Scotcrest Blog

Braemar Castle, Aberdeenshire – Clan Farquharson

BraeMar Castle - Clan Farquharson

Standing to the south of the River Dee, Braemar Castle is the ancestral home of the Scottish Farquharson Clan and was also the traditional host of the Queen during the famous ‘Braemar Gathering’ – until the emergence of Balmoral.

Built at the beginning of the 17th century by John Erskine, Earl of Mar, the Castle was originally constructed as a show of strength to ensure the local Farquharson clan did not gain too much power in the area. This would not transpire, however, as the family would immediately take the opposing side to the earl during the first conflict after its construction – the 1689 Jacobite Rising.

During this conflict, John Farquharson of Inverey would become a strong supporter of the Jacobite cause and would attack the castle as it held government troops. Upon the desertion of the castle by the troops, Farquharson would burn down the structure as he attempted to prevent it being used again as a garrison and although plans were made for its reconstruction in 1689 and 1715, this would not happen.

This would mark the beginning of a swing in power away from the Earls of Mar towards the Farquharsons, although the two sides would actually join forces during the rising of 1715 as John Erskine, 23rd Earl of Mar led the Jacobite side and raised his standard at the Farquharson’s home. This conflict would eventually lead to the Earl of Mar’s control over the estate being relinquished as he forfeited it to the crown. It would eventually fall under the rule of the Farquharsons in 1732 as they purchased the ruined castle from the Erskines – leasing the building to the Hanoverian Government for use as barracks.

The castle would finally be settled by the family in 1708 as the government cut their lease short and James Farquharson, the 10th Laird of Invercauld, began to use it as his family home. Now restored and fit for use, the castle would even play host to Queen Victoria on her regular visits to the Braemar Gathering before the emergence of Balmoral Castle as a royal residence in 1852.

In more recent times, the castle would turn into a visitor attraction as its well-restored historic rooms gave onlookers a chance to experience what life would have been like in the castle during its glory days. It received a further restoration in 2008 and is now a fantastic location to visit for anyone with an interest in Scottish history.

Take a look at our fantastic range of Scottish Clan Gifts HERE.

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Dunstaffnage Castle, Dunbeg – Clan MacDougall

Dunstaffnage Castle - Clan MacDougall

Guarding the rugged coastline of the west of Scotland, Dunstaffnage Castle sits atop a rocky outcrop that was once one of the most strategic locations in the whole of the country.

Such was the importance of the site for national defence, is believed a fortification has stood on the site for at least 1500 years as the Kings of Dalriada are said to have built a stronghold there as early as the 600s.

Originally the home of the Stone of Destiny (according to some historians) the fortress would come into the hands of the MacDougalls by the middle of the 13th century after they were appointed keepers of the castle by King Haakon IV. Originally ruled under the Kingdom of Norway, the castle would quickly change hands as it was fought over on a number of occasions over the course of the second half of the 13th century and early 1300s.

The first attempt to take the castle back under Scottish control would be launched in 1249 by Alexander II as he assembled a fleet of ships at Oban before unexpectedly dying on the nearby island of Kerrera before the attack could take place. Therefore, the castle would remain under the control of the Norse-sympathising MacDougalls for another 60 years until another attempt was made by the crown to take the castle in 1309 by Robert the Bruce. This time the attack would be much more successful as Bruce laid siege to the castle walls before successfully capturing it and appointing the MacArthurs as hereditary captains of the stronghold.

Sadly for the MacDougalls, this would be the end of their connection to a castle they had largely constructed as it would eventually pass under the control of the powerful Campbells in 1470. After this passage, it would remain in a relatively stable condition for the next few centuries before burning during an attempted uprising in 1685. Supporting Dutch troops, the Campbell Earl of Argyll would be executed and his castle destroyed by the troops of James VII/II and Dunstaffnage would be left in an almost unusable state. It would, however, be garrisoned one final time during the Jacobite Rising of 1745 as it was used by government forces and as a temporary prison to house to Flora MacDonald, an acquaintance and helper of Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Despite the damage caused by these events, the tower house within the castle would remain in use until the end of the 19th century when it was largely abandoned, it remains under the control of a hereditary captain to this day and is open to the public for visiting during most of the year.

