Duffus Castle – Historic Motte-and-Bailey Landmark

Considered to be one of Scotland’s finest examples of a motte-and-bailey castle, the now abandoned Duffus Castle is located near Elgin, in the Moray council area. At the time of its construction in 1140, it was one of the most secure fortifications in the country, despite the fact that it was originally constructed from wood. The wooden structure was later replaced by a stone construction, and the castle was occupied until the death of the 2nd Lord Duffus in 1705, when it was abandoned. While time and the elements have taken their toll on Duffus Castle it is still a popular attraction, particularly for visitors interested in the history of Scotland.

Motte-and-bailey castles typically consisted of a wooden or stone fortified tower built upon a mound (motte), enclosed by a courtyard (bailey) and surrounded by a protective ditch and palisade. The motte was very often man-made, using the earth removed when digging the surrounding ditch. These constructions, which were first built in the 10th century in Normandy and Anjou in France, proved to be so secure that they were used in the Holy Roman Empire in the 11th century, with the Normans introducing the concept into England and Wales, where it spread into Scotland and Ireland by the 12th century.

Duffus Castle was built by a minor nobleman, known simply as Freskin, who was active during the reign of King David I of Scotland. The only known written reference to Freskin is in a charter by King William to Freskin’s son, also named William, where he grants him lands in Moray, including Duffus, quoting that these were held by his father in the time of King David. It is believed that Freskin arrived in Scotland along with a large group of Flemish settlers. The granting of land to Flemish settlers appears to have taken place following the defeat of Óengus of Moray. When Freskin’s lineage ended in 1270, the castle went to Sir Reginald Cheyne and then to his daughter who was married to the second son of the 4th Earl of Sutherland, Nicholas. Duffus Castle remained with the Sutherland family until it was abandoned in 1705.

The motte of Duffus Castle contained the buildings deemed necessary for the survival of its inhabitants should the occasion arise, and evidence remains of living accommodation, brew and bake houses, as well as workshops and stables. The bailey was also raised above the surrounding countryside, but not as high as the motte, with the only entryway to the motte being via the bailey, thereby strengthening its security. Visitors to Duffus Castle today will approach the structure by crossing a stone bridge over the surrounding ditch. Large sections of the castle remain standing, while other parts have clearly been dismantled and carried away at some point. Nevertheless, enough of the castle remains intact to give visitors a good idea of what it must have been like when it was still occupied – and the view of the surrounding countryside is a bonus not to be missed.