Scottish Castles Association

Preserving the Past for the Future

SCA Castle Tour to Ellon - September 2013

Autumn 2013 found us in Buchan and Aberdeen courtesy of SCA member Alastair Bain.

Knockhall Castle

Our first visit was to Knockhall Castle, a 4-storey L-plan tower dating from 1565, extended and altered in the 17th century. It was built by the Sinclairs of Newburgh, but sold in 1633 to the Udnys.


Knockhall Castle - a 4-storey L-plan tower dating from 1565

The Udny family survived an accidental fire in 1734, being saved by their fool, but the castle was never restored. It remains in the Udny family.

Slains Castle

Next stop was the impressive cliff-top ruin of Slains Castle. Most of the current buildings date from the mid-17th century, incorporating the basement of the tower of Bowness. Owned and built by the Hays of Errol, it was sold by them in 1916, and unroofed in 1925. Johnson and Boswell stayed here on their travels, as did the author Bram Stoker, taking inspiration for his “Dracula” from his stay. Although there have been plans for restoration, none has yet come to the fore.


Slains Castle - inspired Bram Stoker to write Dracula

Kinnaird Head Castle

Last stop of the morning was Kinnaird Head Castle, a 15th century square keep of the Frasers of Philorth. The tower was converted by the Commissioners for Northern Lighthouses in 1787, becoming the first lighthouse in Scotland. The tower now forms part of The National Lighthouse Museum, opened in 1995, and included in our visit.

Kinnaird Head

Kinnaird Head - a 15th century square keep converted into a lighthouse and now a museum

Separate from the main tower is the Wine Tower (below), a 3-storey vaulted tower, probably a predecessor to the main castle.

Kinnaird wine tower

Kinnaird's unique wine tower

Pitsligo Castle

After lunch, we visited Pitsligo Castle, an impressive 15th century courtyard castle with a square keep, a tall drum tower at one corner, and ranges of other buildings.


Pitsligo Castle - an impressive 15th century courtyard castle

A parapet and upper floor to the tower were demolished in the 18th century, leaving the present shell.

Pitsligo carving

Pitsligo - stone carving dated 1663

Another Fraser property, it passed later to the Forbes and later still the Gardens. It is currently in the care of a local Trust.

Inverugie Castle

Moving further inland, we came to Inverugie Castle, a 16th century tower with some 13th century remains, built by the Cheynes.


Inverugie Castle - a 16th century tower with some 13th century remains

The main block was four storeys and a garret, with two round towers facing a courtyard, and a stair tower.

Inverugie was unsuccessfully blown up in 1899 to clear land for agriculture.

Esslemont Castle

Esslemont Castle is an L-plan tower, with a round tower, surviving from a courtyard. In the 14th century the property belonged to the Marshalls, but passed to the Cheynes and later the Hays. It was sold to the Gordons in 1728 (who also had Hallhead, near Craigievar.


Esslemont Castle - an L-plan tower, with a round tower, surviving from a courtyard

The castle was abandoned in 1769.

Tolquhon Castle

Tolquhon Castle as it now stands was built between 1584-9 by William Forbes, extending from the earlier Preston’s Tower (to the left of the gatehouse, as you face it) dating from around 1420. The form is of a courtyard castle, with a round tower on the western corner, and a square one to the east.


Tolquhon Castle was built between 1584-9 by William Forbes

Despite its grandeur, the castle began to decline slowly after William’s death in 1596, effectively abandoned as a residence in 1718 with the removal of the 11th laird, who had lost heavily in the Darien Scheme. Later purchased by the Earl of Aberdeen, it was used as a farmhouse until abandoned again in the mid 19th century, and transferred into State care in 1929 by the Earl of Haddo.

Gight Castle

After lunch in Pitmedden, we moved on to Gight Castle, a 16th century L-plan tower, with ranges of later outbuildings. Gight is a Gordon house, built around 1570.


Gight Castle - a Gordon house, built around 1570

The Gordons of Gight were notoriously unruly, up to the end of the line. Catherine Gordon, daughter and heiress of the 12th Laird, married Captain “Mad Jack” Byron, who promptly gambled away all the family wealth, leaving his wife and son destitute. The son was the poet Lord Byron, described by Lady Caroline Lamb as “mad, bad, and dangerous to know”, taking this family “heritage” on another generation.

Craigietocher Tower

Our final visit was a return visit to Craigietocher, a “new build” tower owned by SCA member Phil Plevey, which we first saw under construction four years ago.


Craigietocher Tower is the vision of SCA member Phil Plevey

Craigietocher ceilings

Craigietocher's painted ceiling in progress

A description of the tower and its construction can be found in issues 16 & 17 of the SCA Journal. You can read a series of three articles about its construction on this website. For Part 1, click here.

Carnousie Castle

A perfectly preserved example of a castle on the Z-plan, one of the towers being round and the other square. The square tower bears the date 1577.


Carnousie - a perfectly preserved example of a castle on the Z- plan

Article by SCA member Brian McGarrigle

Added: 08 Jan 2015 Updated: 18 Apr 2022
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