and GREEN CAIRN FORT
Balbegno Castle was built in the sixteenth century in the form of an L-plan tower house and over the last four hundred years has been owned by numerous families including Wood, Ogilvy, Middleton and Gladstone. An Iron Age fortification, Green Cairn Fort, can be found nearby.
Green Cairn Fort
The first fortification at Balbegno was an Iron Age fort, now known as Green Cairn, built on top of a rocky knoll. The fort took a similar configuration to that at Dunnideer Castle and consisted of an oval enclosure protected by two ramparts. The inner one was a stone wall over six metres thick that was vitrified (subjected to intense heat to fuse together the rock) whilst the outer rampart was a substantial dry stone wall probably with timber lacing. A series of outer works protected the north-east side of the knoll which probably marked the site of the entrance. Aside from the structure itself, the site had strong natural defences as it was flanked on the east by the Black Burn and on the west by the Burn of Thornyhill whilst the surrounding ground was probably water-logged. Archaeological investigation in the 1970s suggested occupation ranged from around the sixth to second centuries BC.
Little is known about the site until the twelfth century when the surrounding lands were granted to Ranulph the Falconer by King William the Lion. The earlier fort would have long since been abandoned by this time and the new manor instead grew up on a site half a mile to the east. What, if any, fortification was raised at this time is unknown but there was probably some form of small castle or manor house nearby.
Balbegno Castle was built in 1569 by John Wood as the centrepiece of the surrounding Fasque estate. The castle took the form of a modified L-plan Tower House. The main rectangular block was three storeys tall plus an attic with the ground floor consisting of a vaulted store, the first floor a rib-vaulted Great Hall and the levels above provided accommodation. The connected Stair Tower, which unusually was one storey taller than the main block, was occupied by a wide circular stair similar to that at Huntly Castle. The ceiling in the Great Hall was decorated with the coats of arms of numerous Scottish peerages including Argyll, Bothwell, Crawford, Eglinton, Errol, Gordon, Launderdale (Wemyss), Montrose and Orkney. A dovecote was built near the castle in the early sixteenth century to provide a source of meat and to provide lime for use in mortar.
The castle was in the ownership of the Ogilvy family by the eighteenth century and around 1795 they added a new wing to the castle on the north-east side. A small single storey porch was built to fill the gap between the main castle block, the stair tower and the new wing. Despite these relatively recent modifications, Balbegno Castle was purchased by the Gladstone family in 1829 after which it hosted numerous visits by Prime Minister William Gladstone. The castle and estate remained with the Gladstone family until 2016 when the site was sold. The new owners use the castle as a holiday rental.
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Balbegno Castle is now in use as a self catering holiday home. There is no public access but the castle and dovecote can be seen from the main road. The remains of Green Cairn Iron Age fort is found nearby.
Balbegno Castle. The main rectangular block (left) was augmented by a farmhouse in the seventeenth century (right). This was built abutting the Stair Tower (centre) and a small porch filled the re-entrant angle.
Green Cairn Fort. This Iron Age fort occupied a rocky knoll in close vicinity to the later castle.