Set in the remote and once lawless Strathdon region, Corgarff Castle was initially built to provide security to its Laird and his possessions. Embroiled in clan warfare it later saw events of national significance as it acted as a supply base for the army of James Graham, Marquis of Montrose and later the Jacobite forces of Prince Charles Stuart.
Corgarff Castle was initially built in the first half of the sixteenth century although who commissioned it is uncertain. James IV had given the area to Alexander Elphinstone in 1507 but it was later granted to one of his tenants, John Forbes of Towie. A member of Clan Forbes, who were in the ascendant at this time, John was the most likely builder of Corgarff Castle partly for prestige but mostly for pragmatic security reasons; Strathdon was a remote and lawless place with strong facilities being essential to protect life and wealth.
The first part of the fortification at Corgarff was the Tower House. Modest in size when compared to contemporary castles, it consisted of three floors; two stone vaulted cellars on the ground floor, a Great Hall on the first and residential chambers on the second. A defensive wall around the Tower House would have enclosed a courtyard within which there would have additional buildings including stables and both a bakehouse and brewhouse.
Clan Forbes had a fractious relationship with Clan Gordon; the latter had suffered from an attack on Druminnor Castle but had gone on to defeat the Forbeses at the Battle of Tillyangus (1571). Nevertheless Adam Gordon, Laird of Auchindoun, led a force from Auchindoun Castle to Corgarff in 1571 intent on capturing John Forbes. He found John absent and the castle held by his wife, Margaret. She refused Adam entry and so he set the castle ablaze killing her and twenty-four other people. Contemporary ballards suggest a revenge attack was made on Auchindoun Castle.
In 1645 Corgarff Castle was occupied by the forces of James Graham, Marquis of Montrose. One of the most successful Royalist Generals of the Civil War, Graham led his forces to successes at the battles of Inverlochy (February 1645), Auldearn (May 1645), Alford (July 1645) and Kilsyth (August 1645). Corgarff became one of his supply bases but his defeat at the Battle of Philiphaugh on 13 September 1645 marked the end of his campaign.
The Glorious Revolution of 1689 saw James VII (James II of England) overthrown with the Protestant William of Orange and Mary Stuart invited to become joint monarchs. This was deeply unpopular in the largely Catholic Highlands and prompted the Jacobite uprisings. The first, between 1689-90, saw Corgarff Castle attacked and set ablaze to deny its use to the Government. In 1715 a new uprising was initiated by John Erskine, Earl of Mar at Kildrummy Castle - he was also owner of Corgarff Castle at this time and marched his forces there to collect weapons before moving onto Braemar. Finally, in 1746, the forces of Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) took control of Corgarff after having returned to the Highlands from their unsuccessful advance towards London the previous year. Corgarff was intended to act as their supply base for a protracted mountain war against the Government. However the Government dispatched a force from Aberdeen under the command of Lord Ancrum to dislodge them and the Jacobites withdrew setting fire to the castle as they left. Shortly afterwards the Jacobite rebellion ended with the decisive Government victory at the Battle of Culloden (1746).
After the Jacobite rebellion of 1745, Corgarff was taken into State control as part of the expansion of permanent military garrisons into Western Aberdeenshire. Corgarff Castle was converted into a military barracks with the Tower House being totally gutted and converted to four storeys. The ground floor remained storerooms, the first floor became Officer accommodation and the second and third floors were converted into barracks. Two pavilions were built either side of the Tower House and the old parameter wall was demolished being replaced by a distinctive star shaped wall complete with musket loops. A new military road, running from the huge citadel at Fort George near Inverness to Blairgowrie, was constructed in the vicinity of the castle. The garrison of Corgarff was drawn from General Pulteney's Regiment, the 13th Foot, and consisted of around 45 men on detached duty from Fort George.
The 1745 rebellion was the last Jacobite uprising; by 1754 good relations were being reported between the Highlanders and Government forces. The garrison of Corgarff Castle was thus significantly reduced until it was returned to private ownership in 1802. It became a farmhouse and a Whiskey distillery but in 1827 was re-occupied by the military this time to assist in the suppression of smuggling activities. The garrison remained in place until 1831 after which the castle was abandoned and allowed to decay. It was taken into state ownership in 1961.
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Corgarff Castle is Tower House set within stunning scenery and made all the more impressive by the stark white-washed colour scheme. Internally the castle has a re-created Barrack Room showing the conditions in which the Government solders lived in the years following the 1745 Jacobite rebellion.
Curtain Wall. The distinctive star shaped curtain wall was added once the site was taken-over by Government troops. A similar arrangement can be seen at Braemar Castle.
Barracks. One of the floors in the Tower House has been recreated to show the standard of accommodation for Government soldiers in the eighteenth century . Each double bed was shared by two troopers. This was a universal standard across the Highland garrisons.
Corgarff Castle is found off a single track road that connects to the A939. Ensure you follow the (clear) road sign rather than Sat Nav (which can take you down the wrong road!). There is a dedicated car park serving the castle from which there is a short uphill walk.