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  • Writer's pictureGreg Stewart

Findlater Castle

As far as castles go, the location of Findlater is impressive, perched not just on, but in, a rocky outcrop accessible only by a long, narrow path with sheer drops on either side. Drawbridges once made crossing this uneven path easier, but these have long gone.

A castle has stood on the site since Viking times, with the name Findlater coming from the Norse words ‘Fyn’ meaning white, and ‘Leiter’ meaning cliff, which relates to the local quartz rock which can give exposed cliffs a white appearance. The earliest record of the castle is from 1246, with it being fortified in the 1260’s by King Alexander III in preparation for an expected attack along the Moray coast by King Hakon IV of Norway. Although it is believed the Norsemen took and occupied the castle before their ultimate defeat at the Battle of Largs, no records are held relating to the castle from this time.

The structure that remains today was built in the 14th century for Sir John Sinclair, although this belief is based on the design of the castle being similar to Rosslyn Castle, the seat of the Sinclair family. The first documented records are from 1455 when King James II granted permission to Sir Walter Ogilvy for the castle to be extended and the defences strengthened. As mentioned earlier, access to the castle is via a clifftop pathway, with 2 deep natural trenches where drawbridges once aided the crossing, and with the castle sitting approximately 50 feet above the surrounding shoreline, it is difficult to imagine the work that went into any construction.

While the castle may have initially been designed to protect against overseas invaders, it was the internal battles for power in Scotland that would bring the most notable attack to its walls. The Ogilvy family clashed over loyalties to Mary, Queen of Scots, with Sir Alexander Ogilvy finally disinheriting his son, James, and passing the castle to Sir John Gordon, the son of the Earl of Huntly. James Ogilvy however held considerable influence with the monarchy, and knowing the Gordon family were rebelling against Queen Mary’s authority, he convinced her to visit the castle. She was refused entry, and in response ordered her army to besiege the castle. Although the castle defences held, the Gordon family were eventually defeated at the Battle of Corrichie, and John Gordon was charged with treason, and be-headed, following which the castle was returned to the Ogilvy family.

The fate of the castle was however sealed, and in the 1600’s the Ogilvie family moved to nearby Cullen House, which provided far more comfortable accommodation and the castle was abandoned. Although there are several reported hauntings connected to the castle, it is from this sudden departure and the building being left to decay that the ghost story most commonly told by locals originates.

It is said that a nanny was caring for one of the infant sons of the Ogilvy family, and as she comforted him to sleep in her arms she took him to the window to get some sea air. The child however acted excitedly to the open air, and wriggled in the nanny’s arms, causing her to lose her grip and he fell to the sea below. The nanny desperately tried to grab him, but in doing so lost her balance and fell from the window herself. Her ghostly figure is reported to still be seen to this day, wandering the ruins looking for the child she lost.

A visit to the castle is well worth it, but it is not easy to find! A sign from the main road points you in the rough direction, but you then need to make your way along single track roads, to an unmarked carpark and then walk around half a mile along the side of a field (make sure to check out the doocot on the way). But the view when you get there is amazing!

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