On a typical SCA tour morning, with the sun shining from a beautiful sky, the members began to gather in the village of Inverbervie. Our nominated meeting point was the town car park, but after discovering that this small place had two car parks and that we were gathering in both, we had to reorganised ourselves. Leaving some cars behind we headed off for the Lewis Grassic Gibbon Visitor Centre where we had booked an early lunch. After enjoying the attractions of the Visitor Centre, and the soup and sandwiches that we had ordered, we were ready for a day of castle viewing.
ARBUTHNOTT was our first call. Here we were met by the titled owners who, together with their son, seemed delighted to share their home and its history with their SCA visitors. This much altered and extended house has elements of a 13th century castle, which was the seat of a Celtic Thane. Some of the early structure overlooks the high and steep embankment of the river, which aided the defensiveness of the site. In these old walls some arrow slits and slop drains can still be seen. Some sections of crow-step gables and unusual shot holes are from a later period. In the 15th century the main house was added to create a courtyard, with another range being added to the other side of the court in the 16th century. In the 1750's the gateway between the two ranges was remodelled to form a symmetrical mansion, which closed off and completely covered the courtyard area. The Arbuthnott's were created Viscounts in 1641 and continue to live in the structure built by their ancestors. While we were being guided round their beautiful and comfortable home it was difficult to visualise the old castle or the troubled times in which it existed. One reminder of the past was given by our host when he recounted a story from 1420 when Hugh Arbuthnott was implicated in the murder of John Melville of Glenbervie, the Sheriff of Kincardine at that time. Apparently Sheriff Melville was unpopular with the laird's of the area, but he accepted an invite to participate in a hunt with the locals. Unfortunately a conspiracy resulted in him being thrown into a cauldron of boiling water. The local laird's supped the resultant broth, to mutually bind them to their murderous deed.
LAURISTON CASTLE was our next visit. Here we found our hosts waiting to welcome our group into their home. This house completes the perimeter of the ancient courtyard castle. Parts of the 13th century keep and courtyard walling have been incorporated into an 18th century mansion. Some of the old castle remains clearly visible. A three-storey corner tower rises high above the river below, and is perched over a sheer precipice. Its basement vault has an unusual gap in its floor, giving access the ravine below. Sections of the original courtyard walling remain, with a corbelled out wallwalk which is accessed from a door high in the corner tower. The old castle was captured by Edward III in 1336. In 1411 Alex Straiton from this castle was killed at the battle of Harlaw. In 1534 David Straiton was martyred at Edinburgh for adherence to his Protestant faith.
As we approached BENHOLM CASTLE we could see a perfect 15th century square tower with corbelled out parapet and round bartizans at its corners. The Saltire was flying proudly from the crow-stepped cap-house. On closer viewing we suffered a similar experience to that of the owner who arrived one morning in the 1990`s following a great storm. On his approach he discovered that daylight was visible through windows where daylight should not be possible. The far side of the tower had collapsed leaving only one half of the original structure standing. The building, prior to this disaster, comprised of the tower and a range of farm buildings. Each of these adjoined an 18th century mansion, which had been abandoned after being used as a hospital during world war two. The current owner had found the property with its beautiful tower and had visualised its restoration. First he had to convert other parts of the property into a home for himself and his family.
During this work he had become concerned about the amount of earth that had previously been removed from near the base of the tower. While the clearance had not actually undermined the tower, he believed that there was some risk to the structure. He submitted proposals to secure the foundations, with expensive underpinning, to the appropriate authorities. Time went by, visit followed visit, lack of positive response was countered with alternative recommendations, more time passed and no conclusion could be reached. The results of this unsatisfactory process are there today, to be seen by all. The work of the Lundies who built the tower in the fourteen-hundreds now stands as a stark memorial to them, to the Ogilvies, to the Keith Earls Marischal who next owned it, and to the Scotts who bought it in 1659.
Our final visit on this first day of our tour was to HALLGREEN CASTLE, which was possibly started by the Dunnet family in 1376. The Raits owned it in the 15th century. One of this family became captain of the guard to King James IV. Much of the early structure has been incorporated into a 16th century "L" plan towerhouse. Later alteration into a modern mansion completed the development of the building prior to its abandonment and dereliction. The current owners have decided to carry out its rescue and renovation whilst living within its walls. Much work has already been done, with much more to be completed. Our host and hostess were highly enthusiastic and made us most welcome. We will watch the recreation of Hallgreen with great interest.
