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Walter’s First Castle: A Visit to Aberdour

This is a special blog post for us as it features our beloved Golden-angel, Sawyer, and how he guided wee Walter on his first castle visit. Walter is a year old now, but it was fun to look back at the adorable photos and remember this special trip. So, join us as we head to one of the oldest castles in Scotland- Aberdour Castle!



Like last week’s visit to Culzean Castle, the glorious Scottish sunshine continues for this adventure. This time, we head north of Edinburgh (about a 40-minute drive) into the Kingdom of Fife and the wee village of Aberdour. However, I think a little history about Aberdour Castle will help to situate us before we begin our tour.

 

Brief History

 

The Castle is now in the care of Historic Scotland. However, it was once continuously occupied for five centuries with the oldest part of the site dating to the 1100s when the barony was acquired by Alan de Mortimer. His family built the first hall house (keep) and the nearby St. Fillan’s Church (we’ll visit that in just a bit).

 

According to Historic Scotland, “one of the earliest known references to the lords of Aberdour is in the charter of Inchcolm Abbey”. The Abbey ruins can be seen from Aberdour harbour. However, you’re in luck, because you can get an ‘up-close look’ of it from our article that details the exciting boat trip we took to the island. Be sure to check that out after this exploration.

 

Anyway, let’s get back to Aberdour Castle’s fascinating history. The reason why William de Mortimer was mentioned in Inchcolm Abbey Charter was because he was in a dispute with the Abbot. Needless to say, William was not exactly showing his most charitable Christian side with how he had the abbot and his canons treated in the dispute- he had them beaten up! However, he must have felt guilty for what he had done because he later admitted he was wrong and gave St. Fillan’s Church to Inchcolm Abbey.

 

Inchcolm Abbey

Eventually the de Mortimers died out and, in 1342, the lands passed to the Douglas family. Unfortunately, over the centuries, there were many in the Douglas family who were known as being very opportunistic- even if it meant betraying their own country to the English in attempt to secure their own power.

 

One of the more notorious members of the Douglas family that lived at Aberdour Castle was James Douglas, the 4th Earl of Morton. Morton was the Lord Chancellor of Scotland during Mary Queen of Scots time on the throne. He was also one of the men who arranged to have Mary’s private secretary, David Rizzio, killed. Rizzio was tragically stabbed to death right in front of Mary at the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Morton’s ruthlessness continued when he had Queen Mary imprisoned at Lochleven Castle and forced her to abdicate to her infant son (King James VI). The Earl of Morton eventually became Regent for James and was known as ‘Regent Morton’.


4th Earl of Morton, James Douglas

Related to Lochleven, Mary’s jailor at Lochleven Castle, Sir William Douglas, inherited the earldom of Morton in Aberdour Castle in 1588. He became the 7th Earl of Morton. However, it was his grandson (also known as Sir William Douglas), the 8th Earl of Morton, who would make Aberdour Castle a “more sumptuous residence than at any other time in its history”. Historic Scotland explains that the “walls of the principal rooms were hung with tapestries and the windows covered by drapes. The private rooms were dominated by great beds, one of red silk with gold fringes, another of red silk with black and yellow lace”. Clearly the 8th Earl wanted to showcase his wealth and status at Aberdour Castle.


Now that we’ve covered a bit of the history, let’s see how the Castle looks today.

 

Tour of the Castle

 

Our tour starts in what once would have been the inner courtyard. However, today you can only see the foundations for the walls that once enclosed the courtyard. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, this was Walter’s first visit to a castle and Sawyer was eager to show him 'how its done’. Sawyer started off by being the professional that he was and posed from multiple angles in front of the Castle on the courtyard ruins.



 


It was then Walter’s turn. Of course, being a puppy, he had boundless excitement at being in a new place with lots of interesting scents and sounds and had a hard time sitting still😂.



