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Banffshire
Chapter 18. Architecture—(b) Military


There are in Banffshire a number of interesting ruins of castles and ancient forts. The earliest strongholds were of the simplest kind—the hill or rock fort, the lake crannog, and the ha' hill. The hill fort was perhaps the earliest of all. One stands on Conval top. Sometimes the top of a rock on the coast or elsewhere was partially fortified. Of this, two rocks about a mile to the east of Tarlair, near Old Haven, are interesting examples and are among the oldest and rudest specimens of fortifications in the county.

As skill in the art of building was acquired, such structures were replaced, on the same or more suitable sites, by others more formidable, like that which hangs in ruined grandeur on the sea-crags of Findlater. In the two centuries preceding the death of Alexander III, when the settlement of Churchmen and of Norman and Saxon nobles was encouraged, architecture worthy of the name was cultivated with zeal and success, and to this period may belong the Royal fortresses of Banff and Cullen and the baronial castles of Boyne and Findlater. The styles of architecture commonly employed were the Norman or Romanesque of the twelfth, and the Early English or First Pointed of the thirteenth century. The fifteenth century witnessed the rise of a new kind of stronghold, commonly known as the Scottish Baronial Tower. These massive towers, rising floor above floor to a considerable height, and having their one door placed for safety in the second storey, afforded shelter and protection, if little else. The castles of Deskford and Inchdrewer belong to this class or are modifications of it.

The ruins of Findlater Castle, in the parish of Fordyce, are among the most picturesque in the county. A miniature Gibraltar in the day of its strength, the old castle stands on a peninsulated rock by the sea shore and still affords evidence of its former importance. John Leslie, Bishop of Ross, in his History (1578) describes it as "a castle so fortified by the nature of its situation as to seem impregnable," while Gordon of Straloch calls it in 1662 "deserta arx."

A tradition current locally explains why it ceased to be a family residence. While the nurse of the infant son of the lord of Findlater was walking on the sea battlement, or standing at an open window, on a genial summer day, singing and dandling the child, he, of a sudden, sprang from her arms in his glee, and disappeared in the gulf below, not, however, without a wild and vain attempt on the part of the nurse to save him. She, too, rushed headlong into the water and perished. The baron, overcome with grief, left the castle never to return, and Findlater became, what Straloch calls it, a deserted stronghold.

On a rocky peninsula, jutting into the sea on the west side of the burn of the Boyne, some remains of buried foundations and a few masses of shapeless masonry mark the site of the original stronghold of the Craig of Boyne. Of it nothing is now known beyond what may be gathered from a survey of its ruins. A mile from the mouth of the stream, occupying the level summit of a precipitous bank

forming the eastern side of a ravine through which the stream flows, are the picturesque ruins of a more recent Castle of the Boyne, built probably in the sixteenth or the seventeenth century, which still suggest to the beholder a strength and magnificence unequalled by any other stronghold in the district.

The ruins of the Castle of Balvenie are close to Duff-town. The castle,of unknown antiquity, formed part of the extensive domains of the Comyns. On the forfeiture of the Comyns, it passed to the Douglas family. They suffered forfeiture in 1455; and the King bestowed the Barony of Balvenie on Sir John Stewart, who was created Earl of Atholl. The Atholl motto may still be read on this old castle:

"Furth Fortuine & fill thi Fettris."

Balvenie next fell to the Gordons, then to the Inneses, and then to the Earls of Fife. The ruin is in excellent preservation. The four walls, still standing, are of great strength, and are in some portions three or four feet thick. A characteristic feature is the grated iron door.

The ruins of the Castle of Auchindoun occupy a commanding situation on Fiddichside. According to tradition it was built in the eleventh century when the Danes were struggling for supremacy in the province of Moray. Since 1535 it has been in the possession of the Gordon family. In an issue of the Quarterly Review of 1816 Sir Walter Scott has told the legend of the burning of Auchindoun by "Willie McIntosh." In the ballad it is related how

Licht was the mirk hour
At the day dawin'
For Auchindoun was in flames
Ere the cock crawin'.

At Drumin, near the junction of the Livet with the Aven, stands the old castle of Drumin, where Argyll encamped previous to the Battle of Glenlivet and where several of the neighbouring clans joined his standard. Its founder is believed to have been Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan, "The Wolf of Badenoch." At all events, in 1490 the Castle of Drumin and lands pertaining thereto were disposed by Sir Walter Stewart, grandson of the "Wolf of Badenoch," to Alexander, third Earl of Huntly, and the property has ever since remained in the hands of the Earl's descendants. In later years Drumin became celebrated in the sphere of music, for it was the residence of William Marshall, described by Burns as the first composer of strathspeys of the age.

The Castle of Blairfindy, in Glenlivet, now exhibits only roofless walls. It was a square tower or keep, three storeys high, and dating from the latter half of the sixteenth century. An old distich runs:

Glenlivet it has castles three
Drumin, Blairfindy, and Deskee.

A farm now bears the name of the third, and but for the rhyme, it would hardly be known that a castle had existed.

Of the Palace of Banff, owned by Sir George Ogilvy, nothing remains. It was destroyed by General Monro in his fateful visit to the town in 1640. King Charles in 1641 gave Sir George ten thousand merks Scots in gold "yet too little to repair his losses," and in the following year made him Lord Banff.

The ancient Royal Castle of Banff has been somewhat more fortunate, for part of its walls are still to be seen, almost six and a half feet thick, and portions of its moat or fosse. It was the last stronghold occupied by English troops north of the Grampians after the battle of Bannockburn. Among those who have stayed in it are Edward I, who was on three occasions at least within its walls, and who held a Court at Banff in 1303; David II with the Queen and his sisters; Queen Margaret, wife of James III; James IV; Mary of Guise, and Queen Mary. During part of the seventeenth century it was tenanted by William Sharp, Sheriff Clerk of Banff, whose son James, the murdered Archbishop, was born there in 1618. Bought later by the Sharps, it passed in succession to the Leslies of Kininvie and the Earls of Findlater, and it remained in the possession of the latter family till 1878. The present modern house of Banff Castle was built by James, sixth Earl of Findlater and third Earl of Seafield.

The Baronial Tower or Castle of Inchdrewer, in the parish of Banff, has been referred to the reign of James IV. Inchdrewer was destroyed by General Monro, even its iron gate being sold to a countryman for five merks "whilk an hunddred pounds had not put up."


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