Balvenie Castle

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This stands on a small wooded hill on the outskirts of Dufftown close to the Glenfiddich Distillery. With a formidable curtain wall the Historic Scotland website describes it as a “a rare example of 13th-century military architecture in Scotland.” The later Atholl Lodging is a fine example of Renaissance architecture. We set off with high expectations.

The castle is one of the oldest in Scotland being built in the 13thC for the Comyns, Earls of Buchan. After the murder of John Comyn by Robert the Bruce, the family threw their allegiance behind Edward I and were promptly outlawed by the Bruce.

All that remains of the 13thC castle is the massive curtain wall with its ditch. In early 15thC, castle was owned by Black Douglases who probably rebuilt the accommodation along the west, south and east ranges. They rebelled against James II, were defeated and titles and lands forfeited to the crown.

In 1460, the castle was granted to John Stewart, first earl of Athol. The 4th earl completely remodelled castle in the 16thC and added a grand accommodation range including a round tower (Athol Lodging) in the NW corner. The 5th earl died leaving 4 daughters who surrendered their interest in the estate to the crown. The castle changed hands frequently but remained unoccupied after the suicide of its last owner in 1718. Now it is a ruin in the care of Historic Scotland.

From the outside it is a rather uninspiring building surrounded by a ditch. To the north west the ditch has stone lined walls. The join between the older (domestic) and newer (residential) sections is very clear. Along the top of the newer range are three small crests and there are cannon loops in the base.

Entry is through a small round topped door which still has its double yett (wrought iron gate) which was specially designed to resist attacks by battering ram. There are small guard room on either side.

On the inside are two round towers. On the ground floor were the servant’s quarters with a fireplace. These were very dark as the only light is from the cannon loops and one very small window. Spiral staircases giving access to the dining room and withdrawing room in the Atholl’s Lodgings. Access to these was restricted as restoration work is ongoing.

Round the inside of the walls are a range of domestic buildings including kitchens, brewhouse and storage cellars.

There isn’t a lot to see inside for £4.50 or £3.60 concessions. This is one to admire from the outside unless you are Historic Scotland members.

The visitor Centre in the small wooden hut sells a good range of Balvenie and Glenfiddich whisky. Dufftown itself is worth a stop as it is an attractive town with a central square with Mercat cross and a reasonable range of small family owned shops.

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