In today’s Blog we visit the area of Rosehearty inside Aberdeenshire. Our journey took us to a fascinating castle with many beautiful decorative features that are worth exploring here; join us as we wander the home of the Forbes of Pitsligo for over three centuries who enjoyed a settled life until the vengeful aftermath of the Jacobite Rebellion.

The history here starts in 1424 when the Fraser family built Pitsligo castle on a site a few hundred yards inland from the beautiful Scottish coast. This was then considerably enlarged by the Forbes family in 1570. Later in the 1630s Sir Alex Forbes, who was at first resident of the castle was later to become the first Lord Pitsligo and he dramatically expanded the existing settlement of Rosehearty. His main aim was to develop a large commercial fishery where sir Alex would take 20% of everything landed at his new port. He then turned his attention to the rebuild of the castle, greatly enlarging the medieval tower with ranges of buildings surrounded by a courtyard.

The 2nd lord finished his father’s work and created a luxurious residence with opulent interiors. Every window here was glazed which was of course a measure of just how much wealth the lord lavished on his new home. And at this time it became one of the finest residences in north east Scotland.

Like so many historic houses in the area, the fate of Pitsligo hung in the balance during the Jacobite uprisings in the 18th century. The last Forbes of Pitsligo, another Alexander, supported the 45 rebellion and after the Stuart defeat in the battle of Culloden, Forbes was forced to flee for his life, and he was declared a fugitive, an outlaw with a price on his head forcing him to live in caves, under bridges and finding refuge in the safe periods as a guest with friends and family.

During his time hiding, he came across government troops on plenty of different occasions but always managed to avoid capture of detection. On one occasion, he stumbled upon troops patrolling the area, and unable to hide from them anywhere, he decided to sit down on the roadside and stretch out his hand, pretending to be a beggar. Not only was this clever, but even one of the troops stopped to help him with a coin, unaware of who he was. Another event whilst he was seeking help from the local shoemaker, the workshop was surrounded by government dragoons, the shoemaker was well aware of who Alex was but his quick thinking leads him to tell Alex to pretend to be his employee and pretend he is working there. Despite his obvious lack of skill cobbling whilst the troops ransack the workshop, the ruse works, it works that well that they leave.

Still on the run, the lord of Pitsligo is hiding in the home of his son. One night whilst he is staying as a guest of Sophia Forbes Donaldson, she dreams where she sees soldiers approaching and wakes the entire household. Oddly enough, this came true, in the very early hours, soldiers arrive at the house and with no time or quick thinking Sir Alexander is hidden in a small secret room, but unfortunately is unable to stop a asthma attack. It’s down to Mrs Gordon on hearing his coughs decides to drown out the sound by her own fits of coughing managing to lead the soldiers away from the coughing lord. He later died in 1762 from natural causes and his lands are able to be declared forfeit.

The castle was then awarded to Alexander Garden who set about dismantling the castle for building materials. Sadly again the castle was ransacked by King Georges troops and the castle became nothing more than a crumbling ruin. Then in 1989 a publishing magnate Malcolm Forbes purchased the castle estate and tried to restore the fortress back to its grandeur, or at least to the point where it was no longer in danger of falling down, 6 years later the castle was passed to the Pitsligo castle trust, who are a charity group who look after the property and are developing a Jacobite museum nearby.

Though still a partial ruin, the castle has a wealth of architectural details, including a number of heraldic carvings, incorporating arms of both the Fraser and Forbes families, which can be seen over doorways in several places. On the west front of the castle is a more personal coat of arms, showing the arms of the 2nd Lord Forbes and his wife Mary Erskine, daughter of the Earl of Buchan. This was erected in 1663 to mark the completion of the 2nd Earl’s expansion of the castle.

The castle consists of the ruins of a 15th century “great tower” and an associated courtyard, which is lined with the remains of 16th century ranges of buildings. In addition is an outer court and formal approach to the west. The great tower is built slightly off square, and has walls over 3 metres thick at the base. The vaulted basement contains a single slit window to the west, with a mural stair coming down the north-west corner. In addition a second mural stair in the north-east corner comes down to an entrance lobby in the thickness of the walls which opened out into the courtyard and forms the only visible entrance to the tower house today. On first floor level is a fireplace in the western gable, and an entrance to a spiral stair in the south-east corner which led up to the upper floors.

Larger buildings lined the north side, again all vaulted. in the north-east corner was a kitchen complex next to the round tower with additional storeys above – an external stair tower led to the first floor. Heraldic panels showing the royal arms of Scotland and the date 1577, one dated 1603 with the arms of the United Kingdom. And To the west the outer court with a large gateway with the date 1656 and the initials and a motto of the 2nd Lord Pitsligo.

Many of these rooms and buildings are rubble filled with scaffolding for restoration, it’s unsightly but I’m thankful we’re able to explore here, a lot of other places would have simply closed them off. But being able to see inside these ruined decayed buildings for us is interesting to be in.

The Frasers then moved to Pittulie Castle which was built a short distance to the east, it was a late 16th century fortified house built to celebrate the marriage of Alexander Fraser and his wife Margaret Abernethy. The castle was built around a courtyard, very similar in style to Pitsligo and the ranges of buildings are around the rectangular courtyard and are 2 storeys high. On the northwest corner of is a 4 storey tower with beautiful oriel windows, the top floor of this tower would have housed the lord in a chamber. Today the castle stands in the middle of a farm field and if you watch until the end of the video we’ve captured some drone footage of the castle as it was inaccessible to access on foot.

Our visit to both of the ruins has been insightful and really interesting. It was amazing to see Pitsligo all ruinous, perhaps a little dangerous in parts but it really makes you feel like you are walking back in time once you walk through the gatehouse doors. I can just imagine all the stories and actually how it must have felt living here, the place reeks of mystery and I feel there is so much more here that went on. Overall, a fascinating explore finding all the details in the stonework and finding the history, with free parking and free entry which is always a bonus on our journey.

So we really hope you’ve enjoyed reading our visit to Pitsligo Castle and would love to encourage you to go visit for yourselves or just get out and about exploring.

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Till Next Time!