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Tantallon Castle, East Lothian – Clan Douglas

Tantallon Castle - Clan Douglas

Sitting on a rocky headland overlooking the North Sea,  Tantallon Castle is a former stronghold of the infamous ‘Red Douglas’ family.

Originally built during the 14th century, the castle gives stunning views across the Firth of Forth as it looks out upon the famous ‘Bass Rock’. It was given to the Douglases in the 1350s as Sir James Douglas returned to Scotland to claim his inheritance as chief of the clan. James would murder his godfather, Sir William Douglas of Liddlesdale, to gain the title of Earl of Douglas, creating a split in the family, and would then build the current castle as a show of strength before the Douglases split into two rival factions, the ‘red’ and ‘black’ Douglases, at the end of the 14th century.

Following, this split, the castle would come under the control of George Douglas, the progenitor of the ‘Red Douglases’, and the family would ally themselves closely with the Stewart monarchs of Scotland. It is for this reason that the castle was often used as a holding place for enemies of the crown, as Alexander, Lord of the Isles, was held there in 1429. The 3rd Earl of Angus would then make Tantallon his permanent home and used it as a base for raids on his family rivals, the ‘Balck Douglases’, during the 15th century.

The family would also turn against the crown in 1482 as they allied with Henry VII of England, this would lead to the besiegement of the castle by James IV, however, Angus would submit to avoid his precious castle being destroyed before it suffered extensive damage, and by 1493 he had returned to the position of Chancellor of Scotland under the King.

Peace at Tantallon would not last long though as following the marriage of Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus, to James IV’s widow, Margaret Tudor, the couple would try to take her infant son, James V to England. This would spark a dramatic response from the Scottish nobility, with John Stewart, Duke of Albany, seizing Tantallon until Angus made his peace in 1514. Angus’ attempts to ally with England would continue further down the line and he staged a virtual coup d’etat in 1525, taking custody of the young King once again until he escaped in 1528. In the aftermath of this incident, Tantallon would once again be besieged by the crown, this time for 20 days, again without success. It would finally be taken by the crown when Angus retreated to England before he returned for one final time in 1542, again trying to betray the crown, as he allowed Sir Ralph Sadler, English ambassador to Scotland, to reside at Tantallon. The castle would therefore be untouched during the ‘War of the Rough Wooing’, as English forces bypassed it in respect of Angus’ strong sympathies towards them. He would finally change his allegiances after being imprisoned at Blackness Castle in 1544 and the gunners at Tantallon would be rewarded as they fired on English ships in the Firth of Forth in 1548.

Following Angus’ death in 1557, the castle would enjoy a rare period of peace as it changed hands multiple times without bloodshed. This would change in 1650 as it was used as a base by a small group of Royalists during the Scottish invasion of Oliver Cromwell. Despite numbering only 91 men, the group held out against the 3,000 men of Cromwell for 12 days before a breach in the castle wall was made.

This would be the last time the castle would see any active military action and it would eventually fall into disrepair, never being fully restored after the siege. It did play a role in one more conflict, however, as it was used for RAF radar training in the weeks leading up to the 1944 D-Day invasion of France. It is now open as a visitor attraction and is in the care of Historic Environment Scotland as a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

Take a look at our fantastic range of Scottish Clan Gifts HERE.

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Castle Semple, Lochwinnoch – Clan Sempill

castle semple - clan sempill

Situated within the grounds of the beautiful Castle Semple Country Park in Renfrewshire, this Castle takes its name from the historic Sempill Clan, who made it their home for over 250 years.

