Braemar Castle, Crathie Kirk & Kirkyard

img_9225-editedThe day wasn’t the brightest we have experienced but it glowed with promise by what we planned to visit.

We were headed west of Aberdeen to Crathie to visit the kirkyard and the Kirk, then on a little further to Braemar Castle.


As we drove along the banks of the Dee and under the shadow of the Cairngorm Mountains the views didn’t disappoint.



Soon we arrived at a very interesting kirkyard… read all about it below.



Across the small valley, sitting on the side of the hill, sits Crathie Kirk.  This is the church where Queen Elizabeth attends church when she is in residence at nearby Balmoral Castle.


Inside, the atmosphere is so tranquil and peaceful.  Church organ music quietly plays in the background as I explore and lends a nice feel to being in the sanctuary.


The Queen’s Colour and the Regimental Colour of 1st Battalion The Gordon Highlanders proudly hang in the church.  The Gordon Highlanders were raised (first formed) in 1794 by the 4th Duke of Gordon, a regiment of Highland Foot (Infantry).  The Gordon Estate is out by Crathie.  In 1994 after exactly 200 years of service, the Gordon Highlanders was amalgamated with the Queen’s Own Highlander, to form a new regiment, named “The Highlanders.”

In 2006, “The Highlanders” were merged with Scotland’s 5 other infantry regiments to form the Royal Regiment of Scotland.  So the ‘Colours’ of the original were returned to the area where the Gordon Highlanders first formed and are now on display in the Crathie Kirk.



The north transept is historically used by local Lairds and has small Crests mounted on the wood panelling of the Scottish Regiments who have served as a Royal Guard at Balmoral.

Crathie Kirk and Kirkyard were quite interesting to visit; but we had one more major destination yet to visit today, Braemar Castle, just down the road a bit further. We got back in the car and headed that way and in no time we were driving right up to the castle!









The countryside surrounding it was just like a castle should be – vast!

The lands around the castle were owned by the Earls of Mar, hence the name Braemar, which translates as the ‘hills of Mar.’ The castle was an excellent place for the Earl to survey his domain and all who passed through it.


Just inside the fenceline sat this nice little “Summer House” to sit in during the nice weather and enjoy the wide sweeping views up towards the mountain passes of Glen Clunie and the Lairig Ghru and down towards Deeside.


The Harl (outside coating) of Braemar Castle is beginning to exfoliate off the walls; revealing the stone masonry underneath.  It’s kind of neat to see it like this, so that when I see a completely ruinous castle with only the masonry left, I can imagine better how it might look when all covered and smooth.

When we began our guided tour a little while later, our guide told us that the harling would be replaced soon and the castle would therefore be closed after this season as they do a major renovation.

They will put a new coat of harl all over the outside surface and it will be using the native red sandstone which will give it a “pinkish” color like that of Craigievar Castle not far from here.  Once they apply the harl it will take 2 years to dry!  Wow!

I’m really glad we got to see it before the renovation.  In so many ways, I much prefer it this way; it’s authentic and worn – well used, and shows years of inhabitation.  As you will see in the pictures that follow, the furnishings are well-worn, like they should be after years of use.  When a castle is restored, often the furnishings are restored and refurbished to look like they did when they were new.  It’s nice to see them after they’ve been used for awhile actually.

I didn’t realize it until the night before we were planning to visit this castle, that I have an ancestral connection to it.  Lindsay looked up the information on the castle on the website.  He asked, “Do you have a John Erskine, Earl of Mar, in your family tree?”

“That name does ring a bell, just a minute, let me check.”  I responded.  Sure enough, when I searched for that name in my Frew Family Tree in Ancestry, there he was!

“Yes, indeed, I do, Lindsay, why do you ask?”

“He’s the guy that built Braemar Castle in 1628!”

