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Scotcrest Blog

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.

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

Design your own handmade Scottish Clan Plaque HERE.

MacLellan’s Castle, Kirkcudbright – Clan MacLellan

MacLellan's Castle - Clan MacLellan

Originally used as a convent, the site of MacLellan’s Castle would be purchased by Sir Thomas MacLellan in 1569 and turned into a stately home.

Constructed in 1449, the Convent of Greyfriars would stand on the site until its abandonment during the reformation of 1560. It is then that Sir Thomas would step in, purchasing the land for himself and demolishing the building to make way for his own home. Using stone from the previous structure, he would take almost 15 years to build the castle – which would be one of Scotland’s grandest houses upon its completion.

Built to demonstrate the power of the clan, Sir Thomas would use the castle as a way to convey his dominance over the area as he sought to grow his position within the Scottish nobility. He would do this successfully, rising to a position within the Royal Household in 1580, which he would hold until passing the MacLellan chiefship onto his son, Robert.

Following in his father’s footsteps, Robert would continue to increase the stature of the family and would be promoted to the title of Lord Kirkcudbright in the 1630s. Despite his lofty ambitions, Robert would also be no stranger to controversy, being imprisoned in his younger days for shooting a man in Kirkcudbright with whom had had a longstanding feud.

Continuing the tradition of trying to increase the family standings, Robert’s successor, the 2nd Lord, would drain the family bank account as he attempted to expand his influence into Ireland, obtaining land grants that he could not afford.

Following this mishap, the family’s stature would decrease for the first time in over a century as they then began to focus on the Castle and its surrounding area in southern Scotland. Sadly, the downward spiral would continue over the next hundred years and the castle would be removed from the care of the MacLellans in 1742. It would eventually fall under the control of Historic Environment Scotland in 1912 and it is now looked after by the organisation as they have turned it into an attraction open to the public. An unusual building, it is unique to other Scottish castles as it has no scars of war or signs of remodelling and is almost exactly the same shape as when it was originally built.

 

 

 

New Slains Castle, Aberdeenshire – Clan Hay

new slains castle - clan hay

Perched upon the edge of a steep Aberdeenshire cliff, New Slains Castle is the historic seat of Clan Hay.

Located within walking distance of the coastal village of Cruden Bay, the castle is the replacement of an older structure that had previously served as the home of the Hay family. Built in the 13th century, the original Slains Castle would stand around six miles to the southwest of its successor and would only be vacated after it was blown up by King James VI in 1594 after a feud with the Earl of Erroll.

Following this feud, the Earl of Erroll would be forced into exile for three years, before returning and making peace with the King. It would be then that he would make the decision not to rebuild his damaged home but instead to expand upon the structure of a tower house located on the site of the current castle.

Turning New Slains Castle into his impressive home, the Earl would add a range of buildings and a courtyard – creating a fully functioning stately home. It would be expanded again in 1644 and again in 1836 – as the facade was changed to include a granite facing as it began to look more European, reflecting the styles of the time.

Sadly, the Hay family would eventually fall into debt and the castle would have to be sold by the 20th Earl of Erroll in 1916. The new owner would let the castle fall into disrepair and in 1925, the roof would be removed and any valuable stone would be stripped and reused in other construction projects.

Sadly, this is the state that the castle remains in today – abandoned and stripped of its former glory. In fact, so haunting is the building left behind, it served as the inspiration for the 1897 gothic horror novel, Dracula. It appears that the castle will stay in this state for the foreseeable future as any plans to restore it to its former glory have been scuppered before making it past the drawing board. Hopefully, the castle will eventually find a buyer who will be willing to change its fortunes, but until then, it will remain a shell of its former self.

Castle Stalker, Loch Laich – Clan Stewart of Appin

castle stalker - clan stewart of appin

Famous for its appearance in the film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Castle Stalker is the traditional clan seat of the Stewarts of Appin.

Constructed in the 14th century, the castle was originally the home of Clan MacDougall. Beginning as a small fort, the family would live here while they held the position of Lords of Lorn before losing the title and castle to the Stewarts in 1388.

It is believed that the Stewarts would then build the present castle around the middle of the 15th century and they would remain its owners until the 1620s when their relative, King James IV, would lose the castle to the Campbells after a drunken bet.

