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History of Aberdeenshire
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Castles in Aberdeenshire

The Scottish region of Aberdeenshire is castle country, boasting the only Castle Trail in Scotland and in fact all of Europe. Aberdeenshire is rich in royal connections, especially the area known as Royal Deeside, the valley which was the favourite of Queen Victoria and remains the stomping grounds of the royal family today. Discovering the castles of Aberdeenshire is a thrilling experience. The dramatic history of the region, its thousands of years of conflict and settlement, have shaped the expansive countryside and cityscapes of Aberdeenshire. Each castle in Aberdeenshire has a unique history, but these histories are shared with nearby castles thanks to the relationships amongst the various clans in area stretching from the fourteenth to even the twentieth century.

Aberdeen is Scotlandís third largest city and is known as the Granite City due to the granite buildings that form many of the cityís buildings. It is a modern city with 8000 years of history, and provides easy access to explore the round-trip trail of castles in Aberdeenshire: south to Stonehaven, up round through Aboyne, Huntly and Turniff, up through Fraserburgh and down around again through Ellon and the northeast coast of Aberdeenshire to the centre of the region in Kemney.

10 miles southeast of Aberdeen, near Drumoak, sits 13th Century Drum Castle, the seat of the chief of Clan Irvine for centuries, until 1975. This National Trust property is one of the three oldest tower houses in Scotland.

South of Drum Castle is the small fishing city of Stonehaven, with a long and elaborate history stemming back to the Iron Age. The city and surrounding area are home to several castles. The 14th century Fetteresso Castle immediately west of Stonehaven belonged to the Clan Keith Earls, though it is now privately owned. Two miles south is Dunnottar Castle, a gorgeous ruined medieval fortress which receives hundreds of thousands of visitors annually despite being privately owned. Muchalls Castle, between Aberdeen and Stonehaven was built by the Clan Fraser of Muchalls overlooking the North Sea. Fifteen miles south of Stonehaven is Drumtochty Castle, a neo-gothic mansion built in 1812 on the edge of the Drumtochty Forest.

Crathes Castle near Banchory is a 16th Century harled castle built by the Burnetts of Leys and held in the family for 400 years before being handed over to the National Trust for Scotland, sitting between Stonehaven and Aboyne.

Crathes Castle, Aberdeenshire copyright Dave Souza
Crathes Castle © Dave Souza

Aboyne is a town which sits in the heart of Royal Deeside, known for its beauty, castles and royal connections and sitting midway between Aberdeen and the Cairngorms National Park. Aboyne is also home to Aboyne Castle, constructed before 1230 in the strategic location near the River Dee. The castleís ownership belongs to the Marquis of Huntly and the Gordon clan chief and is his private residence. Half a mile west of Aboyne is Kincardine Castle, a category B listed Victorian castle in Royal Deeside built in 1897 exclusively for entertaining guests. Birse Castle is a Category B listed building located east of Aboyne in the Forest of Birse and is now a self-catering accommodation. 25 miles west is Corgarff Castle, with a complicated history of being semi-demolished, rebuilt as an army base to tackle whisky smuggling, farm, and finally restored by Historic Scotland in 1961.

Balmoral Castle in Ballater is a large estate house purchased by Queen Victoriaís consort Prince Albert, and has been a favourite summer residence for the royal family every since. The estate has expanded to 65,000 acres since the castle was first built by Sir William Drummond in 1390, having passed through hands of Earls, Kings and Queens.

Ten miles west of the royal residence of Balmoral Castle is Braemar Castle, home and seat of Clan Farquharson. Also nearby is Knock Castle, a ruined tower house and an Historic Scotland property.

The town of Kildrummy lies 30 miles north of Balmoral, and is home to Kildrummy Castle. Though a ruined castle, it is one of the most extensive castles of the 12th century to survive, was seat of the Earls of Mar, then Clan Elphinstone and Clan Erskine before being abandoned until becoming a Historic Scotland property in the twentieth century. Also owned by Historic Scotland is Glenbuchat Castle, eight miles from Kildrummy, and although roofless is in excellent condition. Leslie Castle built outside of the village of the same name was built in the 14th Century and in 1995 a Clan Leslie gathering was organised at the castle.

The town of Huntly is 13 miles from Leslie and is the former seat of Clan Gordon. The town is an ideal centre for touring Strathbogie Castle as well as the Glendronach Distillery, Leith Hall and the medieval church of St Marys at Auchindoir. Huntly (Strathbogie) Castle is a ruined castle and home to Clan Gordon, though it was burnt down in 1453 by the Earl of Moray, rebuilt by Earl of Huntly and was owned by Clan Gordon until becoming an Historic Scotland property in 1923. Bognie Castle north of Huntly is a ruined castle built in the 17th century, some say by Clan Morrison. Clan Barclay re-built the current structure of Towie Barclay Castle, north of Huntly and 4.5 miles south-east of Turriff, which was originally gifted by Malcolm III of Scotland in the 11th century.

