Scotland's ancient capital, a Royal Burgh since 13th century, and near to the coronation spot of the early Scottish Kings, the "Fair City" of Perth itself was the base for the tour this weekend. A Roman settlement in the time of Agricola, and also called St John's Town, after one of the many early churches established, the name is said to derive from perta, a Pictish word for "thicket". Perth is ideally situated for exploring castles in all directions.
Balhousie Castle - Perthshire
In September 1396, King Robert III watched the "Battle of the Clans" on the North Inch of Perth. 612 years on, our September visit to the North Inch, to Balhousie Castle, was a much friendlier occasion. Balhousie is a 16th C L-plan tower, incorporated into a mid-Victorian mansion.
First held by the Eviot family, it later passed to the Mercers, and in 1625 to the Hays, later Earls of Kinnoull. In 1860, it was extended and modernised by David Smart into the mansion we see today. Since 1962, it has been the home and Regimental HQ of The Black Watch.
With further shrinking of the Highland Regiments, it is likely this will change soon, and there is an active campaign to raise sufficient funds to purchase the site from the Ministry of Defence, and maintain the castle as the Black Watch museum. The Association was delighted to give a donation towards the appeal – both castle and museum are well worth a visit.
Inchbervie Castle - Perthshire
A greater contrast would be hard to find after Balhousie. Walking past the recently restored Stanley Mill and along the banks of the River Tay, it would have been easy to walk past the ruins of Inchbervie – and we nearly did! I’m pleased we didn't.
Very little now survives of the 14th/15th century castle bar the lower part of a D-plan tower with a vaulted roof, but these indicate a sizeable building. There are early gun loops, traces of other buildings and a fine well, although this has sadly been used of late more as a litter bin. The lands are said to have belonged to Dunfermline Abbey, and also to have sheltered William Wallace. They were also held by the Nairn family.
Balthayock Castle - Perthshire
Balthayock is a massive rectangular keep of the14th century. It was a property of the Blairs of Balthayock from the time of William the Lion to the late 18th century, when it was sold out of the family. The entrance at 1st floor level is now reached by a stone staircase, probably Victorian, as are the machicolations at the top of the tower. A later doorway has been added at basement level. Some restoration and repair work has been completed, to keep the tower weatherproof. Further work at this time is subject to discussion between the current owner and Historic Scotland.
Megginch Castle - Perthshire
Megginch Castle and stable yard
Many of us had noticed a fine gateway on the south side of the A90 near Perth, and wanted to go down the driveway to see what was at the end. Today we did, and Megginch Castle and gardens were the prize. The castle is an altered Z-plan tower, comprising a 15th century main block with a 16th century wing. A Robert Adam extension in 1790, and further extensions in 1820 and 1928, completes the house. Following a fire in 1969, the 18th and 19th century wings were restored, in sympathetic stonework to the rest of the building. Megginch was a property of the Hays of Leys family. The Drummonds of Lennoch, later of Megginch, bought the castle in 1664, and it remains with the family today. The stable yard at the rear contains an interesting pagoda dovecote. The gardens are open at times during the summer months.
Pitheavlis Castle - Perthshire
When visited by McGibbon and Ross, Pittheavlis was in use as a farmhouse, in common with many other towers which went out of fashion, and did "..not appear to be well maintained or cared for." Times have now changed, and it has now been converted into separate apartments.
Standing next to a more modern house, and surrounded by other housing, it is a late 16th century L-plan tower located in the outskirts of Perth. A stair wing forms the "L", although there is another stair tower at the back of the main block. Little is recorded of Pittheavlis, so one must assume it has had a fairly uneventful life. John Ross of Craigie sold the lands and manor house to Robert Stewart in 1586. 50 years on, it was with the Oliphants of Bachiltron, and later still held by the Murrays.
Huntingtower - Perthshire
Huntingtower, on the other hand, our final visit of a busy day, is well recorded. It is situated to the west of the city, and the House (or Place) of Ruthven, to give it its early name, is in fact two towers, joined by a later 3-storey building. The eastern tower, a large rectangular tower, is 15th century, remodelled in the early 16th century, and is the earlier of the two towers. The western tower is an early 16th century L-plan. Originally, there would have been a space between the two, but this was contained and roofed over in the 17th century, and floors, doors and a staircase inserted.