Moving between the Campbells and the Stewarts over the next few hundred years, Castle Stalker would finally be abandoned in 1840 after losing its roof. It would then be partially restored in 1908 after falling under the control of  Charles Stewart of Achara, who would carry out some basic conservation work – before it was fully restored in the 1960s. It remains under private ownership but is open to the public during the summer and is classified as an inhabited island that ‘has no usual residents’.

Recognisable from its appearances within popular culture, the castle has been used as a location in the films, Highlander: Endgame and Monty Python and the Holy Grail – the latter of which remains an iconic film today.

 

 

 

Airthrey Castle, Stirling – Clan Haldane

Airthrey Castle - Clan Haldane

Once home to the historic Scottish Haldane Clan, Airthrey Castle now sits within the grounds of the illustrious Stirling University.

Occupied by a series of clans, the land on which the castle nows sits would finally fall under the ownership of the Haldanes in 1759. It would first be purchased by Captain Robert Haldane, an extremely wealthy man who often sat in Parliament. Often arrogant, he would completely transform the area as he would construct a new road, gating it off from the main public route. He would be replaced by his great-nephew, Robert Haldane, in 1768 – who would build the castle we know today.

Costing almost £4000, the mansion would also include 363 acres of landscaped grounds. Unfortunately though, after committing so much money and time to the project, Haldane would instead turn to missionary work and, after attempting to spend a small fortune on a mission to India, he would build numerous churches and seminaries in Scotland, selling the property to the Abercromby family in 1798.

Following the sale, Sir Robert Abercromby would expand the castle further, discovering an ancient whale’s skeleton as he excavated the grounds. He would gift the skeleton to the Natural History Museum at the University of Edinburgh (where it would remain for many years) before the renovated castle would host Queen Victoria during her stay in Scotland in 1842.

Bought by Donald Graham in 1889, the castle would be further extended before it served as a maternity hospital during World War II. It currently sits within the grounds of Stirling University and, although it recently suffered a fire, it has been restored by the University who are proud to have it under their possession.

 

 

 

 

Ferniehirst Castle, Roxburghshire – Clan Kerr

ferniehirst castle

Located between the English border and the Scottish town of Jedburgh, Ferniehirst Castle is the traditional home of the Kerr family.

Given to the Kerrs in 1357, the land on which Ferniehirst Castle stands would first house a structure in 1470, as a tower was constructed by Thomas of Smailholm among a forest of great oak trees. Smailholm would quickly be given the title of Baron of Ferniehirst and his son and heir, Andrew, would expand the castle in 1490, adding a defensive staircase, specifically designed to favour a swordsman fighting with his left hand.

This defensive addition would soon be tested in 1523, as the castle was besieged by Lord Thomas Dacre, eventually succumbing to the Lord after hours of hand to hand fighting. It would be retaken by the Scots in 1549 as a joint Scottish and French force regained control of the castle and executed 130 English soldiers who were based in the region.

Thereafter, the Kerr family would rise to prominence as the castle was used by Mary, Queen of Scots, during her final years as the Scottish monarch. Mary would place herself under the personal protection of Sir Thomas Kerr of Ferniehirst in 1565 and would stay in a house rented to her by Sir Thomas a year later. After her forced abdication in 1567, Kerr would break Mary free from imprisonment at Loch Leven and he would remain a supporter of her as she struggled to regain the throne in the subsequent years. However, after her death in 1586, Ferniehirst would come under attack by her son, James VI, as revenge for a previous falling out over the death of Regent Lennox in 1571. James would order the destruction of all of Sir Thomas’ properties but, thankfully, the structure would be passed to Sir Andrew Kerr, preventing an attack from taking place as the castle was saved.

With the castle located so close to the border with England, it would then be reinforced amid fears of an uprising. During this time, the doors were strengthened and gun holes were placed strategically around the building for defence. It would be further altered in 1633 as part of the estate was converted into a chapel before a series of uneventful years culminated with the death of William, 3rd Marquis of Lothian, in 1767, the last Kerr to live at the castle until 1976.

Remaining empty during the rest of the 18th century, Ferniehirst would eventually be repaired in 1830 and was used as a youth hostel throughout the majority of the 1900s, other than during the Second World War, when it was used requisitioned by the army. Today, the property is back in the hands of the Kerrs but can be rented out as holiday accommodation – making a it stunning place to spend a holiday in Scotland. It is also open to the public during July and is registered as a category A listed building under the control of Lord Ralph Kerr.

