Forres is a the perfect place to start exploring the history of Moray, and there is no better place to start than by visiting the castles dotted around the region.
We’ll start in the centre of town. Spoiler alert: there is no castle in Forres! However, a stronghold was sited here in the middle ages, and it was occupied at some point by none other than King Macbeth.
The site of the castle is now topped by a monument at the west end of the high street. There’s nothing there to even remark on it being the site of an ancient castle though. But it is a lovely part of the town with a tree-lined avenue and a nice place to take in the view.
The motte and bailey fort was destroyed in 850 by Vikings and was strengthened in the 14th century. It was demolished in 1297 by the adherents of Wallace.
Its royal visitors also include King William the Lion, King Alexander II of Scotland, King David II of Scotland. It was burned by Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan in 1390. and held by the Dunbars of Westfield until the 17th century when it fell into ruins.
Brodie Castle is the area’s most impressive castle. Originally built in 1567, it was destroyed by fire in 1645. Almost 200 years later, it was rebuilt and converted into a Scots Baronial mansion house. The original 16th century keep and towers remain.
The land has been in the Brodie family since 1160, and the castle was occupied by the Brodie family up to 2003, when it was gifted to the National Trust for Scotland.
The castle is open to the public for guided tours and has an extensive collection of antique furniture and paintings.
In the grounds is a national collection of daffodils, an award-winning visitor centre, a Victorian shrubbery and a recently-built play garden for children.
Duffus Castle was originally a motte and bailey style castle that was once one of the most secure fortifications in Scotland. It started as a wooden structure and was constantly modified, being finally replaced by a stone structure in the 1300s. However, by 1705, decay had made it uninhabitable and it was abandoned.
The motte refers to the mound, and the bailey is the large-diameter encircling wall.
Its most notable point of interest is that a whole section has succumbed to a landslip, yet the bond of the north wall has remained intact leaving a fully built portion of the castle to slide down and lodge at a significant angle to the remaining castle.
It is also unique in the area being elevated on the motte (mound), which may be presumed to be artificially-built since it rises out of the largely flat ‘laich’ of Moray. This might be why it collapsed!
More on Duffus Castle at Wikipedia
This castle is unfortunately not open to the public, but we’ve included it here as a historical reference. It sometimes opens as an event (such as Doors Open Day), so you may get a chance to glimpse inside at some point.
It is the home of the Earl of Moray, and has been in the family since it was given to Thomas Randolph, nephew of Robert the Bruce, who created him as the first earl.
Randolph was known for capturing Edinburgh Castle from the English, and also gave his name to nearby Randolph’s Leap, a narrow point between two cliff banks of the River Findhorn.
The castle was rebuilt in 1810, around the original banqueting hall, which can house 1000 people. It’s unfortunate that this building isn’t open to the public, as the roof over this part of the house is one of only two remaining original medieval structures of this type.
Ballindalloch Castle is known as the “Pearl of the north”. It is a fine example of Scottish Z-plan castle and remarkably, two of the country’s finest rivers, the Spey and the Avon, flow through the grounds. It has been the family home of Macpherson-Grants since 1546, and continuously occupied since then, although like many castles, it was plundered and burned before being restored in 1645.
The castle is open to tourists in the summer months and houses an important collection of 17th century Spanish paintings. The dining room is said to be haunted by a ghost known as The Green Lady.
The grounds have a modern rock garden and a 17th-century dovecote.
Further afield is another ruined castle, Balvenie. A few miles from Dufftown, the chequered timeline of ownership and abandonment is a history lesson in itself. It was latterly used by Hanoverian forces as an encampment in 1746 during the second Jacobite rebellion, and now owned by the Baron of Balvenie, Jeremy Duncan Nicholson, who lives in the United States. The castle is managed by Historic Environment Scotland and open from the beginning of April to the end of September.
Cawdor has very little to link it to Forres, but both are mentioned in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. However, it is unlikely that Macbeth was actually connected with the castle. There is another link which we’ll come back to at the end.
Cawdor Castle is a very well preserved example of a tower house with significant additions in later years. It was first documented in 1454, however, the keep is thought to be earlier.
It is the keep which offers one of the castle’s most intriguing features – a tree that is still present in the ground, and the story goes that a donkey carrying gold lay down beside the tree, and the castle was built on that very spot. The remains of the tree have been carbon-dated to 1372, which supports the theory that the keep is older than the documented date.
The castle has extensive gardens, including a walled garden originally planted in the 17th century, a flower garden from the 18th century, and a wild garden added more recently in the 1960s. The grounds also feature more than 100 species of lichen and a woodlands.
There is a more solid link to the area. The iron gate that greets visitors comes from the now ruined Lochindorb Castle after it was forfeited by the Earl of Moray (see Darnaway Castle).
And that takes us neatly onto Lochidorb Castle, a ruined castle that almost entirely occupies the island on which it is built. The island is partially man-made which is why the castle fits the space so well.
Lochindorb Castle was a stronghold of the Comyn family and was captured by Edward I in 1303. Famously occupied by the ‘Wolf of Badenoch’ from 1372.
By 1455, it was in the ownership of the Earl of Moray. After his death, it was ordered to be destroyed, but all the walls have largely remained intact.
Check out the information on the beautiful Dunrobin Castle which is a little further afield but well worth a visit!