This impressive Braemar Castle in Aberdeenshire, Northern Scotland dates back to the 17th Century and the Earl of Mar, John Erskine. Braemar village gets its name from the Low Scotland word, Brae which means a hillside. Mar was an ancient province in North Scotland. The first Earl of Mar, otherwise known as the Mormaer of Mar, Ruaidri, gets a mention in the 12th Century. Mar was one of just seven earldoms in Scotland.
It was common practice to have some form of fortification in those days. The Earls built theirs in the early days replacing an existing castle in the area, Kindrochit. That had been built in the 11th Century. The Castle you see today was originally the Earl’s hunting lodge and further protection from his neighbours, Clan Farquharson. They owned Invercauld Estate which bordered the Earl’s land.
These days, it is actually the Chief of Clan Farquharson who owns the Castle but it is leased to charity and open to the public.
Braemar Castle played a prominent role in the Jacobite rebellions. John Farquharson had set fire to it during the uprising in 1689 so that English troops could not use it. Jacobites failed again in 1715 and as a result the Castle was confiscated and John Farquharson, the 9th Laird of Invercauld acquired it. He did nothing to restore the ruins but leased it to the Hanoverians in 1748 and they did some reconstruction themselves.
The 12th Laird resumed control of the Castle in 1831 and made it into the family home. Queen Victoria was once a visitor when she attended the Braemar Games in the Castle grounds. The Farquharsons remain the owners of the Castle ever since.
NB: The Earldom of Mars is a complex subject which involves seven different family strands. Two strands still exist to this day. The 31st Countess of Mar from the original Mar Clan has its family seat in Great Witley, Worcestershire. The other strand, developed through a marriage into another of the clans, the Erskines, is in Alloa in the Scottish Lowlands.
The Castle is in the shape of an ‘’L’’ and has crowning turrets and five storeys. Star-shaped defences provide defence for artillery to use and they were added to the Castle in the 18th Century. The central tower is granite with rough texture rendering designed to provide protection from the wet Scottish climate. The overall design is unusual and fairly intricate.
The original gate, known as a yett, is still there and you will notice that strong heavy grills still protect the windows.
On the ground floor you will find the original kitchen as well as an ammunition store and guardroom. The dungeon in the passage floor is quite intimidating, covered by an iron grill. Staff rooms are on the ground floor and a second kitchen was added in the 19th Century.
A dining room and sitting room areas are above on the first floor. You will find further living areas on the floors above that. The Farquharson family used the higher floors whenever they were in residence and there you will see bedrooms, including one specifically for guests, and bathrooms.
The Castle has not really been home to the Farquharson’s for decades. The current Chief of Clan Farquharson and hence owner of Braemar Castle is Alwyne Arthur Compton Farquharson, the 16th Laird of Invercauld and Omnalprie. He was born on 1st May 1919. There was a celebration of his 100th birthday at Braemar Castle but the Laird was unable to attend.
His Secretary of 70 years, 92 year old Zan Grant cut the cake on behalf of the Laird. The Laird’s home is East Anglia, but from time to time, he has been able to visit Braemar. Apart from the birthday party itself, there was a further celebration that August at Ballater Highland Games.
Braemar Castle is just one of the fine buildings that have been owned by the Clan at one time. Kindrochit gets that mention earlier as a castle from the 11th Century. It remains in ruins that you will see over the road from the butcher’s shop in Braemar.
Invercauld House is a mansion in the Cairngorm National Park built in the style of a castle. As already suggested, back in the day, important landowners needed a defensive structure. This House is just northeast of Braemar and certainly qualifies as that. It has battlements, turrets and towers.
While the Stewart Clan built it, the Farquharson’s took control once Donald Farquharson married the heiress to Invercauld, a Stewart, in the 16th Century.
Braemar Castle Today
The Estate with its Castle is effectively a business, run by the Community of Braemar Charity. Braemar Community Charity Limited was registered in 2007 with the object of relieving poverty within Braemar but also to manage the land and assets of Braemar for the benefit of its inhabitants. Its aim is to protect the local environment and only to consider sustainable future development.
The Trust’s efforts include raising funds for maintenance and renovation and responses come from clan members all over the world. It publishes annual income and expenditure details as prescribed by law. It relies heavily on volunteers to work in Braemar’s best interests.
The public can visit the Castle and grounds while the Charity runs salmon fishing, deer stalking, grouse shooting. Other sources of income include forestry, skiing and of course tourism, those visitors. Personal guided tours take visitors around the Castle and grounds. There are three easy to follow walks that provide lovely views towards the River Dee and the Cairngorms while finding your way around the labyrinth is fun.
During your visit, volunteers will tell you many stories about the Castle and its history, some of which you will have read in this article. There is no doubting the enthusiasm of the guides and often you will find your guides are very knowledgeable local school children. Likewise, there is no doubting the great experience you will get from visiting Braemar Castle.
You may enjoy reading our article about Glamis Castle.