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Castle Fraser – The Grandest Z Plan Castle in Scotland

Set in acres of open woodland, Castle Fraser is one of the most impressive in Scotland. An impressive baronial 16th century castle, in a valley by the River Don, sixteen miles west of Aberdeen, it was originally known as Muchall-in-Mar. The granite walls of the grandest Castle of Mar rise up to combine memorably with its distinctive turrets, balustrades and gables, offering an imposing sight when the castle is approached from the Broad Walk.

This magnificent five-storey castle, started in 1575 by the 6th laird, Michael Fraser, is the most elaborate of the Scottish castles built on the Z-plan design. Its two projecting wings that form a courtyard were incorporated into an earlier, plain rectangular tower house. Two new towers were constructed on diagonally opposite corners; the tower on the north-west corner is square while the tower on the south-east corner is round and slightly taller than the rest of the castle. A masterpiece of two great families of master masons, Bell and Leiper, the armorial panel high on the north side of the castle is signed ‘I Bel’ The east and west wings, or ‘laigh biggins’, contain the kitchen, bakehouse, brewhouse and servants quarters.

The round tower leads to a flat roof and offers panoramic views of the gardens and 350 acre estate with its artificial lake, mixed woodland and open farmland. The pathways in the 18th-century walled garden lead to lawns with borders of traditional and unusual herbaceous plants. A medicinal and culinary border with scented plants, and an organic fruit and vegetable garden are newer additions.

Today Scotland’s Castle Fraser is a popular picnic spot with Woodland Secrets’ a safe play area for children. Its wooden sculptures, bamboo snake, musical instruments, tepees, tree house and stone circle are fascinating. ‘Words in the Woods’ is a grassed amphitheatre serving as a meeting place and venue for poetry reading and storytelling. Two marked walks offer magnificent views of the local hills. The strikingly simple Great Hall is available for functions. Fraser family portraits, including one by Raeburn, and fine 19th-century carpets, curtains and bed hangings are still exhibited in the castle. The fascinating castle reveals the Laird’s Lug, hidden trapdoors revealing secret stairs, a spy hole, a room full of stuffed animals and a wooden leg!