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Scotcrest Blog

Bannockburn House, Bannockburn – Clan Paterson

bannockburn house - clan patterson

Gaining control of the Bannockburn Estate in 1672, the Paterson family would quickly establish themselves as the main family in the area, constructing the impressive Bannockburn House a decade later.

This is not to say that the Patersons were the first family to call this area their own – as Bannockburn is, of course, an important site in Scottish history.  However, they would be the first to truly establish themselves there, purchasing the estate from Andrew Rollo in 1672 to build Bannockburn House.

The Patersons would choose to settle at Bannockburn as it was close to the location of their coal mines, the business that would allow them to accrue a large fortune. This would also increase their reputation throughout the country, something that would be rewarded when Bonnie Prince Charlie chose the house as a place to stop on the way to the Battle of Culloden in 1746.

It is here that he would meet Clementina Walkinshaw, the Baronet’s niece and the future mother of his child. The prince would recuperate from illness at Bannockburn for three weeks before continuing north to the Jacobites’ ultimate demise at Culloden, however, he would also give Bannockburn one of its most famous assets as he would store the ‘Key of Stirling’ there upon his victory in the city. The Key would remain missing for over 150 years  – until it was recovered from the house in 1902.

After Charlie’s demise, the house would pass from the Patersons’ control, being sold to William Ramsey of Barton and Sauchie in 1787. The Ramsays would keep Bannockburn for almost 100 years, selling it to the famous Wilsons of Bannockburn, a family known for their weaving business which produced much of Scotland’s tartan. The Wilsons would add many additions to the house, creating extensions to the building and a new porch at the entrance, they would then sell the property in 1910 to the Sheriff Substitute of Stirling, James Mitchell.

Bannockburn House has since passed between a number of different owners and was most recently put up for sale in 2016, selling for around £800,000 to a team of volunteers known as the ‘Bannockburn Trust’. Working with the Scottish Land Trust, the group would complete the largest community buyout of a property ever seen in the UK. It remains under their control today, as they have worked tirelessly to restore the interior to its former glory. The Trust now offers tours of the house for a small donation in return, a must-visit for anyone with a deep interest in Scottish history – particularly the Jacobites.

 

Caisteal Maol, Skye – Clan MacKinnon

caisteal maol - clan mackinnon

Holding a commanding position overlooking the straight of Kyle Akin, Caisteal Maol was once one of the most strategically placed castles in all of Scotland.

An ancient seat of Clan MacKinnon, the castle’s closeness to the straight would be highly beneficial to the family, as it meant they had control over the safest sea passage between the Isle of Skye and the mainland. Such was the family’s control over the straight, it is said that the 4th MacKinnon chief, Findanus, would run a heavy chain across the water, levying a toll on any shipping vessel that wanted to pass through.

Although interesting, this story about the chain is likely a myth, as the castle was not constructed until a few hundred years later. By this time, the Isle of Skye was under the nominal control of the Kingdom of Norway, with King Haakon IV said to have assembled his fleet of longships in the straight before the Battle of Largs in 1263. Luckily for the Scottish, this battle would be an unmitigated disaster for the Norwegians as their strength in Scotland was crushed in the aftermath of the engagement.

The MacKinnons would remain in ownership of the castle throughout the subsequent centuries as they expanded their land holdings on the Isle of Skye through gifts given by Robert the Bruce after the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. The structure would eventually be rebuilt towards the end of the 15th century and it is these ruins that are still visible today. Originally a rectangular tower house with three stories, it would be an important meeting place for the nobility of the islands, as it is here that the clan chiefs of the Hebrides would gather to sign an agreement in support of Donald MacDonald as Lord of the Isles. Sadly, the power of the Lords of the Isles would soon wane after this meeting and by 1601, the site was abandoned in favour of more comfortable lodgings.

This would not be the end of the site as an important asset for the MacKinnons, however, as they would continue to use it as a key source of revenue, returning to their roots to control a ferry across the strait of Kyle Akin in the early 17th century. Sadly for the castle, while the MacKinnon’s would prosper with their income from the ferry route, their former home would fall into disrepair as it was left abandoned. A sad end for a castle that was once one of the most important in Scotland, it is now no more than a ruin, blending into the rocky landscape that the clan used to call home.

Further sections of the castle have since broken off during storms in 1949 and 1989 and although the structure has now been properly secured, more damage occurred in 2018, as a lightning strike further destroyed the ruins. Despite this turmoil, the castle is still worthy of a visit for anyone with a connection to the MacKinnon Clan or simply a love for Scottish castles. It can be reached by car from the Scottish mainland across the impressive Skye Bridge and is only a short hike from the Village of Kyleakin, with which the straight shares its name.