The lands were in Ruthven hands from the mid 13th century. The family prospered, William Ruthven being created Lord Ruthven by James III in1487. His son was killed at Flodden with James IV, but later descendants increased their power in succeeding years, the 4th Lord becoming Treasurer of Scotland and, in 1581, Earl of Gowrie. Power corrupts, as the saying goes, and the Ruthven fall from grace was swift and brutal. In 1582, the king was taken into "protective custody" by the 1st Earl and other nobles, in the Raid of Ruthven, to remove him from the influence of other Stewarts. Gowrie was later forgiven for this, then exiled, arrested for treason, and beheaded in 1584. The estates and honours were restored to his son in 1586 (short memories?). In 1600 the 3rd Earl and his brother were killed in his Perth town house, in the so-called Gowrie Conspiracy, an alleged attempt on the King's life. Their bodies were convicted of treason, the name of Ruthven was abolished, and all their properties went to the Crown. The name of the castle was changed to Huntingtower, which is what it became. The castle passed through various stewardships before being sold to the Earl of Tullibardine in 1663.
Original Painted Ceiling
After the death of the 4th Earl, the castle passed to the Murray Earls of Atholl; Lord George Murray, son of the 1st Duke of Atholl, and famed Jacobite general of 1745-6, was born here in 1694. The castle was sold by the 4th Duke in 1805, and passed into state guardianship in1912. The first floor hall of the eastern tower has one of the earliest Scottish temperapainted ceilings now in existence (c.1540).
After our evening meal at the Queen's Hotel, the chairman, on behalf of the Association, presented a Life Membership of the Association to Vanessa Harryhausen. Vanessa, an active member and staunch supporter of the aims of the Association since its early days, has also been a generous benefactor in real terms. Her support has enabled much of the early educational aims of the Association, and will be a mainstay in taking forward our future plans.
Fingask Castle - Perthshire
Our first visit of the day was Fingask Castle, described to us by the owner as a "fake" – if so, it's a good one! The "original" building, a 3-storey L-plan tower, dates from 1594. Extensions in 1675 and in more modern times make it now T-plan. There is a vaulted guardroom by the entrance, and the basement is also vaulted.
Held by the Bruces of Clackmannan from the late 14th century, it was bought by Patrick Threipland, Provost of Perth, in 1672. The Threiplands were Jacobites in both the 1715 and 1745 uprisings, and the estate was both forfeited and bought back after each. Sold again in the 1920s, it was bought for a fourth time by a member of the Threipland family, in 1968. There are fine views down to the River Tay, and the gardens, which are occasionally opened to the public, contain some interesting topiary.
Not to be confused with its larger namesake in Angus, Kinnaird Castle, our next stop, was another Threipland property, and said to be linked to Fingask Castle by a tunnel. We didn't find it.
It is an impressively tall 15th century keep, over 60ft high, in a commanding position overlooking the Carse of Gowrie. Protected by a deep gulley behind, it was obviously intended to be a building of some strength and security. It had a courtyard at one time, now long gone. Access to the first floor is by an intramural staircase, with turnpikes to the upper floors. The basement is partially vaulted, and there is a pit prison and a further dungeon.
The Kinnaird family held the lands from the 1170s, before it passed to the Colvilles about 1230. It was bought by Patrick Threipland in 1674, but Threipland ownership was affected for the same reasons as it was at Fingask Castle. Renovated in 1855, and recovered by the Threipland family, it has now been sold out of the family.
Castle Huntly - pit dungeon
Our final visit of the weekend was Castle Huntly, near Longforgan. Situated in a high point, with views over many miles in all directions, this is an altered 15th century L-plan tower with 17th and 18th century extensions. The original tower was built by Andrew, 2nd Lord Gray of Foulis, around 1452. Famed for their notoriously treacherous behaviour, it stayed in the family until 1614, when it was sold to the Earl of Strathmore, and was renamed Castle Lyon. His grandson "improved" the building, as he did at Glamis, and there is said to be a tunnel between the two. As the crow flies, that would be about 13 miles – powerful moles! The castle was sold to George Paterson in 1777, when it reverted to its original name. He extended the building further. Since passing out of the Paterson family in 1946, it has been a girl's school, a borstal, and a young offenders' institution. It is currently one of two open prisons in Scotland.
This was one of the best attended tours we have had, with over 40 members and guests participating. A fitting tribute, as this was the last of "Coe's Castle Tours"; Graham is retiring gracefully to his new home and life in Spain. We will greatly miss his efforts on our behalf, and wish him all the best for the future. His final fling is a second tour of castles in the Murcia region of Spain. He will be a hard act to follow for whoever succeeds him as tour organiser.
Our grateful thanks to Graham, and to all those castle owners who generously allowed us into their properties. In the case of our last visit, (Huntly Prison) thanks for letting us out again!
THANKS TO OUR HOSTS