Turriff is a bustling farming town 45 miles northwest of Aberdeen, and home to Craigston Castle, a historic home of the Clan Urquhart, built in the early 17th century. Artefacts from the clan can still be found here. Nine miles south of Turriff is Fyvie Castle, a grand castle which dates back to the 13th century. American industrialist Alexander Leith bought the castle in 1885, and his family sold it to the National Trust for Scotland in 1984.

Castle Fraser, Aberdeenshire copyright Karora
Castle Fraser © Karora

The land where nearby Delgatie Castle is located has had a castle on the property since 1030. Mary Queen of Scots was a guest in 1562, and the current Delgatie Castle was rebuilt in 1570. North of Turriff lies Brucklay Castle, a sixteenth century castle in Buchan associated with Clan Irvine, and is today a ruin.

The northern coast of Aberdeenshire lies 20 miles north of Turriff, overlooking the Moray Firth. Nine miles west of the coastal town of Banff is the Findlater Castle, first mentioned in 1246, held by Vikings and rebuilt in the 14th century. Pitsligo Castle is a ruined castle half a mile east of Rosehearty, which sits just 5 miles west of Fraserbugh, the northernmost city of Aberdeenshire and home to Cairnbulg Castle. Originally known as Philorth Castle, Cairnbulg was built in the 1300s and rebuilt by Clan Fraser in 1380, and is now privately owned.

Moving 25 miles south along the coast, New Slains Castle is a stunning ruined castle standing perched atop tall, sea-facing cliffs. The castle has been rebuilt several times, lastly in 1837, and it is said that after a visit to Slains Castle, Bram Stoker may have been inspired to write Dracula.

Eleven miles southwest is the town of Ellon, where Esselmont Castle was built in the 14th century. Like many other castles, it was burnt, re-built and destroyed, and Esselmont has not been occupied since 1625.

Five miles south of Ellon is the coastal town of Newburgh, near to which Knockhall Castle was built by Lord Sinclair in 1565. Knockhall was purchased by Clan Udny in 1634 until it burnt down in 1734 and they relocated to their other property Udny Castle.

Ten miles inland is the Historic Scotland property, Tolquhon Castle, built by William Forbes in 1584 to replace an earlier towerhouse known as Prestonís Tower which is still partially intact inside the property.

Moving further south east, Castle Fraser is an elaborate castle and one of the grandest of the Castles of Mar and sits in Kemnay, 15 miles northeast of Aberdeen. Castle Fraser has 300 acres of landscaped grounds and was owned by Clan Fraser until 1921 when the last male heir died childless and it was gifted to the National Trust for Scotland in 1976. Nearby Fetternear House is a ruined medieval palace, home of Bishop of Aberdeen, built in 14th century. 16 miles southwest of Fetternear House is Craigievar Castle, 6 miles south of Alford and 27 miles from Aberdeen. Completed in 1626, the seven-storey Craigievar Castle is a fairytale-like pinkish harled castle in the foothills of the Grampian Mountains and was the seat of Clan Sempill, now property of the National Trust for Scotland.

Aberdeenshire castles

Bullet Point Aboyne Castle
Bullet Point Balmoral Castle
Bullet Point Birse Castle
Bullet Point Bognie Castle
Bullet Point Braemar Castle
Bullet Point Brucklay Castle
Bullet Point Cairnbulg Castle
Bullet Point Corgarff Castle
Bullet Point Craigievar Castle
Bullet Point Craigston Castle
Bullet Point Crathes Castle
Bullet Point Delgatie Castle
Bullet Point Drum Castle
Bullet Point Drumtochty Castle
Bullet Point Dunnottar Castle
Bullet Point Esselmont Castle
Bullet Point Fetteresso Castle
Bullet Point Fetternear House
Bullet Point Findlater Castle
Bullet Point Castle Fraser
Bullet Point Fyvie Castle
Bullet Point Glenbuchat Castle
Bullet Point Kildrummy Castle
Bullet Point Kincardine Castle
Bullet Point Knockhall Castle
Bullet Point Muchalls Castle
Bullet Point New Slains Castle
Bullet Point Pitsligo Castle
Bullet Point Strathbogie Castle
Bullet Point Tolquhon Castle
Bullet Point Towie Barclay Castle
Bullet Point Udny Castle

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