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Balvenie Castle

Castle (Medieval)

Site Name Balvenie Castle

Classification Castle (Medieval)

Alternative Name(s) Mortlach

Canmore ID 16851

Site Number NJ34SW 1

NGR NJ 3260 4087

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

Permalink http://canmore.org.uk/site/16851

Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
© Copyright and database right 2017.

Digital Images

Administrative Areas

  • Council Moray
  • Parish Mortlach
  • Former Region Grampian
  • Former District Moray
  • Former County Banffshire

Archaeology Notes

NJ34SW 1 3260 4087

(NJ 3260 4087) Balvenie Castle (NR)

OS 6" map, 1959.

The ruined castle of Balvenie is of high architectural merit. It shows work of the 13th-16th centuries. Of exceptional interest is the wide flat-bottomed ditch which enclosed the castle on three sides.

For full description see MoW offical guide (J S Richardson and M E B Simpson)

J S Richardson and M E B Simpson 1961; Aberdeen Uni Studies 1926.

Balvenie Castle, is as described.

Revised at 1:2500.

Visited by OS (RL) 20 January 1967.

A watching brief and limited excavation accompanied alterations to the ground level of the castle's S range wherein were discovered a large kiln, thought to be associated with a brewing vat, and a possible disturbed cobbled floor.

At the W end of the range were several pits, all evidently pre-dating the adjacent, possibly 15th century buildings. One of the pits, which may have been clay-lined, contained many animal bones, charcoal, burnt clay and ash, but no artefacts.

Sponsor: HBM.

J Lewis 1990e.

The installation of a power supply into the castle's NE round tower was preceded by a watching brief during trenching along an existing cable track, parallel with the N curtain wall; and by the archaeological excavation of trenches into the tower and across its floor at ground level. Little of archaeological interest was uncovered within any of these trenches which were 0.30m wide and 0.30m to 0.50m deep. Work undertaken by Scotia Archaeology Ltd.

Sponsor: Historic Scotland.

R Murdoch 1993.

Air photographs: AAS/97/06/G12/11 and AAS/97/12/CT.

NMRS, MS/712/29.

The excavation archive generated by the 1990 and the 1993 archaeological investigations has been catalogued.

Historic Scotland Archive Project.

Activities

Publication Account (1986)

This is probably the Comyn castle of Mortlach which was already in existence by 1304. Commanding the mouths of Glen Rinnes and Glen Fiddich, the passes to Huntly, Keith and Cullen and the route to Elgin, it is perched on a promontory high above the River Fiddich.

Much of the form of the early castle of enclosure (45.7m by 39.6m) can still be seen. The great quadrangular curtain wall (2.1m thick and from 7.6m to 10.7m tall) still stands grey and gritty, although the projecting angle towers have gone. The immense, vertically sided ditch still lies on the south and west. The hall and great chamber would have been on the west side of the courtyard. In the 15th century the kitchen was against the south wall, and its great flue can still be traced, as can the brew cauldron-setting in the brew house.

The early 16th century saw the building of a range of service chambers against the inside of the east wall; the northern half of this range was rebuilt between 1547 and 1557 by John Stewart the fourth earl of Atholl. The three building periods can be seen clearly on the east entrance front. The Atholl building with large round tower and moulded windows is rather more of a domestic structure. The three armorial panels are the royal arms, Atholl's own arms and those of his wife Lady Elizabeth Gordon. The family motto is displayed on a long scroll beneath the earl's arms: 'forth fortune and fillthy coffers'. The interior face of the Atholl building is no less imposing, with two tall stair drums, the northern being neatly corbelled out to the square, terminating in a crowstepped gable. These gave access to the new principal apartments, the hall and the outer and inner chambers (this last in the great corner tower, as at Huntly, no. 27).

Information from ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: Grampian’, (1986).

Watching Brief (1990)

A watching brief and limited excavation accompanied alterations to the ground level of the castle's S range wherein were discovered a large kiln, thought to be associated with a brewing vat, and a possible disturbed cobbled floor.

At the W end of the range were several pits, all evidently pre-dating the adjacent, possibly 15th century buildings. One of the pits, which may have been clay-lined, contained many animal bones, charcoal, burnt clay and ash, but no artefacts.

Sponsor: HBM.

J Lewis 1990e.

Watching Brief (1993)

The installation of a power supply into the castle's NE round tower was preceded by a watching brief during trenching along an existing cable track, parallel with the N curtain wall; and by the archaeological excavation of trenches into the tower and across its floor at ground level. Little of archaeological interest was uncovered within any of these trenches which were 0.30m wide and 0.30m to 0.50m deep. Work undertaken by Scotia Archaeology Ltd.

Sponsor: Historic Scotland.

R Murdoch 1993.

Publication Account (1996)

This is probably the Comyn castle of Mortlach which was already 111 existence by 1304. Commanding the mouths of Glen Rinnes and Glen Fiddich, the passes to Huntly, Keith and Cullen and the route to Elgin, it is perched on a promontory high above the River Fiddich. Much of the form of the early castle of enclosure (45.7m by 39.6m) can still be seen. The great quadrangular curtain wall (2.1m thick and from 7.6m to 10.7m tall) still stands grey and gritty, although the projecting angle towers have gone. The immense, vertically sided ditch still lies on the south and west. The hall and great chamber would have been on the west side of the courtyard. In the 15th century the kitchen was against the south wall, and its great flue can still be traced, as can the brew cauldron-setting in the brew house.

The early 16th century saw the building of a range of service chambers against the inside of the east wall; the northern half of this range was rebuilt between 1547 and 1557 by John Stewart the fourth earl of Atholl. The three building periods can be seen clearly on the east entrance front. The Atholl building with large round tower and moulded windows is more of a domestic structure, very similar in layout to the great palace of Huntly (no. 27). The three armorial panels are the royal arms, Atholl's own arms and those of his wife Lady Elizabeth Gordon. The family motto is displayed on a long scroll beneath the earl's arms: 'forth fortune and fill thy coffers'. The interior face of the Atholl building is no less imposing, with two tall stair drums, the northern being neatly corbelled out to the square, perminating in a crow stepped gable. These gave access to the new principal apartments, the hall and the outer and inner chambers (this last in the great private corner tower, as at Huntly, no. 27).

Information from ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: Aberdeen and North-East Scotland’, (1996).

Watching Brief (20 March 2014)

A watching brief was undertaken during the relocation of an information panel situated on the south side of the bend in the access path leading to the castle. There were no finds or features of archaeological significance.

Information from OASIS ID: kirkdale1-196086 (P Fox) 2014

Audits (September 2014)

NJ 3260 4087 This collection was assessed in August–September 2014; it is displayed on wooden planks at ground floor level to the N of a staircase tower. Most of the examples are relatively ordinary, but there are also a few stones which relate to features that are still in situ. These include a section of curved corbelling which relates to the curved corbelling under

the windows. Two sections of cornice also remain, and one very ornate stone which is almost carved in the round. The soot staining, and the complex mouldings, suggest a fireplace location, eg from the Atholl Lodging.

This and other inventories of carved stones at Historic Scotland’s properties in care are held by Historic Scotland’s Collections Unit. For further information please contact hs.collections@scotland.gsi.gov.uk.

Mary Márkus – Archetype

(Source: DES)

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