Rait Castle was a hall house built by the Cummings family in the fourteenth century. They had acquired the manor at the expense of Clan Mackintosh and this led to a feud between the two factions culminating in a massacre within the castle. The structure was abandoned in the late sixteenth century.
The manor of Rait was originally held by the Mackintosh family who probably built the first substantial residence there. The first written record of the family’s ownership is from a charter dated 1165 when it was granted by William I (the Lion) to Shaw Mackintosh. He was the son of Duncan MacDuff, Earl of Fife and later served the Crown as Constable of Inverness Castle. Alongside Rait, Duncan also held the manors of Rothiemurcus and Meikle Geddes. These lands passed to his son, Ferquhard Mackintosh, in 1210. When he died in 1274 he left an under-age heir, Angus, resulting in the lands being taken over by the Cumming family. They were Norman Knights and, in accordance with their traditions, took the surname 'de Rait'.
It was Gervaise de Rait who constructed the fortified hall house visible today in the early fourteenth century as a replacement for the existing manor house. The new structure was constructed directly over the existing building and portions were incorporated into the new structure. The hall house was surrounded by a barmkin, which also enclosed a courtyard and chapel, whilst a defensive ditch may also have surrounded the site. The new house was a substantial structure with walls nearly three metres thick with a large round tower dominating the south corner. However, whilst these defences would have provided defence against any local trouble, they would not have resisted a determined attacker as the entire fortification was overlooked by higher ground to the south. A small (now abandoned) settlement, to the east of the castle, is believed to be associated with the fortification.
The de Rait family - presumably through their kinship to John Comyn, a claimant for the Scottish throne - were strong supporters of Edward I during the First War of Scottish Independence. Two members of the family, Gervaise de Rait and Andrew de Rait, both swore fealty to the English king at Berwick Castle in 1292. They also opposed William Wallace's uprising in 1296/7 and the rebellion of Robert the Bruce in 1306. Despite this opposition to the new Scottish regime and attempts by the Mackintosh family to re-assert their claim on Rait, the castle remained in the hands of the Cummings.
The disputed ownership between the Cummings and the Mackintosh families had led to a feud between the two factions. In 1442 the Cummings conspired to murder the main protagonists of their opponents. They invited the Mackintoshes to Rait on the pretence of a meeting to settle their differences but actually planned to slaughter them as soon as they had surrendered their weapons. However, the Mackintoshes were allegedly alerted to the danger by a daughter of the Cummings family. Suitably prepared the Mackintoshes repulsed the ambush and instead it was the Cummings who were cut down; the Clan chief fled to an upstairs room in the castle to escape the massacre. Legend tells us there he encountered the woman who betrayed him and, as she attempted to escape through a window, cut off her hands.
Rait Castle remained occupied throughout the sixteenth century and was referenced in documents dated 1596 and 1622 (the latter naming a "Castledown of Rait") but was probably abandoned shortly thereafter. An unsubstantiated local rumour suggests that Prince William, Duke of Cumberland stayed here in 1746 on his way north to defeat the Jacobites at Culloden but this seems improbable given better lodgings would have been available in nearby Nairn.
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Rait Castle is a ruined fourteenth century Hall House. The site is freely accessible but strong footwear is recommended.
Rait Castle. Rait Castle is unaltered and nearly complete making it a superb example of a Hall House.
Round Tower. The south corner of Rait Castle is dominated by a Round Tower. The structure has an impressive domed roof (right).
Castle Interior. The interior of the castle. As is clear from the larger and more elaborate windows, the hall itself was on the first floor.
Rait Castle is found off an unnamed road accessed from the B9101. There are no official sign-posts but a small hand-written note points the way. Unless arriving in a four wheel drive vehicle, it is recommended you park at a suitable point (one option suggested below) and walk to the castle.
Car Parking Option