Featured image for Slains Castle

Out with The Old, In with The New – Slains Castle

Slains Castle does have a form of confusion surrounding it, not only because of its history, but because it isn’t just one castle as the name implies, it’s two! For many years, people have believed that the castle we see today has just been built over the old one, however, that isn’t the case at all and the new and old castle exist quite a way away from each other in comparison. While they are both in Aberdeenshire, they occupy completely different sites and aren’t one castle as people believed for a long time.

In this piece, we will be taking a look at the New Slains Castle and how it has changed over the years. This castle lays on the stunning coast of Cruden Bay and there is no denying that it is a truly enchanting sight. Though it can be dangerous at times due to the steep cliffs, it is a lovely place to visit as long as you remain vigilant and careful.

The Old Slains Castle, however, is almost completely ruined now due to being left to succumb to time. Only one wall of the castle still remains and apart from that, there really isn’t a whole lot to see when you visit. That is why the newer castle is more popular because while this one may hold more history, the other is actually a physical structure as opposed to just memories. These days, it still remains as a scheduled ancient monument.

Waves splashing against the cliffs where the ruined New Slains castle stands
A scenic view of New Slains Castle. Source: Flickr

The history of Slains Castle

Slains Castle, also sometimes referred to as New Slains Castle, is a ruined castle situated in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. It sits high upon a cliff overlooking the North Sea from its gorgeous cliff-top site. The castle has been significantly reconstructed throughout time with the last time being in 1837 when it was rebuilt as a Scots Baronial mansion. At one point in time, it had three large gardens that have now been reduced to a rustic roofless ruin.

Since 2009, people have been wanting to restore it further, however, time and time again, they have been put on hold. If you are wondering why Slains Castle sounds so familiar, it may be because the castle has been linked significantly with the Bram Stoker novels, mainly Dracula. Clearly, the castle is something special, let’s take a look into its history and find out why!

The early history of Slains Castle

Being one of the most powerful families in the area for generations, the Clan Hay possessed the lands of Slains since around the 14th century. In the year 1453, Sir William Hay, who was the clan chief, was made Earl of Errol by the trusted King James II. During this time, the local seat of power was Old Slains Castle situated near Collieston. In the year 1585, Francis Hay who was the 9th Earl of Erroll succeeded and converted entirely to Roman Catholicism.

A oil portrait of King James II of Scotland
King James II of Scotland. Source: Wikimedia Commons

He conspired with many other Catholic nobles, including, but not limited to the Earl of Huntly with whom he ended up joining in a very brief rebellion in the year 1589. Erroll was also a signatory of the “Spanish Blanks“, which were documents signed by members of the Catholic nobility of Scotland, and otherwise left to be filled in with the terms of Spanish aid. Unfortunately, in the year 1594, Erroll was declared a traitor which ended in Old Slains Castle being destroyed via the orders of King James VI.

In 1597, after spending a small amount of time abroad, Erroll returned to Scotland and abjured Roman Catholicism, subsequently returning to royal favour. He then abandoned the old castle and built a large courtyard and square tower on the current site. The castle was originally known as Bowness until it, later on, became New Slains Castle. In 1664, the courtyard and wings were extended by the addition of a gallery or corridor and in the year 1707, the entrance front was renewed.

In 1820, William Hay, 18th Earl of Erroll, married Lady Elizabeth FitzClarence, who was said to be the illegitimate daughter of King William IV and Dorothea Jordan. The 18th Earl then commissioned the Aberdeen architect known as John Smith to remodel the castle in the 1830s. This then resulted in somewhat of an entire rebuild of Slains Castle in a Scots Baronial style including gorgeous granite facings sometime between 1836 and 1837. Further on, in the late 1890s, the gardens were laid out by the landscape architect T. H. Mawson.

In 1913, the 20th Earl of Erroll sold New Slains Castle which ended more than 300 years of occupation by the family. A man by the name of Sir John Ellerman, who was the wealthy, but secretive owner of the Ellerman Lines shipping company then purchased the castle. He did end up leasing it, however, and never ended up using it as a home. In the year 1925, the roof was removed to avoid taxes and from then on, the building was left to deteriorate.