The Earls of Mar were one of the most powerful political families in 17th century Scotland.  The 2ndEarl, John Erskine, Governor of Edinburgh Castle Lord Cardross, who built the castle, was a childhood friend of King James I of Scotland and England.  His principal residence was Alloa Tower but he also had apartments in Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, Stirling Castle and a town house on the Gallowgate in Aberdeen, as well as another castle on Deeside, Kildrummy. (We visited Kildrummy Castle earlier on this trip [see my blog post – Kildrummy Castle] about a month ago – it is now a ruin!)

“Well isn’t that a handy piece of information to know before we visit tomorrow!  My 12th great grandfather built Braemar Castle!  (John Erskine is related to me through my dad’s side of the family, and his great grandmother, Elizabeth “Lizzy” Holiday (“Princess Lizzy”as I like to call her) once again – she seems to lead to everybody that is of any significance!)

So let’s head inside and see what this castle looks like inside, okay?

We bought our tickets from this lovely lass and lucked out because a guided tour was just about to begin!

The main entrance of the castle takes you directly into the staircase, through the iron ‘yett,’ or gate.  It is thought the yett may have originally been made for Kindrochit Castle and was re-used here. Look at the size of those keys!  The ‘yett’ and lock still works and is kept oiled and operational!

Now it’s up the first flight of wood paneled stairs and into the first room, the Laird’s study.


Lo and behold!  There’s an original painting of my 12th great grandfather hanging over the fireplace! What can I say, but “Hi Gramps! Good to see you!”





There were so many interesting things to look at all over this room…

To think that perhaps, just maybe, one of these items may have been in the hands of my ancestors.  Priceless!

Next we visited the dining room…

img_9276-editedCarvings done by British soldiers stationed here 12 years after the Battle of Culloden with naught much else to do but spend their time carving into the wood paneling near the windows. Graffiti – it’s nothing new!

A little history side note here for you (and perhaps some ‘Outlander’ fans like myself) –

The Jacobites – Religion, Fire and Sword.

Differences in religion and the power of the Catholic Church has caused terrible unrest and bloodshed through the 17th century Europe.  Much of Britain was now Protestant, and an all-powerful Catholic monarch on the British throne threatened the authority of the British Government. In 1688, Government deposed the Catholic King James II in favour of his son in law, the Protestant William of Orange.

In 1715, the Jacobites rose again, this time under the command of the 6th Earl of Mar, a government supporter turned rebel. The clans gathered at Braemar, but once again the rebellion was squashed.

The final Jacobite Rising took place in 1745, led by the James II’s grandson, Bonnie Prince Charlie.  The rebellion, which at first seemed very promising, led only to the final bloody defeat of the Jacobites at Culloden Moor.  Braemar Castle was taken over by the British Army, to quell any further thoughts of rebellion in the Highlands.

A Soldiers Garrison

The British Army moved into Braemar Castle in 1748.  The castle was partially in ruins, having never been repaired after the fire nearly sixty years before.

The Army stayed in Braemar to ensure that the Act of Proscription was being upheld.  The law had been passed after Culloden to ensure that the Highlands never rose in rebellion again. The law banned the wearing of tartan and any form of Highland dress, the speaking of the Gaelic language, the playing of the bagpipes and restricted the possession of weapons. In fact, life seems to have been fairly quiet for the soldiers.  Their main source of excitement was chasing Highlanders who persisted in wearing tartan.  When the Act of Proscription was repealed, military attention turned to illicit whisky smuggling, a lucrative black market.  By the 1820s, the need for a garrison at Braemar had waned and negotiations began between the Military and the Farquharsons for the return of the Castle. However these negotiations were protracted over many years with the castle not being finally vacated until 1831.

Okay, back to the tour, I digress…

Next room we visited was the current Laird Farquharson.  Notice in the pictures above, the gathering of the Lonach Highlanders in their march to Braemar.  (We visited the Lonach Highland Gathering first thing when I arrived in Scotland on August 27th)

Now for a little history lesson of how Braemar changed hands from the Erskines to the Farquharson’s.


The Farquharsons and Braemar Castle

The main threat to the power of the Earls of Mar on Deeside were the Farquharsons, who held lands all around the Braes o’ Mar.  On either side of Braemar Castle were the Farquharsons of Invercauld and the Farquharsons of Inverey.

