Visit Scotland’s theme for 2020 is ‘Coasts and Waterways’ and that will feature prominently in Clan Hay’s annual gathering in August, focused on Clan Hay’s principal territories on the Aberdeenshire coast.

On of the main attractions in an exciting and varied programme will be a minibus tour entitled Castles of the Coast, running daily from 31 July to 3 August.  Aberdeenshire is often called ‘The Castle Country’ and there are more than 20 castles within a 20 mile radius of Cruden Bay, where our activities will be based.

Old Slains by Andrew Spratt

Old Slains by Andrew Spratt

These include the old and new castles of Slains, for 700 years the seat of the Earl of Erroll, Chief of Clan Hay.  The old castle, of which only a single wall remains, was built by the Comyn Earl of Buchan before the Hays arrived here.  Sir Gilbert Hay of Erroll was one of the principal supporters of King Robert the Bruce, and was granted this castle in 1308 on the suppression of the Comyns, King Robert’s principal rivals for the throne.  When Francis Hay, ninth Earl of Erroll, became embroiled in a Catholic rebellion against the Reformation in 1594, this old castle was blown up by the king.  Francis relocated four miles north to a new castle, also spectacularly situated on a cliff edge, which remained the chief’s home until sold by his descendant, Charles Hay, 20th Earl, in 1916.  That building is now, too, in ruins; the seat of the present, 24th Earl, is a compact house built in the 1950s among the ruins of the old castle.

The Castles of the Coast tour will not, however, begin and end there.  Just to the north of Cruden Bay, in the lands of Clan Keith, stands the mighty castle of Ravenscraig, another building that has seen better days, but still proudly standing on a crag above the River Ugie.  Close by are the remains of Inverugie Castle, the great courtyard palace of the Chiefs of Clan Keith, Earl Marischal of Scotland.  Inverugie was the principal seat of the Keiths in the days when it was said the Earl Marischal could ride from Orkney to the English border, eating every meal and sleeping every night in one of his own houses.  Neither castle is open to the public and it is hoped these two will form part of an extensive tour offering a unique opportunity to see properties that are still in private hands and where there is usually no public access.

Slains Castle

Slains Castle

Just beyond Inverugie, we find the Nine Castles of the Knuckle, reaching from Dundarg in the north to Rattray in the south, including Pitsligo, seat of the Jacobite ‘Great Lord Pitsligo’ of Clan Forbes, and Kinnaird, now a lighthouse but originally the principal seat of the Chief of Clan Fraser, now based just a few miles away at Cairnbulg, another Castle of the Knuckle.

The details have yet to be determined but Castles of the Coast will certainly include some of these, plus Boddam Castle, for long seat of the Keiths of Ludquharn, and, by way of variety, a few of the nearby castles which are close to the coast, if not on it; we could look at the castles of Ellon, Esslemont, Knockhall, Udny, Fedderate, Waterton, Tolquhoun….

Many of these sites are quite different in construction and will, we hope, provide a definitive cross section of the subject that will give a comprehensive view of castellated architecture in its many forms.  Planning is now underway, so watch this space for updates!