KAIM OF MATHERS
The Kaim of Mathers was built by David Barclay to serve as a short term, secure residence as he attempted to shelter from the law for alleged acts of murder and cannibalism. Whilst this story is unlikely to be entirely true, the exposed location meant the structure was not occupied for long before the family moved to more comfortable lodgings in nearby St Cyrus.
In 1351 the lands of Mathers passed through marriage into the hands of the Berkleys. This Anglo-Norman family had come to Scotland from Gloucestershire during the reign of William the Lion (1165-1214). The original immigrant was Humphrey de Berkley who was granted the barony of Mearns (Kincardineshire) in Aberdeenshire. However, no castle was built until the early fifteenth century when the then owner was David Barclay, Laird of Mearns (the first of his family to spell his surname as Barclay rather than Berkley).
The castle was constructed due to strained relations between David Barclay and Sir John (James) Melville of Glenbervie, Sheriff of Mearns. David and his uncles became frustrated with the actions of the Sheriff and made an angry appeal to the King whilst he lodged at Red Castle. The monarch was allegedly somewhat exasperated by the repeated complaints. He may, or may not, have said "for all he cared they could go and make soup of their sheriff and sup him”. The complainants took this literally and prepared a large cauldron in a gully near the site of the later castle. They invited the Sheriff to a hunt but then turned on him and threw him in the cauldron boiling the unfortunate individual alive. They then allegedly duly 'supped' him. The King declared David and his uncles outlaws for their actions meaning any man had the right to kill them without consequence. Accordingly David Barclay built the Kaim of Mathers to serve as a secure residence.
This account of the castle’s conception is questionable not least as the various sources are contradictory on both the Sheriff’s name (James, John or Philip?) and the King in question (James I or James II?). It is also unlikely that a major stone fortification could be quickly erected to provide sanctuary from Royal anger; construction in stone was expensive and slow whilst its location would have meant many days lost to inclement weather. Whatever the truth relating to the death of the Sheriff, it is likely the construction of the castle was not directly linked to the event. Nevertheless, the castle was built around this time.
The Kaim of Mathers was built upon a rocky promontory that jutted out below the main cliff and was partially separated from the mainland by a sea inlet. Two defensive walls (over three metres tall) barred the narrow landward approach to the castle whilst a square Tower House provided the main residence. Little is known about the later history of the castle but David Barclay's direct descendants continued to live in St Cyrus until the late sixteenth century. Whether they made much use of the castle is unclear as its exposed coastal location may have made it an undesirable residence. Today the sea has destroyed much of the structure and the ruins are inaccessible.
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The Kaim of Mathers includes the partial remains of a square tower located on a rocky peninsula although much of the structure has been lost to coastal erosion. The remains are now separated from the mainland by a deep chasm.
Kaim of Mathers Hill. The castle used to occupy the whole of the peninsula but much has now been lost to coastal erosion. A precariously placed boulder potentially offers access but there is a sheer drop below. The sea inlet next to site would have provided beaching facilities for small ships.
Tower. Coastal erosion has destroyed much of the tower.
Castle Site. The castle site was overlooked by higher ground.
The Kaim of Mathers is best accessed from St Cyrus where there are numerous car parking options. The visitor can then walk along Beach Avenue to get to the coastal path. Extreme care should be taken as the footpath is muddy in places and runs directly adjacent to the cliff-edge.
Car Parking Option
Kaim of Mathers