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Kildrummy b&b, guesthouse and hotel accommodation

Kildrummy in Aberdeenshire

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Visit Kildrummy and the surrounding villages and stay in bed & breakfast accommodation:

Kildrummy, Aberdeenshire. “The noblest of northern castles”, now a spectacular ruin on the summit of a ridge above the North side of the main road to Strathdon 39 miles West of Aberdeen, is the magnet that draws interest to this very beautiful Donside parish in a basin of old red sandstone, which gives the landscape a softer, mellower look than the stern granite country in which it is set. It was not the first castle in the area, for there was an early Norman motte, or fortified mound, on the fluvo-glacial hillock 1 mile North East where the parish church and the ruins of its pre-Reformation predecessor, St Bride's, now stand; but it has so much historic interest and architectural distinction that it must be considered first.

Kildrummy Castle is the best surviving example of a l3th century stone castle of enceinte in Scotland, and the only one of its period that still possesses a complete articulated layout of domestic buildings hall, kitchen, solar, and chapel all belonging to the original design. It was the creation of St Gilbert (the last of the Scottish saints). Bishop Gilbert de Moravia, who was Bishop of Caithness from 1223 to 1245, and, as King Alexander II's treasurer of the North, was responsible for the works necessary to secure the pacification of the country after that monarch had crushed the last Celtic revolt against the Canmore dynasty.

It was conceived entirely on the pattern of the mighty Chateau de Coucy near Laon, with an enormous semicircular curtain wall, defended by five projecting round towers, the largest of which, at the North West salient, was the Donjon, now known as the Snow Tower. At some time during the course of erection, probably about the middle of the 13th century, the plans were altered to permit the correct orientation of a chapel, whose East gable, with its three finely moulded windows, projects over the foundations of the curtain wall.

By the end of the century the Castle was virtually complete. Before it was finished, however, Scotland was under the heel of Edward I of England, who visited the area in 1296 and again in 1303. To the English occupation it owed a new feature, the gatehouse with two massive drum-towers, which is virtually a replica of the gatehouse of Harlech Castle in North Wales, and may well be the work of King Edward's architect, Master James St George, who is known to have been in Scotland at the time. Thus, in its finished form, Kildrummy displayed both the Donjon, which is the distinguishing sign of French military architecture, and the Gatehouse, which characterizes the English school.

In 1306 occurred the most famous event in Kildrummy's story. After the Battle of Methven, Sir Nigel Bruce, the brother of Robert Bruce, convoyed thither the royal ladies for safety in the period of danger that all knew must lie ahead. When an army under Prince Edward of Carnarvon, the future Edward II of England, and the earls of Gloucester and Hereford, approached to besiege the Castle, the Queen and her party moved on to the sanctuary at Tain, where they were captured, but Sir Nigel remained to give battle.

The Siege of Kildrummy raged on throughout the end of August and the beginning of September. Every attempt to carry the walls by storm ended in costly failure for the English. But what fair fighting could not gain, treachery accomplished. Secretly in the pay of the English, Osbam, the smith of the Castle, set fire to the granary. The blaze was so intense that the great gate melted in the heat, and though Sir Nigel was able to build a barrier to take its place, starvation and thirst won the day. Kildrummy fell. Sir Nigel was executed at Berwick. “Hang him on a gallows thirty feet higher than the rest!” growled King Edward, when someone protested that he was of the blood royal.

From the time of its erection, Kildrummy was the principal messuage of the earls of Mar. Disaster befell that earldom in the 15th century. In 1402 Sir Malcolm Douglas, the husband of Isabel, Countess of Mar and Garioch in her own right, was murdered at Kildrummy by a gang of assassins in the hire of Alexander Stewart, a son of the notorious Wolf of Badenoch. Two years later Stewart himself arrived on the scene, stormed the Castle, and forced the widowed Countess to marry him. To legitimize this atrocity, he staged a spectacular charade outside the gate of the Castle before a company including the Bishop of Ross and many local magnates. In this he presented the keys of the castle to the Countess and declared that he voluntarily gave up all right to it and to the earldom. Whereupon the persecuted Countess already, one suspects, thoroughly intimidated handed back the keys and declared to all beholders that she chose him to be her husband of her own free will. “Why must the wicked prosper?” The usurping earl only seven years later covered himself with glory and became a national hero as the victor in the Battle of Harlaw. But the Countess had died long before then, without bearing him any children, and when he himself died in 1435 the earldom was annexed to the Crown by King James I in defiance of the clear right of Sir Robert Erskine, the rightful representative of the ancient Celtic line of the earldom.

The earldom was restored to the Erskines by Mary Queen of Scots in 1565, and the Castle became theirs again in 1626. The Elphinstone family, who had held it for 120 years, built the structure known as the Elphinstone Tower (a lofty pile with crow-step gables) on top of the original great hall.

In the Civil War the Castle was garrisoned by Royalists and Roundheads in turn, and in 1690 it was burnt by the soldiers of “Bonnie Dundee”. Finally, in 1715, it became the headquarters from which the 10th Earl of Mar launched the Jacobite Rising of that year. Following its collapse, Kildrummy was dismantled and was used as “the common quarry of the country”, but in the 19th century a stop was put to the spoliation, and in 1898 was begun a long series of repairs and excavations, which have continued to the present day. In 1901 a “new castle” of Kildrummy was built on the North side of the Back Den, the picturesque defile to the North of the Castle, for the then laird, Col. James Ogston.

The quarry from which came the stone for both castles was converted into a rock- and water-garden, and a striking bridge; a replica of the medieval Brig o' Balgownie at Aberdeen was built to span the stream.

Of the original burgh of barony of Kildrummy, which lay between the church and the Castle and flourished from 1377 until the 17th century, nothing now remains but the place-name Boroughmuir.

In addition to the operations carried out at the castle itself, the Ministry of Public Building and Works excavated 1½ miles North, at Muirs of Kildrummy farm, two of over a score of eirdehouses those remarkable stone-lined underground dwellings of the Iron Age in which this district is particularly rich.

Nearby towns: Ballater, Dufftown, Huntly, Insch

Nearby villages: Aberdeen, Aboyne, Alford, Auchinhove, Auchleven, Badenyon, Bellabeg, Bridge of Alford, Clatt, Clova, Coldstone, Coull, Cults, Cults, Inverernan, Keig, Kennethmont, Kirkton of Glenbuchat, Leochel-Cushnie, Leslie, Lumphanan, Lumsden, Migvie, Ordie, Rhynie, Strathdon, Tarland, Tillyfour, Torphins, Tough, Towie, Tullynessle, Waterside, Whitehouse

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