Our explore takes us back in time to 1250, when this Scottish castle was at the height of its magnificence and beauty it was named as an imposing castle ruin with a long and turbulent history. Those histories include a siege and counter siege, a possible forced marriage and last but not least, treachery and treason, what more could you want. So join us as we delve deeper into its historical drama and walk towards these beautiful ruins and let me share with you some of the history.
Kildrummy Castle was once the imposing powerbase of the earls of mar. Its story begins with William, who was the earl of Mar and chamberlain of Scotland under Alexander the 2nd. He built the castle sometime around 1250, making the castle nearly 800 years old. The castle was intended to combine the Mars Empire’s hold over north-eastern Scotland and was located where it could command important routes across the region, and this castle may have indeed replaced an earlier castle ruin built on a Motte to the north east.
Edward the first of England who is also known as the hammer of the Scots is believed to have had paid at least two visits to the castle, not empty handed, but armed with his masons, both in 1296 and 1303, both times he came as a guest on his way to the south, but armed his team to construct a better and more powerful gatehouse for the castle. The result of this is very similar to the gatehouse that Edward built over in Wales at Harlech castle.
Kildrummy’s history has numerous sieges and attacks all throughout, but only 8 where recorded, the first was in September of 1306 was after Robert the Bruce and a handful of his lieutenants infiltrated the castle, whilst hiding in a wagon that was carrying wood back to the castle. It was only when the driver and the guard began to unload the wood to take into the storehouse that Bruce and his army snuck out the wagon and to the main hall. They succeeded to stealthily kill several of the guards in the main hall before they opened the front gate to the rest of the Scottish warriors, it was then that the Scots had overwhelmed the English garrison and Bruce ordered his men to demolish and burn down the castle after they ransacked the place. This was something Bruce always had in mind for his strategy of capturing and neutralizing other English castles.
Initially the new Scottish King sent his Queen, daughter and brother to take refuge in Kildrummy Castle but – when faced with the advance of an English army under the Prince of Wales and the Earl of Pembroke – they fled further north. Following the capture during the siege, Sir Neil Bruce, who was Roberts brother was taken to Berwick where he was hung, drawn and beheaded and Bruce’s wife Queen Elizabeth along with her daughter Marjorie were captured nearby and taken to London as prisoners where they were harshly treated and the 12 year old daughter was locked in a cage, forbidden to speak to anyone in the towers Barbican.
It was then that the castle was unusually dismantled by the English to prevent further use by the Scots – this became a tactic adopted by the Bruce soon after, but it didn’t prevent the castle being repaired or Kildrummy attacked again. The castle was besieged again in 1335, 1363 and 1404.
A winter wedding in 1404 was held for Isobel, the countess of Mar and Alexander Stewart, its been said that historians once though Alexander forced Isobel into marriage, but newer studies suggest that Isobel herself arranged the alliance. They had their wedding at the front of the castle gates and on this day Alexander handed the keys to Kildrummy to her, formally giving her back everything she had settled on him and then whilst holding her keys, she publicly chose him as her husband. Other stories surfaced that Stewart kidnapped and married the countess to gain control of the earldom. And amongst his death in 1435 the castle was claimed by King Robert the 3rd who is said to have commissioned and strengthen the gatehouse against further artillery, unfortunately in 1442 the castle was attacked again by Robert Erskine who was claiming it from the crown.
In 1507 Kildrummy was appointed to Lord Elphinstone, where the Elphinstone’s remodelled the entire interior of the castle, including the building of the tower house which bears their name. In 1531 though, the castle was burned by troublemaker John of Lenturk and a few years later the Erskine’s finally came into their inheritance and were granted the castle and title. In 1654 Cromwell’s army robbed and ruined the castle and in 1690 Jacobite troops burnt the castle before retreating and the castle was abandoned until 1951 where it passed into state care and is now run by Historic Environment Scotland.
