Ruined Castles - North East Scotland
An impressive setting, but not a lot to see
ruined castle stands high above the Culch burn. The Historic
Scotland website describes it as “a fine example of a 13th
castle with a curtain wall”. It was built by William 9th
Earl of Mar after he upgraded from the smaller motte and
bailey castle at Doune of Invernochty, a few miles to the
south west. He had become a great feudal baron serving the
crown on the national and international stage and needed a
residence to reflect this. It was strategically sited on the
main route north to Moray and Buchan.
It is described as a D plan castle with two big towers over looking the burn. There are two smaller towers on the curtain wall and it had a massive gatehouse. The front of the castle is protected by a ditch and bank. The castle was besieged by Edward I, Hammer of the Scots, and eventually fell when Osbourne, the castle blacksmith, treacherously set fire to the grain store in the great hall. The fire spread through the garrison forcing the castle to surrender. It is thought that Edward commissioned the massive twin tower gatehouse which was built by his master mason, James of St George, who was also responsible for building the Great Edwardian castles in Wales. A barbican was added in the 15thC to improve defence with a deep pit and drawbridge. The castle was abandoned after The Earl of Mar was involved in plotting the failed Jacobite rebellion of 1715. It is now a ruin.
Little is left of the barbican and gatehouse with its guard rooms; just a few low walls. There would have been living accommodation above.
A cobbled passageway leads into the courtyard. Not a lot is left of the curtain walls and towers. These would have been used for storage on the ground floor with more accommodation above. Arrow slits in the projecting walls provided cover for the curtain wall.
At the left hand corner (north west) is the Snow Tower which had a well and was used by the Laird and his family until they moved into the central Elphinstone tower built in the 16thC on the site of the former great chamber. This is now a roofless ruin. Next to it is the remains of the great hall which still has part of the staircase which gave access to the upper floor. In the opposite corner is the staircase which led to the minstrels gallery.
In the north east (right) corner is the Warden Tower. This had a prison on the ground floor reached by a passageway with doors at either end strengthened by sliding draw bars. The warden lived above and access to his rooms was by the staircase on the left.
Next to the the Warden Tower was the chapel, on the first floor which had a small room off it for the priest. This is one of the best preserved bit of the castle with the east wall with three lancet windows still standing to nearly its full height.
The south east tower had a bread oven added at a later date. This also had a wooden fighting platform round the outside giving extra protection. Next to it is the bakehouse with two ovens which project into the courtyard. This was also used to brew beer.
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