Scottish Castles Association

Preserving the Past for the Future

SCA Castle Tour to Tayside - April 2024

Our 2024 Spring Tour, expertly organised by Scottish Castles Association members Norman Mackenzie and Meg Weir, saw us visit a wide variety of castles and other historic properties in the Tayside region. Huge thanks go to all those generous owners and hosts who welcomed us to their properties and shared their fascinating stories with us.

Friday 19th April 2024

Fingask Castle

Wonderfully situated in its own wooded glen running down from the Sidlaws, Fingask is a late 16th century house which has expanded and contracted architecturally to settle into a most pleasing format. Crowstep gables, shot holes and heraldic pediments are set in picturesque gardens. The Threiplands, with Jacobite sympathies, bought, lost the house, and once again own and run the small estate as an enterprising wedding and event venue. Andrew and Helen Threipland, long standing Scottish Castles Association members, were our hosts with tea in the courtyard and a mini tour which included not only the newly repurchased and restored Threipland Coach built in 1876, but also a visit to view the progress in the construction of the Fingask Long Barrow.

Friday's bonus visit to Fingask Castle included a chance to view a horse carriage built in 1876

Day One – Saturday 20th April 2024

Landmark Hotel

Our hotel, originally Graystane House, was built for David Watson, one of the most successful industrialists in Victorian Dundee who made his fortune from the appropriately named Bullionfield Paper Mills. Like many of the Dundee elite we learned about on our tour, he lavished much of his wealth on philanthropic projects.

Claypotts Castle

An iconic example of a Z-plan tower house from the late 16th century standing almost unchanged and showing the transition from pure defensive structures to more comfortable accommodation with five rooms in each of the drum towers capped with the square garret chambers. The Historic Environment Scotland District Architect was our host to an otherwise closed, unresourced venue for our visit. There are plans afoot to have the castle open to the public soon.

Claypotts Castle was opened especially for our visit

Broughty Castle

Strategically situated guarding sea passage to Dundee and Perth, this great rectangular 15th century keep was transformed by The War Office in the 1860s from romantic ruin by the ferry to Fife into an artillery fort guarding against Russian and French threat. It was further fortified in the two world wars. It now houses a fascinating museum of local history and some of the Orchar Collection of Scottish Art, another Dundee industrialist’s passion. The venue just survived Dundee Leisure’s budget cuts this year and is currently subject to a public consultation over its future.

LEFT: Imposing Broughty Castle guarding the sea passage to Dundee. RIGHT: An earlier depiction of Broughty Castle

Hospitalfield House

Originally a 13th century Benedictine quarantine hospital, then monastery, Hospitalfield House was bought by the Fraser family after the reformation. Their fortunes increased and the artist Patrick Allan married the heiress Elizabeth in 1843. He embarked upon a series of architectural adventures transforming the existing mansion into an Arts and Crafts extravaganza with remarkable interiors as well as patronising artists and the Arts. He also acquired and renovated Blackcraig Castle, just north of Bridge of Cally, in his trademark style. Their estate was left in trust to establish an Art School which lately has been remarkably successful in attracting significant funding to renovate the gardens and studios. We had an excellent lunch before being taken on a tour of the house, the gardens, and the Fernery.

Hospitalfield House, originally a 13th century Benedictine quarantine hospital

The opulent Picture Gallery inside Hospitalfield House

The Memorial Chapel

The Memorial Chapel Situated nearby in Arbroath’s Western Cemetery is Patrick Allan-Fraser’s tribute to his late wife and her parents John Fraser and Elizabeth Parrot, the wealthy coal mining heiress – the money had to come from somewhere! This outstanding building is an architectural confection with elaborately carved, but sharply defined, interior masonry, in contrast to the weathering suffered by our locally quarried stone on exterior walls. It is part of the Hospitalfield Trust.

The Memorial Chapel in Arbroath's Western Cemetery

Arbroath Abbey

We finished the day’s touring at Arbroath Abbey. Historic Environment Scotland manage the ruins and most excellent Visitor Centre in what was once the powerhouse of medieval Scotland. It was founded by King William I in 1178 in honour of the murdered Archbishop Thomas Becket illustrating the sometime friendship between elements of the English and Scottish courts. Nevertheless, it was most famously the site of the signing of The Declaration of Arbroath, to which the Laird of nearby Laurieston Castle attached his seal!