 

Dornoch Castle, Sutherland – Clan Sutherland

dornoch castle - clan sutherland

Built around 1500 by the Bishops of Caithness, Dornoch Castle is a former possession of the powerful Clan Sutherland and an iconic building within the town of Dornoch.

The castle would sit on the site of the original Bishop’s Palace of St Gilbert, founded as accommodation for Bishops serving at the nearby Dornoch Cathedral. It would be gifted to John Gordon, 11th Earl of Sutherland, in 1557 but would then be set alight in 1570 as a feud between the McKays and Murrays spilled over into an altercation that left the town of Dornoch in ruins.

Despite leaving a scar on the entire town, the troubles of 1570 would leave only minor damages to the Castle itself, and it was then home to the Earls of Sutherland for over 150 years. It would finally see the last of its Sutherland tenants leave in 1715 as William, Lord Strathnaver, would abandon the castle due to its poor state. This would lead to Lord Strathnever spending 2,300 marks on renovations in 1720 – a very significant sum of money at the time. However, the building would soon fall into disrepair and was said to be in a derelict state by the year 1760.

As Dornoch began to reinvent itself as a potential seaside resort for 19th-century travellers, the castle’s terrible state would eventually become a nuisance to individuals in the area – who were set on improving the overall layout of the town. Sitting in the heart of Dornoch, much of the surrounding area was demolished as the castle was given a new lease of life, first as a courthouse and then as a jail. It would also serve as a school during this period as the once derelict structure now had a variety of new tenants.

Eventually passing into private hands in 1922, the Castle would be modernised as it was transformed from a jail into a hotel. Opening in 1947, it is still a tremendous place to stay for anyone visiting the northern highlands of Scotland and a unique way to say that you’ve stayed in one of Scotland’s historic castles.

Fetteresso Castle, Stonehaven – Clan Keith

fetteresso Castle - Clan Keith

Originally held by Clan Strachan, Fetteresso Castle would pass under the control of Clan Keith during the 14th century.

Although the Castle would eventually become the home of two of the northeast’s greatest clans, its history would go back much further, as it is thought to have been used as a prehistoric settlement. While it is unknown exactly how old the settlement actually is (or exactly what it was used for) it has been speculated that it could have been used as an athletics venue or a site connected to the Romans.

Whatever the use of the original site, it is known that the property would eventually come under the control of the Strachan clan until it was taken from them in the early 14th century by Robert the Bruce. This loss of the castle would occur after the clan fought on the side of Bruce’s great rival, John Comyn, as it was eventually given to the Frasers. The property would then be sold to its most famous owners, the Keiths,  and the family would use the stronghold as their seat, extending it by adding a tower house as they incorporated the castle into their barony, along with the nearby fortress, Dunnottar Castle.

While the Keith family were all-powerful in northeastern Scotland, the castle would be inhabited by other families in the subsequent years, as Jean Hunter lived there in 1659. Sadly for Jean, she would be accused of witchcraft and hanged at the castle, a sad and undeserved end to her life.

After this gruesome act, the castle would pass between a number of different owners until it fell under the control of the Duffs – who would expand the structure, adding a building around the tower house. Eventually, the castle would fall into disrepair during the 20th century and it would spend years without a roof after its final owners, the Simpsons, moved out. It would eventually be restored towards the end of the 20th century by a local landowner and was slowly rebuilt. It is currently without an owner and was on the market as recently as 2020 for a sum of £475,000, making it one of the cheapest castles in Scotland to purchase.

 

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Lee Castle, South Lanarkshire – Clan Lockhart

lee castle - clan lockhart

Originally falling under the control of the Lockhart Clan during the 13th century, Lee Castle would be rebuilt many times before assuming its final form in the 1840s.

Originally given to William Locard in 1272, the area upon which the castle sits has been home to numerous different versions of the building, The first of these would be constructed around the time the land was given to the clan and the area would quickly rise in importance, becoming the traditional seat of the Lockharts.

As the family made the seat their own, they would begin to grow their reputation as a clan of great nobility and were fierce supporters of Robert the Bruce during the Scottish Wars of Independence. Following Robert’s death, they would also play a big part in the trip to carry out his final wishes, as they attempted to take his remains to the Holy Land, eventually turning around and settling for burial at Melrose Abbey instead. Despite this failure, being trusted to take part in this trip shows the high reputation the clan had at the time as they cemented themselves at the top of Scottish nobility.