Now, it is simply a roofless shell with the external and internal walls standing to a full height. In the year 2004, it was reported that the Slains Partnership was going to restore the building into around 35 holiday apartments, though nothing ever came of it. Further on, in the year 2007, the scheme was given full permission by the Aberdeenshire Council, however, plans were very quickly put on hold in 2009 due to the economic downturn.

The present day

These days, Slains Castle has simply been reduced to a ruin. There is quite a bit to see in the ruins, but it is a rugged landscape. Be aware that it isn’t like other castles that have been well looked after and are undergoing constant maintenance, it is a truly untouched and unkept ruin. Nevertheless, it is something that everyone truly needs to see, because it is amazing.

The ruins of Slains castle which occupies a rugged landscape
Slains Castle’s roof was removed so the owner did not have to pay taxes. Source: Flickr

Perhaps the most beautiful part of it is that there has been no human interference for a long time, so what you see now is the toll nature has naturally taken. Best of all, it is free, so even if there isn’t much to see, it isn’t as if you have lost money.

You may enjoy reading about other Scottish castles such as Findlater Castle.

Slains Castle Timeline

  • 14th century- The lands of Slains are possessed by the Clan Hay
  • 1594- Erroll is declared a traitor which ended in Old Slains Castle being destroyed via the orders of King James VI
  • 1597- Erroll returns from abroad, abandons the old castle, and builds a large courtyard and square tower on the current site that was originally known as Bowness until it, later on, became New Slains Castle
  • 1664- the courtyard and wings are extended by the addition of a gallery or corridor.
  • 1707- The entrance front is renewed
  • 1830-The 18th Earl then commissions the Aberdeen architect known as John Smith to remodel the castle
  • 1836 to 1837- Somewhat of an entire rebuild of Slains Castle begins in a Scot’s Baronial style including gorgeous granite facings
  • 1913- The 20th Earl of Erroll sold New Slains Castle which ended more than 300 years of occupation by the family
  • 1925- The roof is removed to avoid taxes and the building is left to deteriorate

What makes Slains Castle so famous?

As states previously, there are two Slains Castles, however, the 16th-century one is said to have been the dramatic inspiration for the ever so wonderful and popular novel ‘Dracula’. This is perhaps the biggest claim to fame, considering that hundreds of people make the rugged walk to the castle just to see what specifically inspired the novel. Usually, it comes down to the jagged cliffs, rugged look, gothic appearance and dramatic location.

It has definitely seen a significant rise in popularity once people found out it inspired the great novel. Even today, the novel is always a popular topic among people exploring the ruins.

Interesting facts about Slains Castle

  • Many celebrities were entertained in Slains Castle
  • It is said to have been the inspiration for the novel Dracula
  • It is said to have been the inspiration for an episode or two of The Crown
  • You can gain access for free, but the site can be dangerous due to the rugged cliffs
  • The original Slains Castle is situated only a few miles away from the newer one
  • You can indeed see Bram Stoker’s name in the hotel ledger at the nearby Kilmarnock Arms
  • The original castle was a strongly built 5-storey oblong keep of which a small part remains to this day
A photo of Bram Stoker, in 1906 wearing a suit
Bram Stoker in 1906. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Featured in TV and Film

  • The Crown (2016)

Books on Slains Castle

  • Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)
  • The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley (2010)
  • The Hays of Slains Castle (2017)

Who owns Slains Castle?

The ownership of Slains Castle is currently in a questionable state. In 2018, it was named a B-listed building. However, this action came under a lot of fire. As of now, it is said to be under private ownership with the owners’ names not being disclosed. Calum Crighton, speaking on behalf of the owners, says “We do not think that it is appropriate for New Slains Castle to be designated as a listed building as there is not enough clear evidence of the ‘Special Architectural or Historic Interest’.

Essentially, it is privately owned and not much is actually happening there.

Tourism

These days, you are more than welcome to wander around and explore the stunning ruins of Slains Castle, however, make sure that you proceed with complete and utter caution. The building is considered in a dangerous state and nobody knows the actual strength of the remaining structures. You don’t need to purchase tickets or enter through gates to visit, absolutely anyone is able to go in!

It is only a very short, but scenic walk to the castle where you are able to wander around and even climb some of the towers if you’re brave enough. If you’re lucky enough to visit, sit down, relax, and imagine how it would have been in its hay day.

More Images

  • Panoramic shot of New Slains Castle
    Panoramic shot of New Slains Castle

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