Arbroath Abbey was where The Declaration of Arbroath was signed

Day Two – Sunday 21st April 2024

Mains Castle

Rescued from dilapidation by Dundee City Council in 1980, Mains Castle is now leased by our host who lives there and runs it as a wedding and events venue. It is essentially a 16th century house on three sides of a courtyard, with interesting curtain wall and bartizan, and an almost out-of-proportion stair tower which commands outlook over nearby rising ground. It was originally a Graham of Fintry seat, but Sir David participated in a catholic conspiracy and lost his head on the block in 1592. The estate was eventually acquired by the great Dundee jute baron, James Caird, who gifted the land to the City of Dundee to create a public park.

Mains Castle

Fowlis Castle

Fowlis Castle was once a castle of some strength, the seat of the 15th century Master of Gray before the family built Castles Huntly and Broughty. One corner of the original quadrangle, “The Lady’s Bower”, became a small fortalice in the 17th century and was subsequently turned into farm workers' accommodation by the estate in 1860 (these plans are in the National Libraries of Scotland archives). The well and a wall of the chapel can still be seen in the surrounding agricultural engineers' workshops and (muddy!) yard.

A sketch of Fowlis Castle, left, and members Dorothy Newlands and Hazel Hunter, right

Are the group of members, right, looking at the castle or member Guthrie Stewart's antics, left?

Pitcur Castle

Now devoid of encroaching farm steadings but with a more extensive roof garden since the last Scottish Castles Association visit, Pitcur Castle intrigues in building periods. Best guess is that the Hallyburtons developed the two-storey Hall House into a great rectangular Tower. This was then extended towards the viewer in this image to form a T-plan and the circular stair inserted thereafter. Sir David Hallyburton, The Bauld Pitcur of legendary sizeable proportions, had just moved to his new mansion on the estate in 1680s when he set off with Bonnie Dundee to meet his end – he fell in a furr at Killicrankie-o (according to The Corries). His Hallyburton House is still the epicentre of the great estate, which was eventually bought by Graham Menzies, the whisky magnate, employing Lorrimer amongst others to extend it and embellish the interiors.

Pitcur Castle's condition has deteriorated since our last visit

Bannatyne Castle

Bannatyne House sits in Newtyle, once the end of the first railway in Northern Scotland taking produce back to industrial Dundee. There is a great history which our host related from its build in 1589 for Thomas Bannatyne to being the home of the judge “Bloody Mackenzie”. Another Dundee philanthropist bought the property, and it was run as a holiday retreat for female mill workers to escape the city for a week. It is a delightful home sitting in an interesting garden.

Bannatyne House's gardens were in bloom and member Billy Kirkwood, right, enjoyed a light refreshment in them!

Our chair Dorothy Newlands thanks our host at Bannatyne House, Peter Burnet

Evelick Castle

Commanding a great vista over the River Tay, but in a very sad state of deterioration by a farmyard, Evelick is an L-plan tower house from the early 16th century. Foundations visible in late 1890 indicate it had been a more extensive structure. It was a stronghold of the Lindsays of Evelick, hit by scandal in 1682, when a youthful prank went awry, and young James was decapitated at Edinburgh Cross for the murder of his stepbrother in the glen below the castle.

Evelick Castle, an L-plan tower house from the early 16th century

Megginch Castle

We ended our weekend with a tour and tea with our hosts at Megginch Castle. The 15th century castle built by the Hays is the core of what we see now, and it was altered by them in 1572. However, it has been the home of the Drummonds since 1661. Much of the structure was greatly altered in the early 18th century. Lately, renovations have been carried out to the “Ballroom” for its role as a wedding venue. The gardens are of national importance and the 18th century steadings and Dovecote are equally notable.

Megginch Castle was our final stop on the tour

TOP: The steading courtyard at Megginch Castle BELOW: The castle's ballroom is now used regularly for events and weddings

Our next tour, exclusively for Scottish Castles Association members, is scheduled to take place in September 2024. Become a member – we hope you will be able to join us!

Article and photographs by Scottish Castles Association member Norman Mackenzie.

Added: 09 Jun 2024 Updated: 13 Jun 2024
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