“ Address: Ruthven / Highland / Scotland „
That mysterious title will be explained, read on.
The impressive Ruthven Barracks occupies a lofty position on a small hill in the middle of the Spey valley floodplain near the village of Kingussie. Tactically, the barrack's position is enviable; visibility is superb all round and the elevation gives an advantage to the defenders.
Because of the hill's superb location, near the only ford over the River Spey for miles, it has been utilised for military purposes since the 13th Century. A castle was first built in 1229 which for a time in the 14th Century, was the home of Alexander Stewart, the brutal "Wolf of Badenoch".
The barracks were constructed in 1721 after the Jacobite uprising of 1715 in an attempt, by the English, to tighten their grip on the rebellious Highlanders.
The barracks were designed to hold around 120 soldiers in two barrack blocks, with a separate stable for the dragoon's horses. The barracks formed an impressive fortification, giving the occupiers an easily defendable position.
In 1745, a force of 200 Jacobites was repelled by a company of only 12 soldiers, with the loss of only one man. The following year, however, a larger force of Jacobites laid siege to the barracks, this time accompanied by artillery; the defenders surrendered.
The final military note in history for the barracks occurred the day after the Battle of Culloden. An army of 3,000 Jacobites assembled with the intention of continuing the fight. A message from Bonnie Prince Charlie, however, urged the soldiers to look after themselves as best they could. The soldiers set fire to the barracks and left. The condition of the ruins today is much as it would have appeared on that historic day in 1746.
Today, the Spey valley is quiet and peaceful. Ruthven Barracks is a tourist attraction, visited by thousands of people each year. The Barracks dominate the Spey valley, visible for miles around, sitting imposingly on top of the small hillock. The thick, grey, stone structures appear timeless and unchanging, silently observing the actions of people and animals going about their lives below.
The ruins are free to enter, and there's a small car park just outside the grounds. The visitor climbs the short distance from the car park to the barrack entrance. Entrance to the barracks places the visitor in the Barrack Square, between the two accommodation blocks. Soldiers will have drilled and sweated, in formation, in all weathers in this small ground.
There is an interpretation board here giving the history of the barracks, and explaining the layout of the ruins.
The two barrack blocks are bare stone, with no remains of floors or ceilings, but all of the rooms are still intact. It's easy to see how close the men had to live together, with the officers in their own, grander, accommodation.
The presence of large stone fireplaces hints at the weather that the soldiers had to endure during the winter. This must have been a hellishly cold place to carry out sentry duty on a cold, dark, Highland night.
The stable block is a bit more cosy (officers looked after their horses well, their lives depended on it), but the horses would have had to endure similar conditions to the soldiers.
The view from the barracks is impressive. Miles of the Spey valley can be seen, with Loch Insh in the distance and the mass of the Cairngorms to the North; it's easy to see why the site was chosen for military purposes.
Despite the nearby A9, there's little evidence of modern human activity here. On a quiet day, it's possible to sit back and imagine that it's still 1746, and that a force of Jacobites is approaching from the North in an attempt to overwhelm the small force of defenders.
The minds eye can visualise the ensuing chaos; the noise of the guns, the screaming of the wounded, the smell of the gunpowder, and the blood liberally coating the floor from the dead and dying.
Visiting Ruthven Barracks is a sobering, but interesting, experience; 300 years of history are contained in its unseeing, unchanging walls. I can recommend a visit here to anyone in the area. It is a chance to reflect on our country's bloody history and marvel at an enduring monument from those turbulent times.
There are no facilities at the barracks, but the charming little village of Kingussie is only a mile or so away and all facilities are available here, with some nice pubs and restaurants.
Finally, a cautionary tale if you're thinking of visiting Ruthven Barracks at night. On a stormy night in 1794, a visitor cloaked in black arrived at the castle and challenged the Wolf of Badenoch to a game of chess. The next morning, the visitor was gone, and all the servants were found outside, killed by lightning. The Wolf himself was found dead, unmarked, in the banqueting hall. Mysteriously, all of the nails in his boots had been torn out. The price of playing chess with the Devil?
The barracks were built in 1721 designed to house troops to fend off the Jacobites.