Surrounded by trees and set in open farmland, this was the seat of the Bishop’s of Elgin. The original cathedral was here too, set on higher ground at the edge of a sea loch which gave safe anchorage for fishing boats and merchant ships. There was a thriving settlement in the shadow of the palace. Later, the cathedral moved to Elgin, but the bishop’s kept their palace here until 1689 when the episcopacy was abolished by the Church of Scotland and the buildings fell into ruin. The loch gradually silted up and has been reclaimed as farmland. The land immediately around the palace is still marshy and poor grazing. All that is left is the small Spynie loch with a canal to the sea. Nothing remains of the medieval town.
The first wooden palace was replaced by a stone building in the 14thC. This was a walled courtyard with small towers at the corners. The domestic buildings and great hall were probably on the south wall. In the 15thC Bishop David replaced the south west tower with a splendid square tower. The domestic range on the north wall was built about this time with cellars, kitchen, bakehouse, brewhouse and great hall above. Now little remains of the palace apart from the towers and parts of the curtain wall. The water gate in the north wall gave direct access to the sea loch.
The palace is signed off A941 Elgin to Lossiemouth road and is reached down a narrow single track road with passing places. There is a 400yard walk to the small ticket office and shop. The Palace is completely hidden by trees.
The best preserved part of the palace is the splendid David Tower, named after Bishop David Stewart who began the building in 1462. It was to be an impressive structure replacing an earlier round tower. He died before it was finished and work was completed by his successor, Bishop William Tulloch (1477-82).
It was one of the largest tower houses in Scotland and contained five floors above a vaulted basement. The first floor would have been the great hall while the upper floors provided accommodation for the bishop and his entourage.
On the south wall above a window are three panels which contain the arms of Bishop David Stewart and Bishop Patrick Heburn (1538-73) who was responsible for remodelling the tower. Above is the Royal Coat of Arms. At the top is a tiny coat of arms of Bishop William Tulloch.
A new wooden staircase gives access to the first floor. The supporting buttress was built in 1991 on the line of the original curtain wall to provide additional support for the tower. Now an empty roofless shell, holes in the walls mark where beams supporting the floors went and there are small fireplaces on each floor. A new wooden and spiral staircase leads up through the walls with passageways off. At the top there are views of Loch Spynie and the Spynie Canal. You can see Lossimouth and its lighthouse and across the Moray Firth, the mountains of the highlands. Unfortunately you can also see the large wind farm to the south of Elgin. The palace is surrounded by poor marshy land with rough grazing a result of silting up an drainage of the loch.
When we visited, there was a lot of conservation work being done and several areas were roped off. On a bright sunny day it is a lovely place. It might not be so attractive on a rainy day with a wind blowing. It is a bit off the tourist trail and gets few visitors. Entry is reasonable at At £4.50 for adults and £3.60 for concessions.