Corgarff Castle – Many Rebirths

Many castles in Scotland have had a violent past and Corgarff Castle, which stands in a wild and lonely moorland setting at the head of Strathdon, is no different. It has been burned several times but has risen like a phoenix from the ashes. Corgarff was of strategic importance as it guards the quickest route from Deeside to Speyside. It sits on a long rise, approached by a single road over the River Dee.

Corgarff Castle was built by John Forbes of Towie in 1550 as a tower house, rectangular in plan, with four stories set within a walled enclosure. The Forbes clan was in a feud with the Gordons because of their loyalties to rival claimants to the throne of Scotland. In November 1571, Adam Gordon of Auchindoun tried to capture Corgarff Castle when the men were away. The castle was nearly burned to the ground, killing Margaret Forbes and 26 retainers.

In 1626 it was acquired by the Earl of Mar and later during the Civil War in 1645 it was used as the mustering point by the Marquis of Montrose, commander of the Royalist forces in Scotland. Corgarff was again burned down in 1689, this time by Jacobites to prevent it being used by supporters of William of Orange. After the 1715 Jacobite uprising had been defeated, government forces burned down Corgarff yet again.

The castle was then returned by the government to the Forbes family. It was again in the limelight during the 1745 Jacobite uprising and in 1748 Corgarff Castle was converted into barracks. It was modified at that time and a single story building was added to each end. It also acquired the flanking pavilions you see today and the very unusual star shaped encircling wall, equipped with musket loop.

From 1802 the Castle was used as a farmhouse, but the government repurchased it in 1827 and ocupied it till 1831 to tackle whisky smuggling and illegal distillation in the area. Its last residents were the Ross sisters, known locally as the Castle Ladies, who left in 1912.

Taken over in 1961, Corgarff Castle has been wonderfully restored by Historic Scotland to its appearance when it was a garrison, including graffiti that might have been there. The castle is still heated with authentic peat fires. The west pavilion houses the bake-house and brew-house.

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