Continuing to live on their estates at Lee, the family would eventually grow their land holdings as they gained the estates of the Earl of Carnwath in the mid-17th century. This only further illustrated the size of the clan as they were expanding the land around their castle, creating a buffer against any neighbouring enemies.

Fighting for the Jacobite cause during the 18th century, the clan chief would be forced into exile as his younger brother returned to reclaim the estates of Lee, staging his death in the process. Eventually, the castle would be refurbished by the clan, as the parklands around the structure were laid out and it was redeveloped into a larger, more modern castle. This would be the last work done by the Lockharts, though, as they eventually gave up control of their clan seat in 1948.

Since then, it has passed under new ownership and was refurbished in the late 20th century. It would be put up for sale on the internet site, eBay in 2004 and, although this sale was unsuccessful, it would be sold for an all-time record price for a private Scottish house as it was sold to American buyers later that year.

 

Mugdock Castle, Strathblane – Clan Graham

Mugdock Castle - Clan Graham

Under the control of the Grahams since the mid-13th century, Mugdock Castle would remain the family’s seat for a large portion of their history.

Originally part of the medieval region of Lennox, the lands on which the castle would be built were originally granted to David de Graham of Dundaff. Wasting no time in constructing a fortification, the early structure of the castle would be completed by 1372 and would be erected into the Barony of Mugdock in 1458.

Rising up through the ranks of Scottish nobility, the Grahams would soon be created Earls of Montrose and would extend their castle to reflect this standing. This would continue throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, as the clan sought to make their seat a reflection of their high power. Sadly, the castle would be sacked in 1641, with the chief of the clan, James Marquis of Montrose, languishing in prison. Thankfully, James would soon be released and he would be able to repair the damaged castle.

This would not be the end of the castle’s involvement in war though, as it would again be sacked after the Grahams raised the royalist standard in 1644. After this, the Marquis of Montrose would be captured and the castle passed under the control of the Campbell Marquis of Argyll as Montrose was executed in 1650. Thankfully, the family would regain control of their seat in 1661 as Argyll was also executed and, in the aftermath of this return, the family would spend two years building a new mansion within the old castle walls, creating a more modern living space for them to enjoy.

Using the mansion as their home for a further 100 years, the Grahams would eventually abandon Mugdock in the 18th century with the old mansion demolished and replaced by another. This mansion would also fall into disrepair and was demolished before the castle was passed to public control in the 1980s. Today, it and the surrounding lands can be visited by the public as part of a country park.

 

 

Moy Castle, Mull – Clan MacLaine of Lochbuie

moy castle - maclaine of lochbuie

Owned by the MacLaines, an unruly branch of the larger MacLean Clan, Moy Castle is one of the Isle of Mull’s most iconic sites.

Perhaps overshadowed on the island by the home of their larger cousins, Duart Castle, it is nonetheless a spectacular part of the local landscape and a worthwhile place to visit for anyone in the area.

Acquired in the mid 14th century from the MacDonald Lords of the Isles, the castle’s main tower would be built in 1450 by Hector MacLaine, brother of Lachlan Lubanach MacLean of Duart. It would be fought over by the MacLeans and the MacLaines in the subsequent years, with MacLean of Duart imprisoning Iain ‘The Toothless’ MacLaine to prevent him from producing an heir to pass the property to. Unfortunately for MacLean, Iain would still manage to find a companion to make an heir and although he was later murdered, she would survive and produce a son, Murdoch the Stunted, who eventually regained control of the castle.

A later Murdoch MacLaine would go on support the Marquis of Montrose in the 1640s but would forfeit his lands in the aftermath of the fighting as he was convicted of besieging and blocking his own castle.

Also falling under the control of the Campbells, the castle would always return to the MacLaines until its abandonment in 1752. After this date, any visitors to the area of Lochbuie would stay in the nearby Lochbuie House, a large Georgian mansion built to replace the ageing castle.

The MacLaines would eventually sell the property in the 20th century and, although it has suffered many years of neglect, it is now being restored and consolidated under the watchful eye of the Mull Historical and Archaeological Society.

Merchiston Castle, Edinburgh – Clan Napier

Merchiston Tower - Clan Napier

Constructed during the 15th century, Merchiston Castle is the historical home of Clan Napier and a part of Edinburgh Napier University.

Also known as Merchiston Tower due to its L-plan tower design, the castle was constructed by the Napier family during the 1450s and is situated well within the boundaries of the modern city of Edinburgh. Of course, this would not be the case when the castle was first constructed, as it was then a part of the countryside and has eventually been swallowed up by the city’s urban sprawl.

