Balmoral Castle was known in the 15th century as Bouchmorale – Gaelic for ‘majestic dwelling’. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert bought it in 1853 and rebuilt it as a castle mansion in Scottish Baronial style. It is still used by the Royal Family as a summer residence. Crathie Church, just to the east, was built in 1895 and is the Royal Family’s place of worship when at Balmoral. The church contains many mementoes of Queen Victoria and the Royal Family.
Of all the Highland Gatherings, that held at Braemar in September each year with traditional music, dancing, and games culminating in the tossing of the caber is possibly the most famous, perhaps because it is attended by the Royal Family. Nearby, Braemar Castle overlooks the River Dee.
With its profusion of turrets and conical roofs, Craigievar is the perfect example of a Scottish Baronial building. It is a tower-house, six storeys high and its internal decoration has changed as little as its exterior since 1626 when the building was finished. All the rooms are decorated in the Renaissance manner and the ceiling of the Great Hall is particularly magnificent.
Before World War II, Cruden Bay was notable for its huge hotel and its championship golf course. The golf course remains. The pipeline from the Forties North Sea oil field comes ashore here. The 1697 Bishop’s Bridge spans Cruden Water and the ruins of Slains Castle are ‘built upon the margin of the sea, so that the walls of one of the towers seem only a continuation of a perpendicular rock, the foot of which is beaten by the waves’. So wrote Dr Johnson, who was much impressed by the castle, which was given by Robert the Bruce to the Earl of Errol in the early 14th century. Dr Johnson was equally impressed by the Buller’s of Buchan, a vast amphitheatre, gouged out by the sea, ‘which no man can see with indifference who has either sense of danger or delight in rarity’.
A trim, embayed town built in the mid-16th century by Alexander Fraser, Laird of Philorth, Fraserburgh is both a port, landing mostly white fish since the decline of the herring, and a resort on the sandy Buchan coast. Town and harbour lie in the protection of Kinnaird Head, a promontory known to Ptolemy, and of Fraserburgh Castle which was built on the headland in 1569; only its central tower survives, adapted as a lighthouse in 1787. At the rocky foot of the castle, the Wine Tower in fact probably a watchtower -stands unchanged since its construction, probably during the 15th century.
A royal burgh, located near the confluence of the Don and the Urie, Inverurie has many features and connections of historical interest, including the Visit of Mary Queen of Scots in 1562. Brandsbutt Stone is half a mile north west of Inverurie and bears ancient inscriptions, while the Easter Aquahorthies Stone Circle is some two and a half miles to the west. Another early Christian monument in the area is the Maiden Stone, four and a half miles north west of Inverurie.
Granite from the quarries at Kemnay was used in the building of the Forth Bridge and of the Thames embankment. Castle Fraser, two and a half miles to the south west, is an impressive example of the Scottish Baronial style built between 1575 and 1636 and incorporating an earlier stronghold; an exhibition tells the story of ‘The Castles of Mar’.
The ruins of 13th-century Kildrummy Castle overlook the valley of the Don from a height of 800ft, the original choice of site obviously influenced by the ravine that guards it on two sides. Bravely defended by Sir Nigel Bruce in 1306, it survived until the Jacobite Rising of 1715, after which it was dismantled. The grounds include an attractive water garden, andthe quarry which provide the stone for the castle has been lanted with alpines and shrubs.
The 1851ft Tap o’ Noth, rising from the Clashindarroch Forest, dominates this village, set around an attractive green which serves as a market square. There is an ancient Crow Stone in a field near the church, displaying various Pictish symbols. Leith Hall three and a half miles north east, dates in part from 1650. Built round a courtyard, it contains Jacobean relics and has a fine rock garden.
To the west of this peaceful, pretty fishing town is the Cave of Cowshaven, where Lord Pitsligo hid after he had been outlawed in 1745 for his part in the Jacobite Rising. He was Lord of the now-ruined Castle of Pitsligo, and already an old man when he took part in the rebellion, he spent the rest of his long life hiding from his pursuers, in caves, under bridges, and in friends’ houses until his death in 1762. To the east, at the rocky beach, amid rugged cliffs, there is an open air sea-water swimming pool.
Lovely scenery, good fishing (fresh saltwater), and enough history to intrigue the curious these are the delights of Stonehaven. The 16th-century Tolbooth on the quay has variously been used as a storehouse, a court and as a prison. More recently, it has been modernised and is now a museum. At the south end of Market Square, Robert William Thomson (1822-73) was born. The inventive Mr Thomson produced the first ever pneumatic tyre, the first fountain-pen, and the first dry dock. Each summer a veteran car rally is held in his memory. Near the harbour stand the Mercat Cross and an 18th-century steeple beside which, in 1715, the Old Pretender was proclaimed king. One and a half miles south is Dunnottar Castle, the most spectacular ruin on the North Sea coast of Scotland. The ruined fortress is on a rocky headland reached by a path from the mainland. In 1645, the Earl Marischal of Scotland, a staunch Presbyterian, held the castle against the Royalist Duke of Montrose, although during the Civil War Dunnottar was the last Scottish fortress to hold out against Cromwell’s troops. ‘Old Mortality’ of Scott’s novel by the same name was based on a stonemason who tended the churchyard here.
This ancient and thriving market town’s present church is 18th century; its ruined church, originally 11th century, belonged to the Knights Templar, and has a double belfry and a bell dated from 1559. Turriff retains few other old buildings, but is encircled by castles and tower houses.