Let no man set out lightly upon the castle conservation path, for it is fraught with peril; of these the least, perhaps, is the character of those from whom one would expect help. This was the sad experience of a group set up to preserve Rait Castle, a 13th century hall house – and scheduled ancient monument – two miles south of Nairn in Morayshire.
Rait stands roofless and floorless but apart from a modern breach in the walling, is fairly intact. The main structure consists of an unvaulted oblong hall with round tower and projecting latrine block. The hall, on the first floor, was reached by an outside staircase to a lofty pointed arched door protected by a portcullis and drawbar. The windows were shuttered and further secured with iron bars. Below was the cellar and above an open timber roof. The walls are six feet thick and finished in a wall walk. The barmkin still stands to a height of nine feet and contains the remains of the Chapel of St Mary of Rait.
Scottish Castles Association members will recall our visits to Craigie Castle, Ayr and Morton Castle, Dumfries, similarly hall houses.
Morton is in state care and it was thought that Rait, a monument of national importance, would be accorded the same treatment. The group were soon disembarrassed and approaches to the local authorities proved equally fruitless. There was only one thing left – do it yourself!
Rait was smothered in vegetation and the walls urgently required pointing; which was bad enough, but an unexpected problem was ownership – who did Rait belong to?
In 2005 the rank covering of bushes and trees was removed only for all work to stop for five years due to the question of ownership.
All options were explored – not to turn it into a tourist attraction, but simply to clear the area and expose the barmkin and chapel.
Rait now presents a pleasing appearance with the excessive growth removed and the walls pointed but vegetation is once again taking its hold.
As we in the Scottish Castles Association are aware it is not enough to consolidate – a building must have a purpose to have a future.
Community involvement at Tarbet and Castle Lachlan in Argyll point the way. The former sports a medieval garden and feral goats to keep the grass down; and the latter a Clan Centre with associated tea room. Both seem secure and these are paths that Rait could perhaps be thinking of following.
Scottish Castles Association members can visit Rait itself (no barriers) or check out their website to get involved with the campaign – click here.
Article by Scottish Castles Association member Brian McGarrigle.