It is for this reason that it was originally required to be heavily fortified, with six feet thick walls protecting it from a siege as enemy soldiers approached the capital. The tower would receive a visit from Mary, Queen of Scots, before being sold to a number of buyers until it was returned to the Napiers in 1752. Passing between another series of owners, the family would again receive control of the building in 1833, as they converted it into Merchiston Castle School, an independent boarding school for boys.

Continuing its tradition as an educational institution, it would then pass under the control of George Watson’s College, before being suggested as the site for a new technical college in 1956. Being converted in a very 1960s way, the tower would gain a concrete corridor on its right-wing as it was converted into the centrepiece of a campus that would eventually be given university status as Edinburgh Napier University in 1992.

Brodick Castle, Arran – Clan Hamilton

Brodick Castle - Clan Hamilton

Standing in the shadow of Goatfell, Brodick Castle is a former clan stronghold of the Hamilton family, located on the Isle of Arran.

Believed to have been first used by the Vikings as a site of defence, the Norse warriors would eventually be removed from the island in the aftermath of Scotland’s victory at the Battle of Largs in 1263. The basic outpost would then be turned into a castle by the Stewarts of Menteith, protected by a steep slope and a water-filled ditch, in addition to its natural protection as an island outpost.

The castle would eventually be taken by the English at the beginning of the Scottish Wars of Independence and was held by the invaders until 1307. Retaining a turbulent history throughout the rest of its life, it would then be damaged by a further English invasion in 1406 and an attack by John MacDonald II, Lord of the Isles, in 1455.

It would be after gaining those battle scars that the castle would come under the control of its most famous owners, the Hamiltons. Wasting no time in putting their mark on the area, the family would immediately rebuild the structure before it was again attacked by usurpers in 1528 and 1544, forcing a further rebuild. Sadly, the castle would continue to suffer in the subsequent years as it was captured by the Campbells and then retaken by the Hamiltons before suffering at the hands of Oliver Cromwell.

It is during the years under the control of Oliver Cromwell that the castle would begin to expand to its current size as it was almost doubled. However, the current cosmetic design of the castle would only be finished in 1844, and it is this design that visitors will be familiar with today.

It is in 1844 that the Hamilton family would make Brodick one of their primary residences as advances in transport made the Island of Arran more accessible than before. Using this to their advantage, the clan would commission Edinburgh architect, James Gillespie Graham, to double the size of the building, adding its now-iconic southwest tower.

After the finalisation of its current design, the castle would be passed down through the generations of the Hamilton family until it was transferred to the control of the National Trust in 1957 under the instructions of Mary, Dutchess of Montrose.

Today, it serves as a major tourist attraction on Arran, with a perfectly preserved interior, visitor centre, tea room and gardens. It is well worth a visit for anyone holidaying on the Island or even just as a day trip from the mainland, as it can be accessed via the ferry from Ardrossan.

Cardoness Castle, Kirkcudbrightshire – Clan McCulloch

cardoness castle - clan mcculloch

Located in the far south-west of the country, Cardoness Castle is the historic home of the McCulloch Clan.

Falling under the control of the McCullochs in the mid 15th century, the family would establish their seat in the area during the 1470s, as they built the castle that still stands today. Often at odds with their neighbours, the McCullochs would build strong defences to protect their seat in the event of a dispute with another clan. This would often prove to be required as the McCullochs had a habit of foul play, whether it was the theft of property, attacks on neighbours or even raids by sea on the nearby Isle of Man.

Despite the latter of these crimes paying the clan very well, their constant disputes would eventually catch up with them as their resources struggled to keep up. This would eventually come to a head in the early 1600s as the family were forced to take out a mortgage on the stage, eventually losing it to John Gordon in 1628, the head of a family that the McCullochs had a longstanding feud with.

Not a clan to give up without a fight, the McCullochs would wage war on the Gordons over the next century, shooting dead William Gordon, John Gordon’s son and kidnapping his ailing widow. Sadly for the McCullochs, these actions would not go unpunished as Sir Godfrey McCulloch, the murderer of William Gordon, would be beheaded in 1697 in Edinburgh after returning from a self-imposed exile in France.

Abandoned after Sir Godfrey’s death, the castle would be passed between a variety of owners before finally coming under the control of the state in 1927. Today, it is controlled by Historic Environment Scotland and is open to the public, alongside a more modern visitor centre. Partially reconstructed in the 1920s, the castle remains in good condition despite its abandonment for over 2 centuries. Still partially ruined, Historic Environment Scotland intend to complete a further restoration in the years to come.

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