Ruined Castles - North East Scotland
A splendid castle built for show rather than defence
on the Historic Scotland website as “one of the most
picturesque of the castles in the Grampain countryside” this
was built for show rather than defence in the C16th by
William Forbes, 7th Laird of Tolquhon. He had inherited,
through marriage an early C15th tower house, the Preston
Tower, but felt the need for something a bit grander and
more comfortable. He even designed a suitably grand tomb for
himself and his wife which can be seen in the churchyard of
He kept the tower house but demolished all the associated buildings replacing it with buildings round a central courtyard. This included the great hall, private chambers, kitchens, brewery, larders, pantry, library, and a gallery. The castle was surrounded by formal gardens and pleasure park.
The castle remained in the Forbes family until the 10th Laird invested heavily in the ill-fated Darien Scheme, a speculative attempt to establish a Scottish colony in Panama. Debts were so high that Tolquhon had to be sold. However, the 11th Laird, Sir William, refused to vacate the castle, and had to be forcibly evicted by a troop of soldiers. The castle and estate were purchased by the Earls of Aberdeen who owned Haddo House. It was used as a farmhouse before being abandoned in C19th.
Now it sits as a romantic ruin set in the midst of fertile farmland with a row of low single storey stone houses near by. One of these is the visitor centre and shop.
The first view of the castle is the splendid gateway set in two semi-circular towers in the centre of the curtain wall. At one end is the remains of the 15thC Preston Tower, at the other a round tower. Above the door is the Forbes coat of arms with the Royal Coat of Arms of James VI above. To leave the visitor in no doubt, the inscribed panel beside gatehouse informs you that ‘‘AL THIS WARKE EXCEP THE AULD TOUR WAS BEGVN BE WILLIAM FORBES 15 APRILE 1584 AND ENDIT BE HIM 20 OCTOBER 1589”
There are small figures carved at the top of the walls. One of these is thought to be William himself as it is similar to the statue on his tomb. The gun loops were there more for decoration than as a serious attempt at defence. The gatehouse was designed as a statement of power and presence.
Inside there is a pebbled courtyard.
Facing you, standing almost to its full height, is the three storey range with a projecting semi-circular tower. The side ranges stand to first floor height. Only the outer walls of the Preston Tower survive.
Entering the range opposite the gatehouse, there is a corridor running the length of the building. In the left hand corner is the kitchen still with its open fireplace, with an oven in the side wall and a slop drain through the outer wall.
There is a serving hatch into the vaulted storage room next to it. Stairs lead up to the first floor. At the opposite end of the corridor is the wine cellar, also with stairs to the first floor.
Stone steps by the wine cellar lead up to the first floor, now open to the sky. This was the great hall with stone fireplace and a splendid flagged floor.
Beyond is the inner, private chamber. A spiral staircase in the semi-circular tower leads to the family apartments on the second floor. In the wall of the laird’s bedroom is a small cubby hole. A wall plaque describes this as the laird’s secret hiding place.
The spiral staircase continues to a small room, the cap house, at the top of the tower. This has a wooden ceiling. The windows have wooden shutters at the base and small diamond panes of glass above.
Turning right out of the great hall into the adjacent wing takes you into the long gallery which stretches the length of the the building. This is one of the earliest examples of a gallery in a castle. As well as being a library, it was used to display paintings and treasured belongings. At the far end is a small vaulted room in the corner round tower. A spiral staircase leads up to the top of this tower. Views, however, are disappointing.
The bakehouse is in the far left hand corner of the tower and is separated from the kitchen by a narrow passageway. It still has two massive bread ovens in the walls. A new wooden staircase leads up to what may have been the castle steward’s room with a small fireplace. A trap door in the floor leads to the ‘pit’ and castle prison.
It is worth walking round the outside of the castle. The back is much plainer and almost austere compared to the main entrance. Show and pomp didn’t extend this far.
Niches were built on the outside of the curtain wall for bee skeps. The skeps are still there, but there was no sign of any bees.
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