Ruined Castles - North East Scotland

Spynie Palace, Moray


The fortified seat of the Bishops of Elgin


Surrounded by trees and set in open farmland, this was the seat of the Bishops of Elgin. The original cathedral was here too, set on higher ground at the edge of a sea loch which gave safe anchorage for fishing boats and merchant ships. There was a thriving settlement in the shadow of the palace. Later, the cathedral moved to Elgin, but the bishops kept their palace here until 1689 when the episcopacy was abolished by the Church of Scotland and the buildings fell into ruin. The loch gradually silted up and has been reclaimed as farmland. The land immediately around the palace is still marshy and poor grazing. All that is left is the small Spynie Loch with a canal to the sea. Nothing remains of the medieval town.

The first wooden palace was replaced by a stone building in the 14thC. This was a walled courtyard with small towers at the corners. The domestic buildings and great hall were probably on the south wall. In the 15thC Bishop David replaced the south west tower with a splendid square tower. The domestic range on the north wall was built about this time with cellars, kitchen, bakehouse, brewhouse and great hall above. Now little remains of the palace apart from the towers and parts of the curtain wall. The water gate in the north wall gave direct access to the sea loch.

The David Tower named after Bishop David Stewart who began the building in 1462, is the best preserved part of the palace. It was an impressive structure replacing an earlier round tower. Bishop David died before it was finished and work was completed by his successor, Bishop William Tulloch (1477-82).

Spynie Palace

It was one of the largest tower houses in Scotland and contained five floors above a vaulted basement. The first floor would have been the great hall while the upper floors provided accommodation for the bishop and his entourage.

On the south wall above a window are three panels which contain the arms of Bishop David Stewart and Bishop Patrick Heburn (1538-73) who was responsible for remodelling the tower. Above is the Royal Coat of Arms. At the top is a tiny coat of arms of Bishop William Tulloch.

A new wooden staircase gives access to the first floor. The supporting buttress was built in 1991 on the line of the original curtain wall to provide additional support for the tower.

The David Tower is now an empty roofless shell. Holes in the walls mark where beams supporting the floors went and there are small fireplaces on each floor. 

Spynie Palace

A new wooden and spiral staircase leads up through the walls with passageways off. At the top there are views of Loch Spynie and the Spynie Canal. Beyond is Lossiemouth and its lighthouse,  and, across the Moray Firth, the mountains of the highlands. Unfortunately you can also see the large wind farm to the south of Elgin.

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