Scotland 7: Day 26

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03.27.19 | Edinburgh, Scotland | 16:40

I woke up this morning and was in the mood for another castle to visit. I checked my guide book and saw that I could get a relatively inexpensive round-trip train ticket to Aberdour station, which is only a 5-minute walk from Aberdour Castle. I stopped for a quick bite to eat and then headed down the hill to Edinburgh Waverly Station. 15 minutes later, I was stepping off the train in Aberdour.

Before we get to the castle, here is your Aberdour Castle history lesson:

Aberdour has a good claim to be considered one of the oldest fortified residences in Scotland. The first castle was a wooden motte erected in the twelfth century by the de Mortimer. They were typical of the mercenary Anglo-Norman knights invited to Scotland by David I to stiffen his military capability. The first motte had been replaced by a high stone keep by 1240. The castle dominated a key stretch of the Firth of Forth and the waters beneath the tower are still known as ‘Mortimer’s Deep’. The remains of a Mortimer baron, famed for his wickedness, we’re being carried by boat for burial with in the abbey on Inch Colm Island, till the Abbot called upon God for help. The bones of the impious baron ended up in the stormy Forth. 


In the years after Bannockburn, Arberdour Castle and its richest states were given by Robert the Bruce into the safekeeping of Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray. Thomas was Bruce’s closest friend and had played a key part in the war for Scottish Independence. Bruce gave things for his victory in 1314 sitting in the ‘leper’s squint’ within the chapel of St. Fillan that nestles next to the castle. By 1342 however, the castle had fallen into the grasp of the powerful Douglases, unambitious noble house even by the rapacious standards of the fourteenth century in Europe. 


Aberdour remained in the hands of the Douglases, Earls of Morton, until the family tripped up in the complex political intrigues of the sixteenth century. James Douglas held the highest office of state under Queen Mary serving as herLord High Chancellor and then as Regent of Scotland during her imprisonment in England. He was however implicated in the brutal murder of Mary’s secretary Rizzio in 1566. Others suspected that he had a hand in the dramatic death of her second husband Lord Darnley, blown to smithereens at Kirk o’ Field the following year. Her son James VI signaled his coming to power in 1581 by trying and beheading James Douglas for these unsolved crimes committed more than a decade before.


Aberdour and its lands were naturally forfeit to the Crown. Although the Douglases won their way back into James’ favour, the long decline of Aberdour Castle had begun. The building was burned in 1688 and again during the 1715 Rising when dragoons were billeted there. This fine house was in turn, a barracks, a school room and a piggery before its rescue from ruin in the 1920s.

Scottish Castles & Fortifications – Richard Dargie

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