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Archaeology Notes

Event ID 666084

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Archaeology Notes


NJ20NE 1.00 25452 08669

NJ20NE 1.01 2544 0862 building; pond

(NJ 2544 0865) Corgarff Castle (NR)

OS 6" map (1903)

(Attributed to the Fourth Period, 1542-1700). Corgarff Castle has originally been a simple oblong tower, to which various additions have been made within comparatively recent times, giving it an imposing and strongly fortified aspect. The castle stands on a height amongst the uplands of the head streams of the river Don, an inaccessible and dreary country. Tradition states that it was built by one of the Earls of Mar as a hunting-seat. It afterwards belonged to the Forbeses, and was destroyed in 1581 during their feuds with the Gordons. Indeed, this castle disputes with Towie (NJ41SW 3) the unenviable distinction of having been the scene of Adam Gordon of Auchendoun's horrid tragedy.

The original tower probably belongs to the early part of the 16th century but was rebuilt after its destruction in 1581. It is 35ft (10.7m) long by 24ft (7.3m) wide with walls about 6ft (1.8m) thick. The basement is vaulted and is divided into two apartments or cellars. The entrance door seems to have been on the first floor, in the same position as the present one. It is now approached by an open stone staircase and a porch, but no doubt originally the access was by a ladder. The original staircase to the upper floors was in the SE angle, above which a gabled turret is still carried up; a square wooden staircase has now been substituted. The hall was no doubt on the first floor, with bedrooms above, but the interior is now cut up into small houses for agricultural labourers. Two solitary corbels remain to indicate where the parapet walk originally was.

In 1746 the Government purchased the castle from Forbes of Skellater, and kept 15 to 20 men stationed in it. This would form an outpost from Mar Castle (Braemar Castle: NO19SE 4), one of the principal garrisons for keeping the Highlanders in order. At the above date extensive alterations were made upon it to suit it for its purpose. A wing of one storey was added at each end, probably as officer's quarters, while the upper floors of the keep were converted into barracks for the troops. An enclosing wall was also at the same time run round the whole, provided with salients for the defence of the flanks, and all well loop-holed, in the same manner as the enclosing wall at Mar Castle. This is perhaps the most interesting point about this lonely castle, which thus, along with a few others, brings the history of fortified houses in Scotland down to so recent a date as the middle of the last century.

Till 1831 the castle still contained a garrison of two officers and fifty men but these were no longer required to put down rebellion; they were merely employed to support the civil authorities in the suppression of smuggling.

D MacGibbon and T Ross 1887-92.

The nucleus of the castle is a plain rubble-built tower of the 16th century, measuring 35ft 11ins E-W by 24ft 9ins N-S. This tower was remodelled after the '45 when wings were appended to each gable wall and the whole surrounded by a loop-holed curtain wall, rectangular on plan with a salient on all four faces.

W D Simpson 1927.

Corgarff Castle, generally as described and planned by Simpson.

Now undergoing restoration by the MoW.

Visited by OS (RL) 7 December 1966.

Corgarff stands on a height near the head of Strathdon, on the Lecht road - so frequently blocked by snow in winter - that leads to Scotland's highest village, Tomintoull. Corgarff is a tall tower, four storeys high, oblong in plan, with its original stair case carried a storey higher to provide a cap-house on the SE angle. It replaced the structure, destroyed in 1581, which had been a hunting-lodge for the earls of Mar and in which the tragic events recounted in the well-known ballad 'Edom o' Gordon' are said to have occurred. Annexed by the Crown in 1435, the lands were given by James IV to the Elphinstones, who were probably the builders of the present tower. The Mars recovered it in 1626, but after the family disaster resulting from the rising of 1715, it passed to the Forbes family.

Corgarff was burnt by the Jacobites in 1689 to deny it to the government troops, and again in 1716 to punish Mar. The Jacobites, nevertheless, repossessed it during the '45. The government then took over Corgarff and turned it into a garrison outpost to help subdue the highlanders. Extended alterations were made to it, a single-storey wing being added to house the service offices. An enclosing oblong wall, with salients projecting from each face and well provided with loopholes, was also added. It is now in State care.

M Lindsay 1994.

The castle now houses an effective evocation (by Historic Scotland) of Hanoverian barrack-life.

I A G Shepherd 1994.

This castle is situated in an area of rough grazing at an altitude of 427m OD on a SE-facing shelf at the foot of Carn Oighreag near the valley floor where the Cock Burn joins the Don.

NMRS, MS/712/41.

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