This week’s virtual travel of Scotland takes us on a quick trip to Braemar Castle in Aberdeenshire. We are thrilled that we are finally able to share our adventure from last spring and to provide you all with a little bit of Scotland wherever you may be in the world.
Braemar Castle is unique as it is the only community-run castle in Scotland. This is an important point to highlight as it establishes context for where the Castle is now in the 21st century. It also sets it apart from other castles because there is a contemporary dimension mixed in with the historical. For us, it’s the perfect example of ‘living history’, and demonstrates the importance of having the community be a part of its own history.
History with a Twist
Braemar Castle was built in 1628 by John Erskine, the 2nd Earl of Mar, and was initially known as Mar Castle. Its original purpose was to serve as a lodge for the Earl who would go hunting into the braes (hillsides) of Mar.
In 1689, the Earl of Mar was a supporter of the Protestant monarchs and let the government use the Castle as a garrison for the military. This was done as they were trying to suppress the Jacobites (in the Highlands- including the Farquharson clan) who were contesting the Protestant Monarch and supported Charles Edward Stuart. Stuart, known by many as Bonnie Prince Charlie, believed his father was the rightful heir to the throne and the Jacobites supported him.
What gets interesting with the history is that by 1715, the 6th Earl of Mar ‘changed sides’ and became a supporter of the Jacobites. However, he was defeated and had to forfeit his title and estates- including Braemar Castle.
In 1732, the Castle was sold to John Farquharson who leased it to the Government, and it was used as a barracks. Hanoverian troops were stationed at the Castle and you can still find reminders of their stay as they etched their names onto the walls and window shutters.
Thankfully, the Castle was returned to the Farquharsons in 1831 and they set about making it into a lovely family home. A few years later, in 1834, the Castle would famously host tea for Queen Victoria.
Braemar Castle received extensive renovations in 1896 and was then leased to various people over the years until it was occupied by the Farquharson family again. The current Laird, Captain Alwyn Farquharson (who turned 100 last year!), used the Castle from 1961-2004. The Castle closed from 2004-2006 but was leased to the community by the Farquharsons and reopened in 2007 as a tourist attraction.
So just to recap- the irony of the history of Braemar Castle was that it was originally built to keep the Jacobite and Farquharsons in-check. However, the Farquharsons ended up buying it and it has been the home of the Chiefs of Clan Farquharson since the middle of the 18th century. Now that is Scottish history and drama at its best!
What I particularly love about Braemar Castle is that it is chock full of fascinating details and artefacts that are peppered throughout. So, let’s continue our virtual journey and explore a bit more of the Castle.
From RLS to an American Fashion Plate
When you visit Braemar Castle, there are 12 fascinating rooms to explore and many of the artefacts are from the late 1800s up to the late 20th century. As you look through the pictures, notice how it appears as though the family could return at any time.
“Fifteen men on the Dead Man's Chest Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum! Drink and the devil had done for the rest Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!”
― Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island
What would an adventure in Scotland be without a connection to our friend, Robert Louis Stevenson (RLS)? Tucked into one of the turrets of Braemar Castle is a room devoted to RLS. This is because he started writing his legendary book, Treasure Island, whilst staying in the village near the Castle. In fact, it is said that he named his famous character, Long John Silver, after the local meal miller in the village. As you stand in the RLS room, it isn't difficult to transport yourself to the adventurous world he created. Be sure to take the time to stop and admire this wee little section in the Castle when you visit.
One thing that you notice in the Castle is that it is quite eclectic. So, you go from RLS to a room inspired by the famous eccentric designer, Elsa Schiaparelli. In 1948, Captain Farquharson married American fashion journalist, Frances Lovell Oldham. Throughout the 1930s, Frances was fashion editor at Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. She was known for being a flamboyant and colourful woman and brought her sense of style to Braemar Castle. Frances was good friends with the designer Schiaparelli, and the picture of the Drawing Room shows the Schiaparelli influence with its distinctive pink hues.
We will save other stories for when you visit Braemar Castle, but here are a few more photos to enjoy for our virtual tour:
As you finish your tour of Braemar Castle, be sure to stop and look down into the Laird’s Pit. But watch your step- you don’t want to join the former occupants whose bones still linger in the pit.
Before you leave Braemar Castle, take the time to walk around the grounds as they are quite beautiful and there are some magnificent views. The Wee Walking Tours canine team- Finn and Sawyer- thoroughly enjoyed their brief exploration of the Castle grounds.
Supporting and Visiting Braemar Castle
As we previously noted, Braemar Castle is run by the community. Braemar Community Limited operates the Castle on behalf of the village and rely on fundraising to help with important upkeep and maintenance. According to Braemar Community Ltd, they have been able to raise enough money to fix the roof and chimneys. However, they still need to raise £1.5M to “reharl the external walls with a traditional lime wash; enhance the visitor facilities; and create exciting new events, training and volunteer opportunities”. As a small, family-run business we understand all too well how difficult times are for everyone right now. However, we ask that you consider donating now or in the future when you visit as they are going to need our support. More information can be found on their website.
Unfortunately, as of the writing of this article, Braemar Castle is not open due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to their website, they anticipate being closed until at least the end of June 2020. However, be sure to keep an eye on their social media accounts for the most up-to-date information. When travel resumes, we highly recommend that you visit Braemar Castle- it provides a lovely historical experience that we know you will enjoy!
Until next time- Explore & Discover!