Aberdour Castle changed a great deal over the centuries and the photo above (with Walter and Sawyer in the foreground) is the perfect illustration of this. We'll take a closer look at the ruins and buildings in a just a second, but first let's get an overview. Looking at the background of the picture, the newer looking building all the way to the left is the 'East Range'. According to Historic Scotland, it was the last major addition to the Castle and dates to the 1600s. The building in the middle is the 'Central Range' and that was added in the 1500s. To the right of that is the 'Hall House/Tower House'. This is the "earliest part of the Castle. It was built in the 1100s as a two-storey hall house (or keep). In the 1400s, it was heightened and reordered to create a tower house".



The picture above shows the tower house as viewed from the west. Looking all the way to the left, you can see where part of the tower house collapsed in 1919. We’ll head around to the service courtyard where Sawyer can give us a better look at the collapsed section.


Sawyer was enjoying some shade from the collapsed masonry of the tower house.

Walter had fun exploring the ruins of the service courtyard buildings.



The Central Range dates to the time of Regent Morton. Below is the vaulted kitchen from the ground floor of the Central Range.



Above the kitchen were two floors of private apartments (which are now just ruins).



When you visit Aberdour Castle, by far one of the most impressive sections is the East Range. As I previously mentioned, this was the last major addition to the Castle, and it was built for the 8th Earl in the 1600s.

 

There are stables on the ground floor of the East Range.



Here are some more photos from this beautiful part of the Castle:



Amazingly some of the painted ceiling from one of the first-floor rooms can still be seen and hint at Aberdour Castle’s former splendour.



Gardens & Grounds

 

When you visit Aberdour Castle, be sure to leave time to walk around the extensive gardens. One of the major features is the terraced garden to the south of the Castle which was probably laid out by Regent Morton who was an avid gardener.



The beehive-shaped dovecot dates to the 1500s and houses 600 stone nesting boxes.




Here are some more photos of the exquisite gardens, grounds, and exteriors of the Castle.



As I mentioned in the history section at the beginning of this article, St. Fillan’s Church was built by the de Mortimer family (the original owners of Aberdour Castle) in the 1100s. It is not under the care of Historic Scotland as it is still an active parish church. In fact, it is one of the earliest surviving churches in Scotland. However, if you visit Aberdour Castle, we highly recommend that you make sure to also visit St. Fillan’s Church which is connected to the Castle grounds via a kirkyard lane (modelled below by Sawyer).



Silver Sands Beach

 

Aberdour means ‘mouth of the water’, so we thought it fitting to cap our adventure with a visit to Silver Sands beach. Specifically, we needed to get lunch and went to the recommended restaurant, ‘Sands, A Place by the Sea’. Dogs are allowed in the outside seating area, so we were all happy to relax, take in the beautiful views of the bay, and breath in the fresh sea breeze while we refuelled after our busy explorations. Of course, Sawyer took some time to continue his ‘how to model’ master class sessions.



After, Sawyer continued his posing on the beach, and Walter got in some practice as well.



Well, that’s going to do it for our Aberdour adventure! We hope you enjoyed seeing Sawyer take Walter on his first castle visit. Of course, there is so much more to see and experience in person and we highly recommend that you visit Aberdour Castle and the village as well. Be sure to go to Historic Scotland’s webpage for Aberdour Castle so you can get up-to-date planning information.


If you’ve enjoyed this ‘explore and discover’ mission with our Golden Retriever, Walter, be sure to check out his visit to Loch Katrine. And be assured that we have more adventures planned around Scotland. One of the best ways to find out about these explorations is to subscribe to the blog- that way you get our articles to your inbox as soon as they’re published.


You can also follow us on our social media channels where we share pictures and videos of Edinburgh and our travels around Scotland- Twitter/X, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, Threads, and Facebook.


Finally, if you happen to visit our lovely capital city, be sure to book one of our five-star Edinburgh walking tours. Sami would love to show you around our ‘Athens of the North’!


Until next time- Explore & Discover!



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