefore it is in a well preserved condition. We were met by the lady of the castle, who gave an introductory talk and guided tour. Lickleyhead is an L plan castle, the main block is of four floors with attic above. At two corners are two story angle turrets. The corner tower is offset to allow covering fire over two walls, this tower contains a wide turnpike. An additional wing was added in 1820 to give further domestic accommodation. The main hall is panelled with 18th century panelling, there was also an inviting fire blazing away in the fireplace. A door led through to the panelled dining room. The floors above contained bedrooms and a number of bathrooms. The group was generously given coffee on the ground floor.
The group were met at DRUMINNOR CASTLE by the owner, who gave a brief talk on the castle history, followed by a guided tour. Druminnor is a Hall House of three floors and basement with a later stair tower at one corner, this tower is round at the base and corbeled out to square on the first floor. The entrance door has a five sided arch on the outside and a fine Yett on the inside. The ground floor contains three vaulted rooms, the first of which is the kitchen with a large arched fireplace, the second is the current dining room and the third is the sitting room. Each of these chambers has a carved central chandelier boss. A long flight of stairs led down to the basement which contained a further three vaulted rooms and corridor. The first floor was dominated by the main hall with two small rooms at the far end. Druminnor bears a simplified resemblance to Huntly Castle. There was a built up courtyard in front of the main block which was demolished to bring the castle back to its early appearance.
The last venue of the weekend was LESLIE CASTLE, where the group was greeted by the owners. A general meeting was held in the Great Hall, followed by coffee, and then a talk on the restoration of Leslie Castle. This was then followed by a guided tour. Leslie is a Z plan castle of four floors with a square Scale and Platt tower in the re-entrant angle. The stair rises around a square central column, which is hollow with a slit on each flight of stairs. At the top of the tower is a wheel, suspended from this would have been a chain holding candles which would have illuminate the stairs. Leslie was one of the last old castles to be built, being built as late as 1661. The style is very much that of an earlier medieval castle with only the sloped gables and diagonally set chimneys giving a clue to its true dale. The group were particularly taken with the quality of the shuttered and leaded windows, made by the owners themselves.
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