Given to the Sempill family through a charter in 1474, the area surrounding the castle would be developed by the clan over the subsequent centuries, with a castle first being constructed there in 1504. The castle would continue to be expanded over the years, eventually reaching a height of 4 storeys in 1580, and would be surrounded by other buildings such as the ‘collegiate church’, which was staffed by a college of canons employed by the family.

As the Sempill’s influence began to grow and their estate expanded within the area, they would also gain a number of enemies and, following a number of raids, the third Lord Sempill would construct another house on the estate, known as ‘Peel Tower’, which was to be used as a place of refuge in the event of an attack. Peel Tower would not last long though, as it was besieged and overrun in 1560.

The family would continue to call Castle Semple their home until the beginning of the 18th century when it was sold to the MacDowalls, a family originally from Galloway who had made their fortune from sugar plantations in the Caribbean. Therefore, while the family were to make significant improvements to the area, they would do so with money that would later be associated with the slave trade and all of its negative connotations.

Built with this money was a new mansion house that replaced the ageing castle. This building would be called ‘Castle Semple House’ and was built on the site of the Sempill’s demolished home, it was intended to be the holiday retreat of the MacDowalls as they were believed to have been the richest commoner in Scotland at the time, however, the MacDowalls would eventually sell the property upon realising that, as landowners, they would have to provide services to their tenants such as the construction of a bridge across the nearby sample loch. It is said that the family were shocked to discover this as they expected to control their tenants the same way they had controlled their slaves in the Caribbean and the family would later sell the mansion to John Harvey after being forced to spend a significant amount of money on improvements over the subsequent years.

Following this sale, the castle would eventually be abandoned and would burn down in 1924, before being finally demolished in 1960. Some of the castle’s walls still remain and the former billiards room and stables have been reroofed and are now used as farm buildings. The castle’s grounds also remain a popular place for locals to spend time outdoors and the banks of Semple Loch make a great location for a picnic.

Take a look at our fantastic range of Scottish Clan Gifts HERE.

Design your own handmade Scottish Clan Plaque HERE.



Dunderave Castle, Loch Fyne – Clan MacNaughton

dunderave castle - clan macnaughton

Sandwiched between the peaceful banks of Loch Fyne and the base of the forested slopes of the Grampian Mountains, Dunderave Castle is a stunning piece of 16th-century architecture that was first constructed as the home of the historic MacNaughton Clan.

Built by Iain MacNaughton in 1593 to signify his strength, the clan moved from the nearby Dubh Loch Castle in the aftermath of a Black Plague epidemic that almost wiped them out completely. It was for this reason that the MacNaughtons decided to construct a new home as they rushed to leave Dubh Loch after its association with the illness.

Trying to convey their prestige and power as they struggled to fend off the dominant Campbell family, the MacNaughtons would construct a grand castle using stones from their previous home to maintain a connection with the area.

They would remain distrustful of the Campbells and their expansionist policies in the subsequent years as their rivals grew in stature and would eventually be forced to give up the castle after the marriage of a young MacNaughton chief to the older daughter of Sir James Campbell in 1702. It is said that MacNaughton had fallen in love with James’ younger daughter and, despite being promised her hand in marriage, was tricked into marrying her older sister after he was given enough alcohol to cloud his memory on the wedding day. Upon waking up the next morning, the chief would realise his mistake and would flee to Ireland where, in his absence, Dunderave would be placed under the possession of the Campbells in court.

MacNaughton would die in exile without an heir and the family would vanish from Argyll as Campbell influence grew stronger. They would control the castle until the beginning of the 20th century, leaving it to rot as the roof caved in and the once great structure became a shell. Luckily, it would be saved in 1911 when it was commissioned for restoration by Sir Andrew Noble. Noble would completely refurbish the castle and would turn it into an asset for the local area. It remains a hidden gem of the Scottish countryside to this day and after plans to turn it into a hotel fell through, it was purchased by private owners.