The tour members met early on the Sunday morning in the roadside car park at DUNNOTTAR CASTLE. When all were present we set off to walk towards the sea cliff edge that forms the first line of defence of this magnificent and amazing fortress. The huge platform on which the castle stands is a continuation of the adjacent landmass. It thrusts out into the North Sea, with sheer cliffs on all sides. To reach the castle one must first descend the mainland cliff-face by means of paths and steps created to ease the approach, then after crossing the defile, it is necessary to climb upwards. The only obvious route up to the castle is dominated by an outer wall, which has a defensive gate and an adjacent gatehouse. Several other lines of defence follow on the steep approach, before the main level area of the castle is gained. The area at the top of the entrance area is dominated by a large 15th century towerhouse. The remainder of the fortress area has many other buildings, which would have supported a whole community.
It must have been easier to live within the large but exposed castle area than to continuously traverse the route described. Many comforts, such as a bowling green, were created within the defences. Dunnottar features in Scottish history from the earliest times, such were the attractions of its natural defences. The Picts had a fort here and many battles are recorded from that time. Evidence of structures from the 12th century are visible. William Wallace captured the castle that was here in 1296 and legend suggests that as many as 4000 Englishmen were burnt to death in that campaign. Edward III of England retook the castle in 1330, but the Regent Andrew Moray liberated Dunnottar soon after. A 14th century church was demolished to allow the construction of a new fortress. Because of this Sir William Keith the Great Marischal of Scotland was excommunicated, and was obliged to build a new church in recompense. The Keiths swapped this place for the Lindsay of the Byres castle at Struthers in Fife. Mary Queen of Scots stayed here in 1562. The Marquis of Montrose besieged it in 1645. Charles II was entertained here in 1650. Cromwellian forces laid siege to the fortress against the royalist garrison in 1652. The Scottish crown jewels were held here during that siege. After eight months, when it became clear that the defenders must capitulate, the jewels were smuggled out and secretly hidden under the floor of Kinneff church. In 1689, after the royalist forces had regained Dunnottar, one hundred and sixty-seven male and female Covenanter prisoners were crammed into a cell during very hot weather. Nine of the prisoners died and twenty-five escaped. The remaining prisoners were found to have been tortured by their royalist captors, when they were eventually liberated. The Duke of Argyll damaged the castle in 1716 during an attack. It was further damaged in 1718.
Driving north-west we made our way to TILQUHILLIE CASTLE a restored 16th century "Z" plan towerhouse. The lands were part of the property of Arbroath Abbey until the reformation. The tower was built in 1576 but had become derelict since being abandoned in favour of a later house. As little or no money had been spent on the property since its abandonment, it was greatly unaltered and a perfect candidate for restoration. Our hosts, the owners who have carried out the rehabilitation, took us on a guided tour of the outside and inside. The structure has all its external corners rounded off but these become corbelled out to square at the wall-heads.
The entrance door and main stair is situated in one of the re-entrant angles. The door retains its original iron yett, which still has an iron draw-bar. The basement is vaulted and has a separate service stair to the first floor.
A small stair in another re-entrant angle serves the upper floors. The restoration process is virtually complete with the tower now standing as a compliment, not only to the original builders, but also to those associated wth its current status. We were delighted by the work that has been done to retain most of the original built character. Modern amenities have been inserted with minimum disruption. The owners have managed to buy back much of the original land around the tower, and have landscaped and planted to allow it to stand within its own environment.
CLUNY CRICHTON CASTLE was our next stop. It is a ruined "L" shaped towerhouse standing in the middle of a cultivated field immediately in front of its home farm. The farmer was delighted with our request to cross his land to explore the ruin. Having such a large group of visitors expressing such interest came as something of a pleasant change to him.
The entrance is at the foot of a square stair-tower which rises within the re-entrant angle. Many architectural features can still be seen but much has unfortunately been lost. The place was held by the Crichtons but later passed to the Douglasses of Tilquhillie.
Our final official stop of this tour was at MIDMAR CASTLE, which is a fine example of a late 16th century "Z" plan towerhouse. It has a large round tower at one corner and has had large 17th century ranges added. The building was abandoned in 1850, but was reoccupied in the 1970's and has been restored to its present grand state.
The structure is harled and has been lime washed in a sandy / pink colour. We were shown the exterior of the building by our host, and enjoyed his explanations and descriptions. He extended to us the opportunity to visit and explore the extensive gardens.
At this point most members prepared to say good bye and set off on the drive home. One small group decided that some other grand castles were close by and could easily be visited and photographed before dark. We set off to have a quick look at the castles of CRATHES CASTLE, and DRUM CASTLE.
THANKS TO OUR HOSTS
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