Of the 150 or so castles and lairds’ houses owned by Hays down the centuries, most are now either in ruins or, even worse, have disappeared without trace. Here, we have limited ourselves to detailing a few of those which can still be seen.
Please note that some of these properties remain in private hands and are not usually open to the public. Potential visitors should check access arrangements before planning a visit.
Old Slains Castle
Only a single wall remains of this ancient tower which passed to the Hays during the War of Independence. Traces can still be seen of the curtain wall towards the south east, and the partly natural dry ditch which protected it from the landward side is still clearly visible. Most of the castle’s offices would have been contained in the extensive ranges of the bailey, which have now vanished. The keep would have contained five stories, each about 20 feet in height, and part of the staircase which was built into the thickness of the wall is still there. This tower was the principal seat of the Earls of Erroll until demolished by King James VI following Earl Francis’s part in the Catholic rebellion of 1594. Later, a fishing village grew up here, built with stones pillaged from the castle walls, which is why so little of it has survived.
New Slains Castle
Originally called the Tower of Bowness, this is where Earl Francis built his new seat after his return from exile in 1597 and the discovery that his old castle was beyond saving. The castle was greatly extended by Gilbert, 11th Earl, in 1664 and subsequent improvements were made by the 12th and 15th earls. It was substantially remodelled by William George, 18th earl in 1836 when it was clad in pink granite. When the Errolls found themselves in financial difficulty in the early years of the 20th century, the castle was sold to Sir John Ellerman, a Glasgow shipowner, who saw it purely as a profit opportunity and dismantled it for architectural salvage. It has since been acquired by a consortium known as the Slains Partnership who have ambitious plans for its restoration.
Delgatie was acquired by the Hays via marriage with the Fraser heiress in the 15th century and became one of the most significant properties associated with the clan. The present castle was built in the middle of the 16th century. Despite it’s unfortunate remodelling by the Victorian lairds, it remains an outstanding example of a Scottish L-plan tower house. It was sold by the Hays of Delgatie to the Earls of Erroll in the 17th century, but was sold 100 years later and passed through the hands of two unrelated families before being bought by the 23rd Countess of Erroll about 1950. She passed it to the late Captain Hay of Hayfield, who devoted the rest of his life to its preservation. It is now open to the public, welcomes paying guests and functions as the official Clan Hay Centre.
This is one of the great houses of the Scottish border country, lovingly cared for by Alick and Aline Hay of Duns. Its basis is an ancient border pele tower, but it has been tastefully and sympathetically extended down the centuries. The castle was acquired by the 1st Earl of Tweeddale in 1696 for his younger son whose descendant continues to own and manage the castle and its estate. Alick and Aline welcome wedding parties, paying guests and other functions.
A great Lanarkshire fortress constructed by Sir James Hamilton of Finnart, the illegitimate son of the 2nd Earl of Arran, in the early 16th century. Finnart was a renowned soldier of his time, and constructed a caponier here, an Italian defensive device of which this is the only surviving example in the United Kingdom. After his downfall and execution in 1540, it passed through a number of hands until purchased by great Covenanter Andrew Hay of Craignethan, a cadet of the Hays of Haystoun. Hay built a new house here which is still intact and inhabited by the custodian, although Hamilton’s original fortification is now in ruins. The castle is cared for by Historic Scotland and is open to the public.
Several castles have stood on this site, for many centuries the seat of the Earls of Kinnoull. The castle pictured was built by Thomas Robert Hay, 11th Earl of Kinnoull, in 1827 to replace its draughty and uncomfortable predecessor which had fallen victim to a fire. This magnificent mock Tudor house was sold by the 13th Earl to Lord Forteviot, of the Dewar whisky family, in the early 20th century when many of the old families fell on financially hard times. By the 1960s this house had become unmanageable and it was demolished and replaced by the present modern house, built in 1969.
Perth has now expanded to such an extent that Balhousie Castle, owned by the Kinnoull family, is now firmly within the town. Although the original 16th century tower is clearly evident at the heart of this extensive building, it was much extended during the 19th century. It is open to the public as it now houses the regimental museum of the Black Watch.
Situated at the end of a half mile drive on the edge of the picturesque village of Gifford, this magnificent Palladian mansion is one of the finest houses in Scotland. Commissioned by the second Marquis of Tweeddale in 1687, it is the work of several architects, but it is the influence of William and Robert Adam that is most in evidence. It has 85 rooms, many of them palatial in scale with 20 foot ceilings and great baroque fireplaces. Nearby is the ruin of its predecessor, Yester Castle, including the underground ‘Goblin Ha.’
A classic example of a great Border tower house, L-plan in layout, overlooking the River Tweed from a striking location outside Peebles. The original castle came to the Hays of Yester with the Fraser of Oliver inheritance and the present building is the work of Sir William de Haya of Locherworth in the late 14th century. It was garrisoned by the Marquis of Montrose in 1645 and subjected to a lengthy assault by Oliver Cromwell to force its surrender. Remodelled by the 1st Marquis of Tweeddale in the 1660s (who also planted the avenue of yew trees still to be seen) it was sold to the Duke of Queensberry in 1686. It was later passed to the Earl of Wemyss and March in whose hands it remains, and is occasionally open to the public.
Nunraw is a baronial mansion of 1860 incorporating a 16th century tower house. Previously owned by the Hepburns and the Dalrymples of North Berwick, it was acquired by the Hays of Drumelzier in 1779 and passed among a number of members of this family. Among them were Robert Hay of Nunraw, the distinguished archaeologist, who embarked on the 1860 remodeling but died in 1863 before its completion. His son, Robert, completed the work but moved to Florence with his Italian wife where the family remains. In 1945 it was acquired by the Roman Catholic Church where the Cistercian Order have built an abbey. The castle itself functions as a retreat centre.
Ancient seat of the Hays of Megginch, a branch of the Hays of Leys and ancestors of the Earls of Kinnoull. The original tower dates from the 15th century and a stair tower survives from this date. A large wing was added in 1575. It was sold by the Hays to the Drummonds in 1664, in whose hands it remains to this day. Further additions were completed by the great Scottish architect Robert Adam in the 18th century, and this part of the castle was painstakingly restored following a serious fire in 1969. The magnificent gardens, created by the late Lady Strange (Cherry Drummond of Megginch), are occasionally open to the public.
Castle of Park
According to the inscription over the front door, work on this splendid tower house began on the first day of March 1590. Its builders were Thomas Hay and his wife Janet, the daughter of Uchtred Macdowall of Garthland and it was built with stones taken from the recently dissolved Glenluce Abbey, of which Thomas Hay’s father was the lay commendator. Improvements were carried out during the 18th century when the windows were enlarged and the castle made generally more comfortable. On the death of the fourth baronet of Park, it passed to his sister and her husband, who adopted the name Dalrymple-Hay. It was abandonned by them in 1830 in favour of their more commodious residence of Dunragit and later used as a farm house before gradually falling into decline. It was fully restored by Historic Scotland in 1978 and later leased to the Landmark Trust who manage it as a holiday destination.
© Alan Hay 2010