Take a look at our fantastic range of Scottish Clan Gifts HERE.

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Tulloch Castle, Dingwall – Clan Davidson

tulloch castle clan davidson

Now used as a luxury hotel in the beautiful highland countryside, Tulloch Castle was once the historic home of the influential Davidson Clan.

Constructed around the middle of the 16th century, the castle is believed to have been built in an area previously occupied by a Norse stronghold. It was originally held by the Tulloch family but would pass under the control of the Innes Clan in 1526 and then the Bain family 16 years later.

It would be the Bain family who would construct the modern castle at Tulloch after they received a charter for the lands in 1542. The family would then retain control of the structure for over 200 years until it was sold to Henry Davidson in 1762, the cousin of the previous holder. Davidson would eventually pass the castle to his younger brother, Duncan Davidson, in 1781. Duncan would serve as an MP for Cromatyshire during this time and would cement his family’s association with the castle through his influence over the area.

The Davidsons would hold the traditional stronghold until the beginning of the 20th century as it survived a fire and was then extended in size during their ownership. During the subsequent years, the building would have a number of different owners including Dingwall Academy – who used the building as housing for their students. The lands and houses built within the castle grounds would eventually be sold off during the 1990s and it has been used as a luxury hotel ever since.

Tulloch Castle is also said to be haunted by a ‘Green Lady’ and other ghosts who roam within its walls. This claim was investigated by Grampian Television in 2005 as they explored the castle during the show ‘Beyond Explanation’. The myth was given further publicity when a young photographer apparently took a photograph of a ‘hand’ holding a railing with an apparition floating behind it in 2008.

Take a look at our fantastic range of Scottish Clan Gifts HERE.

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Kilravock Castle, Croy – Clan Rose

Kilravock castle - clan rose

Pronounced, ‘Kilrock’, Kilravock Castle is located only a stone’s throw away from the banks of the River Nairn and is the historic home of the Scottish Rose Clan.

Now dominating the surrounding landscape with its 5-storey watchtower, the site of the castle would have humble beginnings as it was originally occupied by an ancient church built there in the aftermath of the first wave of Christianity in Scotland during the 6th century A.D.

This church would eventually be replaced by a primitive house which was constructed from a blend of stone and wood – and it is believed that the first six generations of the Rose family resided here after the land was transferred under their control at the beginning of the 13th century.

The castle that remains today would eventually be built around the middle of the 15th century after the 7th Baron of Kilravock was granted a license by the Lord of the Isles. It is believed the same architect who worked on the nearby Cawdor Castle also worked on Kilravock as the same mason’s marks can be found in the doorway of each structure.

Visited by Mary, Queen of Scots in 1562, the castle would be gradually extended over the following centuries before welcoming Bonnie Prince Charlie for 4 days in the lead up to the Battle of Culloden in 1746. Not a place to discriminate, Kilravock would welcome the enemy of the prince, the Duke of Cumberland, soon after the battle was over and would also receive a visit from Robert Burns 30 years later.

In more recent times, Kilravock would be taken over by a charitable Christian trust, before functioning as a bed and breakfast. It is now a Category A listed building and is no longer occupied by the Rose Clan.

Sadly, the castle is also now closed to visitors – although the surrounding gardens are occasionally opened to the public and contain a plethora of rare and interesting plants and trees. It is hoped that the castle will open up in the near future as a building with such a vast and interesting history deserves to be visited and learned about by all – especially members of the Rose Clan who are eager to return to their ancestral home.

Take a look at our fantastic range of Scottish Clan Gifts HERE.

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Gardyne Castle, Angus – Clan Gardyne

gardyne castle - clan gardyne

Originally constructed during the 16th century, Gardyne Castle is the traditional seat of the Gardyne Clan, located in Angus.

