This ruined castle stands high above the Culch burn. The Historic Scotland website describes it as “a fine example of a 13th castle with a curtain wall”. It was built by William 9th Earl of Mar after he upgraded from the smaller motte and bailey castle at Doune of Invernochty, a few miles to the south west. He had become a great feudal baron serving the crown on the national and international stage and needed a residence to reflect this. It was strategically sites on the main route north to Moray and Buchan.
It is described as a D plan castle with two big towers over looking the burn. There are two smaller towers on the curtain wall and a massive gatehouse. The front of the castle is protected by a ditch and bank. The castle was besieged by Edward I, the Hammer of the Scots and eventually fell when Osbourne, the castle blacksmith, treacherously set fire to the grain store in the great hall. The fire spread through the garrison forcing them to surrender. It is thought that Edward commissioned the massive twin tower gatehouse which was built by Master James of St George. He was also responsible for building the Great Edwardian castles in Wales and there are strong resemblances to Harlech castle. A barbican was added in the 15thC to improve defence with a deep pit and drawbridge. The castle was abandoned after The Earl of Mar was involved in plotting the failed Jacobite rebellion of 1715. It is now a ruin.
Hidden from the road, it is reached by a steep climb up a track from the car park. Little is left of the barbican and gatehouse with its guard rooms; just a few low walls. There would have been living accommodation above.
A cobbled passageway leads into the courtyard. Not a lot is left of the curtain walls and towers. These would have been used for storage on the ground floor with more accommodation above. Arrow slits in the projecting walls provided cover for the curtain wall.
At the left hand corner (north west) is the Snow tower at the north west corner had a well and was used by the Laird and his family until they moved into the central Elphinstone tower built in the 16thC on the site of the former great chamber. This is now a roofless ruin. Next to it is the remains of the great hall which still has part of the staircase which gave access to the upper floor. In the opposite corner is the staircase which used to lead to the minstrels gallery.
In the north east (right) corner is the Warden Tower. This had a prison on the ground floor reached by a passageway with doors at either end strengthened by sliding draw bars. The warden lived above and access to his rooms was by the staircase on the left.
Next to the the Warden Tower was the chapel, on the first floor which had a small room off it for the priest. This is one of the best preserved bit of the castle with the east wall with three lancet windows still standing to nearly its full height.
The south east tower had a bread oven added at a later date. This also had a wooden fighting platform round the outside giving extra protection. Next to it is the bakehouse with two ovens which project into the courtyard. This was also used to brew beer.
There are a mixture of new and the good old fashioned by informative signs around the castle. There isn’t a lot to see and this is reflected in the admission cost of £4.50 or £3.60 for concessions. The Visitor centre and shop shuts for lunch 12.30-1.30 although the gate is left open and a notice was sellotaped to the door saying the castle was still open. I get the impression the castle doesn’t get many visitors. When I went in to show our Historic Scotland passes the custodian was very chatty.
Although quite interesting, this isn’t one of the better castles as there is not a lot left of it. There are views down across the burn to the newer castle which is now a hotel. The stone was quarried below the castle and the quarry gardens are privately owned and open to the public.