We’re now standing inside what was once one of the tallest and most architecturally sophisticated buildings in Scotland, The snow tower had influences from France, similar in the towers design at the Chateau de Coucy, the continental ideas may have indeed been brought over to Scotland as influenced by Marie de Coucy, who married Alexander the second in 1239. Built in the 13th century, it had seven storeys of spacious vaulted chambers, and probably served as the main accommodation for the lord and his family. In 1724 a survey was taken on the site and it was noted that in the bottom of the tower there was a draw well, where they drew water to the top through a round hole in the middle of every vault, unfortunately the tower collapsed later in 1805, and has been left ruinous ever since. It’s incredible to look around and imagine a well system through this seven story tower, very unique for its age and just immense to imagine how it would have stood.
Centuries of stone robbers have reduced the castle to its foundations in many places, but it once had a tall curtain wall with six round towers at the corners and gate. The Snow Tower, A later 16th century tower house was built by the Elphinstone’s to provide a more comfortable and modern residence. The courtyard itself had other buildings, necessary for the proper functioning of a large household, buildings that would include a grand great hall, a beautiful chapel and the building to many people’s hearts, the kitchen.
It was amazing to walk inside what was once the great hall, built in the mid 1200s, the great hall was really the heart of the castle, it was the place to be, a place of grand and great feasts as well as everyday business. Both servants and nobles ate together in the hall, and sadly some of the lower status servants would have slept here too but from the 1400’s onwards nobles spent most of their time wining and dining their guests in private chambers. What I love about most great halls is their similar layout, this great hall would have been next to the kitchen, for quick serving and musicians would have had a stage above here, playing music for their guests.
We stop off and look around the original bakehouse of the castle; it was built to provide much needed staples like bread and other baking items for the lord’s household. The remains here of the two circular ovens are on the right and the circular opening on the left may have housed what was once a brewing vat for making the all-important beer. This was actually a normal drink for all, but the lord and his family.
The chapel was one of the most important rooms, it’s here that the earl and his wife would hear mass and receive Holy Communion from a priest. You can visualise them standing beneath the great east window, which would have once been filled with stained glass, but I can imagine it would have been very elegant, to the left of the three windows are the remains of a vestry, which was a private room for the priest and the floor below these floors may have once been used as a family burial vault.
One of the more interesting rooms and buildings is inside the warden’s tower. This tower is the most complete of all the towers here, and it had four floors. At the base and where we are standing was a prison where the local troublemakers would await trial. Some gruesome discoveries here about possible sentences included mutilation of the ears, tongue and lips and even gouging out of the eyes and execution, and unlike many of the other medieval prisons, those that were held here had a toilet. Above this stood a guardroom with arrow slits, the tower projects fully from its corner to command the steep gorge next to it. It’s traditional name of the Wardens tower indicates it was the residence of the castles warden, and more than likely some of the other household servants too. From the room just above the prison, the guard would watch over the prisoners and work the portcullis over the castles back entrance. It’s two top floors have three sets of decorated double windows, rather than typical arrow slits, these windows were designed for light to shine through, not for defensive tactics suggesting that the interior of the two top floors of the wardens tower were purely for accommodation.
Kildrummy is one of the few partially surviving examples of the shield-shaped design, and its ruins indicate it was one of the largest ever built in Scotland. Looking out onto a great ravine, the Castle is an amazing opportunity to take in stunning views while exploring the site of era-defining battles.
Some of the smaller bits that we think is surely important when visiting here is that the ruins of Kildrummy are very picturesque and atmospheric, so pack that camera with you. The castle is well sign posted and has plenty of parking spaces just off the road where the ticket offices are located, along with a visitor centre, toilets and disabled toilets, a shop and a handy area for you to refill those water bottles. The castle is all at ground level, apart from if you want to step inside and down some of the towers and the courtyard is gravelled, so we would say that the castle is also disabled friendly, making it easy for everyone to come and enjoy. Another thing worth noting is that there is a small gentle walk to the castle itself, but it gives you plenty of time to see the approach and just take yourself back in time and imagine knights on their horses galloping up this path past you to get to the gates.
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Till Next Time!