John Farquharson of Invervey served in the Jacobite Army of Bonnie Dundee in 1689.  Farquharson was a notorious outlaw on Deeside, known as the Black Colonel for his swarthy looks and dark deeds.  He had supposedly killed the Baron of Braichley, and is immortalised in song.  The Black Colonel burned Braemar Castle to prevent its use as a base for Government troops.  After the Battle of Killiecrankie, the British army  took revenge for the rebellion, and burned down the Colonel’s stronghold at Inverey.

John Farquharson, 9th Laird of Invercauld fought as a Jacobite with the Earl of Mar in 1715.  He was imprisoned in Marshalsea Prison in London for treason, but was eventually able to plead for clemency. He was able to keep his lands and wealth. In 1732, he purchased the ruins of Braemar Castle, and stepped into the power vacuum left by the Earl of Mar. John Farquharson didn’t participate in the ’45 Rising, and leased the Castle to the British Army after Culloden.

Okay, enough history for now… the next room we visited was a bedroom, but since there weren’t any furnishings returned to fill it with, they have put a very nice display of gems from the Cairngorms mountains nearby….



Next we passed a bathroom and then entered






the “Drawing room”


which was also filled with countless interesting items, such as… historical photographs and paintings…

and other sources of entertainment….


Then we came upon…



and it’s infinitely interesting items and points of interest…


And another bathroom with it’s fancy toilet and it’s “interesting” pictures of women without their knickers!

In the corridor:


(Side note here:  I saw two live foxes, like this stuffed one, running down Lindsay’s street today when we returned from the grocery store!  Amazing and absolutely stunning! It didn’t seem to phase Lindsay; but all I could think was that I only see the occasional deer or a bunch of wild turkeys in my own neighborhood!)  Okay, back to the tour

Then we entered:    img_9342-edited

Can you believe it?!  Robert Louis Stevenson wrote “Treasure Island” in this very room. He started telling the bedtime stories to his own children and the story grew from there.  There was a local boy with the name of ‘Silvers’ and that’s how he came upon the name of Long John Silvers in the story.  Way cool!



Now onto one of the Lady’s “Boudoirs”:

The woman in the photo below is somewhat of a legend who was a real live heroine at the Battle of Culloden in 1745.  A fictional account of her story based on her real life experiences has been published, “White Rose Rebel.”  I must get my hands on a copy; it sounds really interesting!

The next room contained a lot of military items of interest….

Next, another ladies bedroom…  by now, I was reaching my saturation point as I imagine you are too!

Luckily, we were just about done with the tour and started headed toward the staircase which lead down to the small remaining part of the original kitchen.  In the staircase were some beautiful examples of the types of weapons (some original; some reproductions) done by a local man who comes from France and specializes in this type of iron work and does re-enactiments.

The original kitchen (about 1/3 its original size due to a Victorian era addition to the castle) and all its hard-working finery!

img_9411We made the final descent, back to where we started.






and finally, a castle would not be complete without its dungeon (or prison):


The laird’s pit, or bottleneck dungeon is a favourite of adults and children alike.  Designed as a holding cell, prisoners would not have been kept down in the pit for an extended period.  It was where prisoners awaited their punishment, perhaps a fine, or in extreme cases, hanging.

img_9410-editedThe Laird was offering “goodies” and by this time both Lindsay and I were indeed rather hungry, so with one final look at the Braemar Castle, we  headed for the nearby village of the same name.


We found a convenience store and bought a sandwich to split between us and a couple of drinks for refreshment to tide us over until we had dinner. Then we drove back along the River Dee, passing the “Deeside Gliders Club” and the Aboyne Loch en route.

We finished off this fabulous day by having dinner at the “Ploughman” (one of our favorite haunts) and treated ourselves to their delicious “Steak Braveheart!”  Seemed so appropriate after such a long day visiting Royal Churches at Crathie and spending such a long time in a simply delightful castle!


Author: Claudia Frew

Adventuresome, independent, and fun-loving 68-year young American great-grandmother who loves to travel; often going solo!

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