 

 

Hume Castle, Berwickshire – Clan Home

hume castle - clan home

Held by the powerful Home family, a dominant clan from the Scottish borderlands, Hume Castle is a heavily fortified structure that has often housed the Wardens of the Eastern March.

Originally acquired by the Home family in the early 13th century, the lands on which the castle was built would give the family their name – as they changed from their original surname of ‘Greenlaw’. The Homes would subsequently build the first stone structure on the site as they tried to assert their dominance in the area and would eventually rise to prominence over the next 100 years as the castle would be used as a place to stay by the reigning monarch, James II.

Hume would then be modernised during the 1540s as the French and Scottish militaries built ramparts and artillery platforms within the castle. This upgrade was needed due to the castle’s proximity to the English border and the renovation’s impact on the structure’s defence would quickly be tested as an invading English army attacked the building in 1547. Unfortunately for the Home Clan, the castle would be captured by the Duke of Somerset and it was with such ease that the English captured the castle, they would spend a further £700 strengthening its walls until ironically, it would be recaptured by the Scots.

In truth, while the castle was likely a very well defended structure, it would always be difficult for its occupants to avoid capture due to its proximity to England. This would prove to be the case again in 1569 as it was held by the English for three years and would ultimately suffer its final demise in 1651 as the forces of Oliver Cromwell would bombard and destroy the structure as they advanced into Scotland.

After this horrific event, the castle would remain largely abandoned until the end of the 18th century, when it was purchased by the 3rd Lord Marchmont, a member of the Hume family. Marchmont would buy the ruins of the former structure in 1770 and would erect an outer shell – the walls of which can be seen to this day.

The modern castle’s only use in military action would be as a lookout and beacon during the Napoleonic Wars of the early 18th century. Interestingly, despite playing such a minor role, the castle caused a substantial panic known as the ‘great alarm’ when the duty watch sergeant saw a distant fire and mistook it for a beacon warning of an impending French invasion. 3000 men were quickly sent to lead the defence but, upon learning it was a false alarm, they would instead have a dinner party.

After this false alarm, the Hume Castle would become little more than a monument and was sold to the Department of Agriculture for Scotland in 1929. It was partially restored by the Berwickshire Civic Society in 1985 and would eventually fall back into the hands of the Hume clan in 2006 when it was bought by the Hume Castle Preservation Trust.

Taymouth Castle, Kenmore – Clan Campbell

Built during the 19th century, Taymouth Castle is a grand mansion that is closely associated with the historic Clan Campbell.

Originally known as Balloch Castle, the property would replace an older structure that had sat on the site until it was demolished in 1799.

Originally controlled by the Campbells of Glenorchy, the first castle would be built in the area during the 16th century and would originally be used as a tower house. Extended over the years, It would go on to serve as the Clan Seat of the Campbells as they used it as a base to oversee their vast lands across Scotland. It would serve as the spot where the long-running feud between the Campbells and the Gregors would boil over as Sir Colin Campbell would behead his Gregor counterpart at the castle in the presence of the Earl of Atholl. This event would lead to a bitter and bloody war between the two clans that would continue until an agreement was reached between them in the winter of 1570.

Following in Sir Colin’s footsteps, his namesake, Sir Colin Campbell, would usher in a more peaceful period for the castle, repairing and extending the estates. It would then remain in the same state, other than a few changes to the grounds before it was eventually demolished at the turn of the 19th century by the 1st Marquess of Breadalbane.

It is then that the current Taymouth Castle would be constructed, and it is said that the original castle was destroyed as the Marquess wanted to build a grand structure to overshadow the Duke of Argyll’s Castle in Inveraray. Whether he achieved this or not is up for debate but it is of no dispute that the castle he would build would be one of Scotland’s most impressive and certainly at least a match for Inveraray.

Taymouth Castle would receive a visit from Queen Victoria in 1842 but would then become a hotel as the grounds were converted into a golf course. It would later be used during World War Two as a hospital for Polish Troops before being used as a school for the children of American families until the late 1970s.

In more recent years, the building has been used as a location in the filming of the 1997 film, Mrs Brown, around the same time it was placed on the market for £5.5 million. It would eventually be sold for over double the asking price as a consortium purchased the estate for £12 million with plans to convert it into a ‘six star’ hotel and resort. While some progress has been made towards this goal, the castle is currently in a state of limbo as the ownership of the estate is unclear. It is hopeful that this issue can be resolved soon and the building can continue to be restored but, until it is, the future of Taymoth remains murky.