Following a forced hiatus due to the Coronavirus pandemic, our Spring Tour in April 2022 was our first outing since we visited Perthshire in 2019.
Our bus left Grantown-on-Spey on a fine spring Saturday morning and took us to our first stop – Castle Roy.
Castle Roy is a splendid early 13th century fortress situated upon a prominent knoll adjacent to an early church.
With walls standing 25ft high, the castle is a simple, irregular, four sided stronghold which was heightened in the 15th century and a small tower added in the 16th. Notable features are its pointed arch gateways and the twin level garde robe – or toilet.
It has been rescued from threatened ruin by a local trust who have put much work into its consolidation. A permanent resident is their (friendly) highland bull, Murdo, who can be seen in our photograph below.
A Gordon castle now conveniently situated close to the Glenlivet Distillery!
It is a rubble built, L-plan tower house of 1564, three floors above a vaulted basement. A serious fire in 1746 resulted in its abandonment. Totally ignored, it was about to fall until rescued, literally, at the chimes of midnight.
A feature is the box machicolation above the entrance complete with a well-placed gun hole.
This must be one of the most unusual ‘castles’ in Scotland. It is of stone throughout, all the floors are vaulted and even the roof is covered by stone slabs.
Dated 1582 it is well protected. Numerous gun loops cover the ground, the door (originally reached by a ladder) is guarded by an iron yett and the upper levels are flanked by twin turrets and a machicolated wall walk – the builder was either having fun or did not trust his neighbours!
It is in excellent condition and been in the same family since 1910 – a true delight. We visited Coxton on a previous tour in 2006.
Muckrach is an L-plan tower built in 1583 by Patrick Grant of Freuchie and became the home of the Grants of Rothiemurchus.
It was unroofed in 1739 and in ruin until restored between 1978-85 by the eminent architect, Ian Begg.
Muckrach now now provides luxury self-catering accommodation neatly illustrating the theory that for ‘a castle to have a future, it must have a use’.
A chilly, damp start to Sunday morning saw us depart for our next set of castles.
Blervie Castle is a 16th century five storey Z-plan tower with extensive vaulting. The walls are pierced with gun loops and there is no doubt that defence was in mind. A remarkable survival is a handsome fireplace at first floor level. The castle commands a wide prospect.
Blervie was built by the Dunbars and later passed to the Earls of Fife. Much of the stonework was removed in 1776 to build nearby Blervie Mains after which it was left to ruin. In 2004 there was a serious collapse of stonework – see a photograph of it before its collapse here.
However, there is a glimmer of hope, and perhaps even a happy ending – the present owners plan to consolidate what remains. They are to be congratulated by all who value Scottish heritage.
A departure from our normal routine was the Sueno’s Stone, a 7-metre-high monument of the early Christian era.
Extensively carved on one side with a battle scene and on the other by an early Christian cross.
The stone is now protected by a glass pavilion.
The next stop saw us arrive at Burghead Fort, a significant Pictish seat of power, being the largest fort of its type in Scotland. Largely destroyed by the building of the town of Burghead in the 19th centur,y recent excavations have proved that much still remains.
Famous as the place where Prince Charles spent his schooldays, Gordonstoun incorporates a rectangular 16th century tower house whose vaulted basement survives below the Georgian mansion.
Ballindalloch Castle is an extended and greatly altered 16th century Z-plan tower house with a round stair tower corbelled out to a square watch chamber. Although much altered inside, the basement is vaulted and the walls are pierced with shot holes and small windows.
The lands of Ballindalloch passed to the Grant family in 1499 and although sacked by the Gordons and burned by Montrose, the castle survived to pass to the McPhersons in the 18th century. Much of its outward appearance belongs to Victorian times and it is still occupied by the MacPherson-Grant family.
Our next tour, exclusively for Scottish Castles Association members, to the Scottish Borders is scheduled to take place in September 2022. We hope you will be able to join us.
Article by Scottish Castles Association member Brian McGarrigle.