Built as an extension to a tower that had sat on the land since 1468, the castle was constructed in its current form 100 years later as it was extended to almost double the original size. Built by the Gardynes, the castle would not spend a lot of time under their control as it would be confiscated by the crown following a serious feud with their rivals, the Guthries.

Never to be ruled under Gardyne control again, the castle would eventually pass to the Lyells of Dysart – who would control the structure until the middle of the 20th century. During that time, they would expand the castle over the course of two spells in 1740 and 1910, with the latter work carried out under the control of the famous architect, Harold Tarbolton, bringing electricity to the medieval structure for the first time.

Today, the castle remains a private home and was renovated again at the beginning of the 21st-century to turn it into a home fit for the present day. Its beautiful gardens can still be visited by the general public at selected times throughout the year and have also recently been re-developed by the family in control of the castle to create a fantastic outdoor space that is ready to explore.

Take a look at our fantastic range of Scottish Clan Gifts HERE.

Design your own handmade Scottish Clan Plaque HERE.

Achnacarry Castle, Lochaber – Clan Cameron

achnacarry castle - clan cameron

Replacing the important Tor Castle as the seat of Clan Cameron, Achnacarry Castle is perhaps more famous as the spiritual home of the Commandos after it was commandeered by the military during the Second World War.

Originally built in 1665 by Sir Ewen ‘Dubh’ Cameron, the originally Achnacarry house would be constructed from fir-planks and is said to have resembled a great hunting lodge.

It would eventually pass to Ewen’s son, John, and eventually to his grandson, Donald after John was forced into exile following his participation in the Jacobite Uprising of 1715. Donald would be the last chief to live in the original castle as it was burned to the ground by British forces as he watched from the mountains above.

After 50 years of ruin, the castle would finally be rebuilt at the beginning of the 19th century, this time from the less combustible stone. The castle would almost be completely finished under the orders of Donald Cameron, 22nd chief, until he surprisingly abandoned the area as he separated from his wife following a disagreement about the suitability of the Highlands as a place to live. It would eventually be finished by his son, the 23rd chief, in 1837.

After this return home, Achnacarry would remain the seat of the Camerons until the present day, other than a few short years when it was handed over to other organisations. Perhaps the most famous example of this happening was during the Second World War when the castle was vacated to be used as a training location for the British Military.

During the war, it is believed as many as 25,000 men were trained at the facility from a variety of countries including England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, France, Belgium, Norway and the United States as they received their basic commando training and the castle is still affectionately known as ‘Camp Commando’ to this day.

It is now back in the hands of the Cameron Clan and has been used to host large clan gatherings such as in 2001 when it welcomed Cameron clans folk form around the world.



Alloa Tower, Alloa – Clan Erskine

alloa tower clan erskine

Know as the largest surviving keep in Scotland, the land surrounding Alloa Tower was first given to Sir Robert Erskine in 1360.

It would quickly become the traditional seat of the Erskine family and a tower would eventually be built to signify the Erskine’s dominance in the area. The tower would then take on national significance after it was the location that Mary, Queen of Scots, would reconcile with her husband, Lord Darnley. Following this visit, the Queen would raise the Erskine family to the title of Earls of Mar and the first Earl, John Erskine, would be made a regent of the young James VI upon Mary’s death.

James would visit the castle only once, although, a popular myth suggests that Mary’s son passed away at birth and the infant son of the Earl of Mar would go on to become James VI.

Whatever the case, the family would continue to be involved in national affairs and the 6th Earl of Mar, ‘Bobbing John’, would lead the Jacobite forces during the 1715 rising as the family maintained a close connection to the Stewarts. Despite this supposed loyalty, however, John earned his nickname as he became adept at switching between the two sides during the rising and was viewed more as a politician than a general.

After the rising, the castle’s history would become somewhat less exciting, although a fire id cause damage to an extension of the castle in 1800 which led to the destruction of many important artefacts, including a portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots. The tower would then start to decay before being refurbished in the mid-20th century and is now under the control of the National Trust for Scotland