“ Corgarff, Strathdon, Scotland AB36 8YL. tel = 019756 51433. „
Corgarff castle is set in the gorgeous scenic Grampian countryside 8 miles west of Strathdon on the A939. It is set high on a hill overlooking the surrounding area, a great place to keep an eye on your enemies approaching! The castle consists of a tower surrounded by a star shaped defensive wall (with loopholes to stick your musket out of!) and looks very imposing set on its high hill. It was built in the middle of the 16th century by the Forbes family in, what was at that time, one of the wildest and remotest districts of Scotland. The layout of the tower reflected that of the small gentry houses that were in fashion at the time. There was a basement for storage, a high vaulted hall, and private chambers. In the courtyard were the ancillary buildings and the kitchen. Corgarff Castle has had quite an eventful life! The castle was set on fire in 1571 when the supporters of Mary Queen of Scots tried to take the castle. The Forbes refused and the castle was set on fire killing the lady of the house and all the other inhabitants (around 24 people!). In 1690 the castle was again burnt, this time by the Jacobites, to prevent it being used by government troops. In 1748 Corgarff was converted into military barracks as part of the new military road stretching from Blairgowrie to the Moray Firth. At this time the tower was replaced although the basement of the original tower was retained and used. Long after the threat of rebellion in the Highlands had passed, soldiers remained at Corgarff. However, by the end of the 18th century the garrison consisted of 2 or 3 invalids! After odd uses as a shooting-lodge and a brewery, the castle was eventually used in the campaign against smuggling in the early 19th century with approximately 58 men based there to support the revenue officers. Unfortunately this was the castles last official use. It then spent the next 100 or so years falling into disrepair before being acquired by the state i n 1961. So what is left of this poor castle that has been burned several times and left to the ravages of time? Quite a lot actually! Historic Scotland has conducted some fantastic renovation work and there is a lot to see. You start by entering the castle on the ground floor where there is the gift shop and you pay the small entrance fee (£2.50 for adults and £1 for children). The basements are dark, damp and dingy - just as basements should be! The most interesting feature here are the doors which are the originals from the 18th century. The ground floor originally contained an officer's room and the kitchen but was later converted to provide accommodation for a second officer. The kitchen was then moved outside to one of the ancillary buildings. The first floor is of particular interest as the two barrack rooms have been reconstructed to show the living conditions of the soldiers in 1750. This was quite amazing! There were 8 flimsy double wooden beds that the soldiers would have shared placed round the edge of the room. The beds were as hard as nails and sharing would probably be preferable in the cold Scottish winters. There were only two very small fireplaces in the room so it must have been very cold. At one end of the room, next to a fireplace, was the table with roughly carved wooden bowls. On the base of each bowl were the owners initials which added a nice touch! The table was also carved with "reproduction" graffiti - you could just imagine the bored soldiers sitting carving their name in the wood. Hanging around the walls were redcoat uniforms (boo, hiss!) and kit bags with the owners initials marked on them. The reconstruction even went so far as to recreate the graffiti on the ceilings! I was very intrigued by this so I asked the attendant how the soldiers did this. Apparently it was just candle smoke that they used to write political slogans, messages in support of the king and the obviou s insult or 2! It was very strange walking into this room as it was as if the soldiers had just popped out and you were expecting them back any minute. The second floor has been left in its original state of disrepair to demonstrate how badly decayed the castle was when it was renovated by the trust. It's quite amazing to see how well they have repaired it. The top floor provides magnificent views of the surrounding countryside and is also used by school parties for educational trips. The walls are covered in letters from schools saying what a wonderful time they had! I love to see children enjoying living history instead of having to read about it from books. It makes it so much more accessible. In the west pavilion there are the remains of the bakery and the brewhouse (essential for soldiers!). There is also a display on the life of the soldiers who lived at Corgarff, detailing their living conditions, pay and food. Not very plush I may add! The east pavilion was the guardroom and the prison but this is currently used as a store by the trust. Corgarff castle is small but interesting. It is a long way from Aberdeen, which is probably the nearest city. However, it is on the castle trail and is near several other places of interest, such as Kildrummy castle and a Pictish earth house, which can be visited on the way. I would recommend visiting it as part of a day out as it doesn't take that long to wander round. Word of warning - there is no path up to the castle so you have to walk up the side of the hill. It is a very gentle slope and is very grassy but maybe not suitable for buggies or the infirm.