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Pitsligo Castle (Grampian)

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The ruins of this once powerful courtyard castle lie just to the south of Rosehearty, Grampian.

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      17.01.2001 00:34
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      This part of North East Scotland is known historically as Buchan. And Buchan is said to derive from an old Scots expression meaning “Land at the Bend in the Ocean”. There certainly is a bend, and a sharp one at that, where the harsh North Sea gives way to the gentler climate of the Moray Firth. A little bit round the bend is the village of Rosehearty. And about half a mile inland of the village lie the ruins of Pitsligo Castle. At first glance, it’s nothing special. Not in official care, and pretty much ruined, it has in recent times been used by a farmer to overwinter cattle. A little ironic, perhaps, that these cows should happily munch their neeps in the great hall, where once their succulent ancestors would have rotated on a spit. I’m not selling it very well so far, am I? Ruined and untidy. No car parks or coffee shops. No manicured lawns and flags flying. Sorry. But this is history in the raw. And while I feel very strongly that our historical heritage should be conserved, and applaud the work of the National Trust, Historic Scotland, et al, sometimes when I find a ruin like this, lurking forgotten and almost unseen, I rejoice that it is not commercialised. I'm not at all sure that I want to see coach-loads of tourists clambering over these ruined walls, smearing icecream over our roots. So what do we have here, and what makes it special? The oldest part of Pitsligo Castle is the three storey square keep, built in 1424 by the Frasers of Philorth. It quickly passed into the hands of the Forbses of Druminnor, by the marriage of William Forbes to the only daughter of Sir William Fraser of Philorth. The Forbes family extended it into a courtyard castle in the 1570’s. The three storey tower is an interesting structure, for it illustrates well the rudimentary living conditions of the times. Although it is some eighty feet long by thirty-six wide, each floor is only one room. The ground f loor was the kitchen, the first the living area, and the second the communal bedroom – said to have contained twenty-four beds. The living room was about twenty-five feet high. Pity the poor guy who had to cut all the peats to keep that warm in the winter. The last Laird of Pitsligo is also the best-known – Alexander Forbes, twelfth laird and fourth Lord Pitsligo. He was born in 1678, and spent many years in France. With the exaggerated patriotism of the exile, his allegiance to the House of Stuart was unshakeable. And this is what got him into trouble. Lord Pitsligo returned from France in 1700, and took his rightful, inherited seat in Parliament. He immediately allied himself with the Scottish Nationalists of the day, the faction which pursued the defence of independence. He took up arms with the Earl of Mar, but after the battle of Sheriffmuir he was forced to flee the country. He returned again to Scotland after six years of exile, and lived for some time in the Castle. Pitsligo was not, at that time, a wealthy estate, but none the less Lord Pitsligo was noted for his kindness, charity, and assistance to the poor. This benevolent and passive passage into old age was not going to go uninterrupted, however. At the age of sixty-seven, and not in the best of health, he heard the news of Prince Charlie’s landing in the West. It was 1745, and things were about to happen. The spirits of the Jacobites were high, but they lacked leadership. Though at the time, the pipe and slippers probably held more appeal, the good laird rose to the occasion, rendezvoused with the Prince’s supporters in Aberdeen, and led them to the Royal HQ in Edinburgh. Well, on balance, it wasn’t the best of moves. He ended up at Culloden. The rest, as they say, is history. Hunted and persecuted, the ageing outlaw sought shelter among supporters of the cause, and had little trouble in that. For even after Cu lloden, the Jacobite cause was staunchly and widely – if secretively – upheld. Disguised as a beggar, he moved from house to house, getting a bowl of brose here, the shelter of a barn there. A testimony to his experiences is Lord Pitsligo’s cave, on the coast between Rosehearty and New Aberdour, in which he frequently took refuge. He had many close encounters with the patrols of soldiers pursuing him. On one occasion, having heard of his habit of sleeping in the cave, the soldiers picked up a beggar, and made him show them where this cave was. It was empty, of course, given that his Lordship was the beggar. In 1748, the estate of Pitsligo was seized by the Crown. The laird lost everything, and became wholly dependant on those around him who had once been his tenants, and who now risked their lives to give him shelter. They held him in high regard, though, and looked after him well. And the heat went out of the pursuit eventually, and when he died in 1762, although a pauper, he was no longer a fugitive. Seems this has turned into the tale of a man, rather than a Castle. But then that’s what the castle is all about. It’s physical remains yet hold many tales. We just have to seek them out. To find Pitsligo Castle, take the A92 from Aberdeen to Fraserburgh, then follow the coastal B9031 to Rosehearty. Turn left on to an unclassified road as you enter the village. The Castle is visible at this point, being less than half a mile up the hill on the left. Map Ref NJ937669.

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