Crathes Castle

Many years ago, I lived at the groundskeeper’s cottage at Crathes Castle (off the Dee River, west of Aberdeen, Scotland). It was a lovely place, remote, discrete, and if I’d had my way, I might have never left the place. I was only there for a few short months, and was working, so I wasn’t always there while I resided there.

Living in Scotland gave me an appreciation for castles. Many of them were fortified mansions in an age when that was required. The Crathes Castle is, in its concept and design, very much like the Braemar Castle (captioned), famous for the summer games, and just farther down the Dee, toward the Queen’s summer residence at Balmoral.

There are a lot of tourists along the Royal Dee-side during the summer, but not many stop at Crathes Castle, and the cottage where I lived was tucked away, farther away from the strolls of (wretched and belching) tourists.

I walked the area around the castle and down by the Dee when I wasn’t working. Sometimes I’d go into Aberdeen, where I’d made friends with Americans working on off-shore oil drilling platforms. When they were off the rigs, they were fun companions. I was in my early twenties a US Naval Officer, close in age to many of them, single, and we all had cash in our pockets. The Aberdeen lassies (women) didn’t stand a chance.

As Kipling wrote (Mandalay), “But that’s all shove be’ind me – long ago an’ fur away.” When you’re an old man, these sorts of memories linger. I planned to travel to Scotland for the better part of last summer but there was a plague on with travel restrictions. Of course I’m not in my 20’s anymore but I still love the place.

…And there is the promise of another plague that will cull .002% of the people it infects coming in 2021. Wear your mask, scum.

Rowallan Castle

Caisteal an Rubha Àlainn, (Castle on the Beautiful Headland).

The present structure you see above, is a defensive mansion house dating from the late 16th to the early 17th centuries, but it forms one side of a courtyard that also incorporates the remains of a tower dating from circa 1263, it stands on a low precipice with the Carmel Water protecting it on three sides.

Elizabeth Mure first wife to Robert II of Scotland is thought to have been born at Rowallan. There is a legend claiming the earliest known piece of Lute music was written  at Rowallan.

Legend of the name Rowallan

There is a Legend connected to the name of the castle. That is of course if you don’t want to believe the Gaelic name An Rubha Àlainn.

It is said that one stormy night a local lad called Allan from the town of Stewarton had been given the task of ferrying a local Chieftain from Ayrshire in a row boat, when all of a sudden the weather took a turn for the worst the Chief began to fear that they might not make the crossing, he began to encourage Allan to row faster, “come on Row Allan” he shouted, and as an extra incentive he the Chief offered Allan a great reward if he could bring them both safely to shore, “Row Allan” he shouted and I will grant you the rich lands Carmelside with your own castle built there.

Allan did manage to get the Chieftain safely to the other side and earned his reward and just to remind himself of that daring adventure he named his castle Rowallan.

It may be a stretch, but that is the legend.


  1. Many of them were fortified mansions in an age when that was required.

    Seems to me we’re in that age again, if indeed we ever left it.


    • It’s easier to organize a defense when you live outside of a city and both distance and acreage can work to your advantage. In a city, it’s almost always point defense.

  2. My older sister in Aberdeen some years back when her now deceased first husband worked as a diver in the North Sea oil fields. She said the country was beautiful but cold.
    My direct line of paternal ancestry leads to Scotland according to the Mormon database, the earliest being born in the early 1600s. A little more digging turned up a website with more information. According to the man who did the research, he was a Royalist who was taken prisoner by Cromwell’s people after the Battle of Worcester, enslaved(I want my reparations!), then sent to New England where he was eventually killed by Indians. There’s a historical marker near the site in New Hampshire.

  3. You can tell if a modern castle is converted from an earlier, far more defensible castle or keep. It’s all about the windows… Smaller, and few to none on the ground level.

    Now, I’d prefer a Scottish ‘Z’ castle. It’s a large Z laid down, where one leg or another covers the front door (usually up a ramp. Supplies are dragged up the stairs on a sled or carried by hand).

    And, yes, fortifying your house, apartment, mansion is a good thing. Sure, you can’t defend against an armed Predator or armor, but you can slow down the foot-people.

    • Depending on when the building began, there will be an undercroft. Some are very old and there have been successive layers added over time as you suggest. But before there were curtain walls, there was an undercroft for animals.

  4. This speaks to my Scots-Irish ancestry…I can hear the Celtic music and Gaelic in my head.

    I’m thinking the Rowallan Castle (legends are some of the good stuff) looks pretty good as a bugout spot, plenty of rooms for Prepper supplies (tabulated on the rotate spreadsheet of course), solid walls, a solid front door and raised entry, and a couple of spotter turrets. Wonder if they’d take an offer?

    • A castle on a non-tidal island may be ideal, with a narrow bridge approaching the castle itself. Add a man-trap between two portculis and some murder holes and you’re in business.

  5. My Mother’s side is Scottish/Irish, but I’ve never been in a castle. They’re quite beautiful to look at, but as you say, it’s cold and wet there. Which brings to mind the episode of “Connections”, where Burke talks about the mini ice-age that was going on, along with the how and why the buildings were made the way they were to keep the people warm and dry.

    And since heat goes upwards, the gentry lived upsatirs, while the servants shivered away downstairs.

    • Animals in the undercroft, a great room with steps leading up (defense) where everyone but the laird and family slept and then the family quarters.

      We 21st Century types would find the king’s quarters something less that what we’re accustomed to. Even in a hovel like the White Wolf Mine.

      • The Peabody-Essex Museum (Salem, Mass) has an old northern Chinese house. They disassembled it in China and painstakingly reassembled it at the Museum. It’s built for defense — from brigands. The second floor has several roughly 10×10-foot rooms, each with a large “kang” (a bed built directly over a brick oven).

        I was touring it and heard another visitor say to her friend, “At least they had decent sized bedrooms; smaller than I’d like, but not too bad.”

        No, honey, no. Those weren’t bedrooms for one person, each 100 sq ft was for a FAMILY. The entire house was for the CLAN.

        • EVEN TODAY – when one spends time in Asia, the big difference between Asians and Westerners is the concept of personal space. In Asia, it’s about 1/4″. For me, it’s about 6′. Seriously, I was social distancing long before we had a plague.

          That distancing doesn’t apply to people dear to me – but to others, oh, yeah. In Asia, all bets are off. I recall when I flew on my first commercial domestic flight in Korea and the seats were five-and five across and 2/3 the size I was accustomed to. Keep in mind, Mike_C that I feel that first class international is cramped.

    • A hoard of raiding WSF ancestors rampaging across the Heather would definitely motivate me to build a mot and bailey.

  6. A friend of mine built one and now lives quite comfortably in it.
    It doesn’t have a moat though, I might suggest one to him.

    • You can make them comfortable to modern standards by adding insulation and plumbing, but as originally constructed, they had defense in mind, not the creature comfort that 21st Century people demand.

    • I’ll ask around next time I’m there. And if the plague continues, that may be some time from now. They’re determined to keep the black death rolling.

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