The National Park’s architectural heritage
Scotland’s turbulent history has left a lasting mark on the landscape in the shape of the many castles and fortresses that are found throughout the Cairngorms National Park and tell of Royal feuds, bloody battles, political manoeuvres and industrial revolution. Whatever their size or condition, Scotland’s castles provide a fascinating window on the past and fire the imagination. Other highly visible and accessible elements of the rich heritage of the Park include roads, churches, bridges, crofts, schools and railway stations – keep your eyes open and enjoy!
Built in 1628 by the Earl of Mar, Braemar Castle was originally a hunting lodge, replacing an earlier building on the site. The castle was burned in 1689 by the Black Colonel (John Farquharson), a supporter of Bonnie Dundee. Between 1748 and 1831, the castle was a garrison for Hanoverian troops; it was then returned to the Farquharson family who carried out major refurbishments over the following 50 years. It was the family home for the Chiefs of Clan Farquharson until 2004 and it is now operated by the community of Braemar, who have ambitious plans for its further restoration and conservation.
Through much of its history Corgarff Castle has been of strategic importance, guarding the quickest route from Deeside to Speyside, a route later followed by the military road from Blairgowrie to Fort George. Its location ensured that Corgarff Castle has had an eventful and sometimes tragic history. Built around 1550, it has been burnt down three times and has been used as an arms store by the Jacobites; as a barracks; as a base for Customs & Excise; a farm house and a family home. Its distinctive star-shaped perimeter wall dates from the 18th century.
Dating back to 1269, Blair Castle has been transformed through the ages, from its cold medieval beginnings in a strategic position during political struggles, to become a fine Georgian mansion and finally a Victorian castle in the baronial style. These influences can still be seen today across the 30 rooms on full display. Unique amongst Scottish castles, the story told here will take you from a visit by Mary Queen of Scots to the Civil War and from the Jacobite cause to the disaster of Culloden following Bonnie Prince Charlie’s own stay in the castle.
Set amongst the magnificent scenery of Royal Deeside, in the shadow of Lochnagar is the Balmoral Estate and Balmoral Castle is the private residence of The Queen. Beloved by Queen Victoria ( she referred to Balmoral as “my dear paradise in the Highlands”) and Prince Albert, Balmoral Castle has remained a favourite residence for The Queen and her family during the summer holiday period in August and September. The Estate grounds, gardens and the Castle Ballroom are open to visitors from the beginning of April to the end of July each year, under the management of the Balmoral Estate Office.
Kindrochit Castle, Braemar
Built between 1057 and 1093 by King Malcom III, Malcum Caen Mor King of Scotland, Kindrochit was the first castle in Braemar and its original name was Ceann-drochit, ‘Bridge Head’. There are many accounts of its haunting by plague victims and a local legend is of a soldier who was lowered into its well to find treasure, only to be greeted by ghosts having a party! The ruins have undergone recent conservation work – take a look next time you’re in Braemar.
Drumin Castle, a 14th Century tower house, commands a prominent, strategic position at the top of a natural embankment overlooking the confluence of the Rivers Livet and Avon, near the village of Glenlivet. Only two walls of this imposing Castle have survived, which was thought to have been built for Alexander Stewart, son of King Robert II, better known as the Wolf of Badenoch. The ruins have been stabilised and access created up to and into the castle via the circular track from the car park, so it’s easy to explore.
Opposite the town of Kingussie, Ruthven Barracks are the smallest but best preserved of the four barracks built in 1719 after the 1715 Jacobite rising, set on an old castle mound. It comprises two large three-storey blocks occupying two sides of the enclosure each with two rooms per floor. The barracks and enclosing walls were loopholed for musket firing and bastion towers were built at opposite corners. The Barracks are maintained as an Ancient Monument by Historic Scotland and are accessible at all times without entrance charge.
Loch an Eilein Castle, Rothiemurchus
Loch an Eilein castle was built on a natural defensive site of an island. Its origins are uncertain, however it is thought that between 1222 and 1298, the Bishop of Moray chose the south end of the island to build a half house surrounded by a defensive wall. In the 1380s, the notorious Wolf of Badenoch (Alexander Stewart, Robert the Bruce’s grandson) is said to have constructed a sturdy tower house as a fortified hunting lodge on the north end of the island of 10m x 8.5m with walls 1.8m thick. It was inhabited until the 1770s when a sluice built to enable felled timber to be floated down the Spey raised the water level.
Castle Roy is an 11th century fortress built by the Clan Comyn on a small glacial mound to the north of the village of Nethy Bridge as a staging post and rest point for hunting forays into the Abernethy Forest. In 1420 the whole area came under the stewardship of the Clan Grant who are still the clan of this area today. With its walls still standing 10 feet high, the castle is a simple, irregular 4 sided stronghold which has been largely unaltered over the centuries. It is one of the oldest castles of its type in Scotland and the oldest in the Cairngorms.
Glenbuchat Castle overlooks the River Don on the eastern fringes of the Cairngorms National Park. It is a z-plan Scottish tower house built in 1590 by John Gordon of Cairnburrow to mark the occasion of marriage to his second wife, Helen Carnegie. Glenbuchat later became home to another branch of the Gordon family – the Gordons of Knockespock. It is currently closed while repairs are made; in the meantime, take a look at Bob Marshall’s delightful illustrations of the castle!
There are several very old bridges in Cairngorms National Park, including Feshie Bridge (pictured), Carrbridge, Nethy Bridge, Gairnshiel, Sluggan, Crathie and the Slochd Mhuic Railway Viaduct.
Other examples of the Park’s architectural heritage include planned towns, crofts, railway stations, drinking fountains, lime kilns, game larders and ice houses – see Historic Scotland’s publication ‘A selection of the Cairngorms National Park’s architectural heritage‘ for more information.