KINNAIRD HEAD CASTLE
Looking for a different fortification with a similar name? Try Kinaird Castle.
Kinnaird Head Castle was built as part of a wider scheme to convert the small fishing village of Faithlie into a major port to rival Aberdeen. It was used as a residence for almost 200 years before being acquired by the Northern Lighthouse Board who ultimately made substantial modifications to the site to support a dedicated lighthouse tower.
Sir Alexander Fraser, Laird of Philorth built Kinnaird Castle in 1570 as part of a wider scheme to convert the adjacent fishing village of Faithlie into a substantial port to rival Aberdeen. Alexander was an official in the Government of James VI (later James I of England) with his service including a period as Ambassador to Denmark. His close association with the King enabled him to secure a Royal Charter for Faithlie in 1592 and this enabled him to convert the village into the town of Fraserburgh. However, construction of the town and castle almost bankrupted him forcing the sale of his family seat at Pilorth Castle. Although it was probably never his original plan, especially given its exposed location, the castle at Kinnaird Head became his main residence.
Kinnaird Head Castle took the form of a four storey Tower House. The ground floor consisted of a vaulted basement which served as a storeroom and kitchen. The level above was the Great Hall whilst the upper storeys provided accommodation. The parapet was augmented with round bartizans. Just to the east of the tower is a second fortification known as the Wine Tower. This three storey structure almost certainly pre-dated the Tower House and was probably built to command the harbour. All the floors were vaulted and, following the construction of the castle, it was used as a warehouse.
Alexander’s son then grandson both continued to use Kinnaird with the latter becoming Lord Saltoun in 1669. A committed Royalist, he fought at the Battle of Worcester (1651), was badly wounded and brought back to Kinnaird where he was nursed back to health. He retained control of his estates and was followed by his grandson, William. It passed through marriage to John Gordon of Kinellar but thereafter the tower was left vacant.
In 1786 the Northern Lighthouse Board was founded by Act of Parliament charged with building a number of safety navigation beacons at dangerous points along the Scottish coast. Fraserburgh was identified as one such site and in the following year the abandoned castle was leased by the Board. Under the oversight of Thomas Smith the old tower was converted into Kinnaird Head Lighthouse. The first light, a paraffin powered lamp boosted by 17 reflectors mounted in three tiers, was visible out to sea for over 12 miles. It was lit on the 1 December 1787 and the first Keeper was James Park.
By the early nineteenth century, the existing lighthouse facilities were deemed inadequate and demolition of the castle was mooted to make way for a purpose built facility. However, the engineer tasked with the job, Robert Stevenson (grandfather of Robert Louis Stevenson), was minded to save the structure on antiquarian grounds perhaps due to the influence of his acquaintance with Sir Walter Scott. Although many of the ancillary buildings were demolished, the tower itself was saved albeit with substantial modifications to take the weight of the new lantern.
The lighthouse continued in use in the twentieth century and in 1929 it made history as the first such structure to be fitted with a radio beacon. This was still installed during World War II prompting an attack on the castle by the Luftwaffe in 1941. The lighthouse was finally decommissioned in 1991 and replaced with the modern, automated beacon.
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Kinnaird Head Castle is a sixteenth century tower house which has been converted into a lighthouse. The castle is part of the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses which offers regular tours of the interior including the Great Hall, parapet and lighthouse itself. Occasionally the cellars and kitchen are also open to the public.
Kinnaird Head Castle. The sixteenth century Tower House has been substantially modified to enable the installation of the lighthouse.
Light. The lighthouse was built up on one corner of the Tower House. The light itself was originally a paraffin lamp (right) which could be seen at ranges of up to 12 miles.
Interior. The interior has been extensively modified to support the lighthouse although the size/scale of the Great Hall (left) can still be appreciated. The large spiral staircase (centre) was added during the conversion included a chain mechanism to rotate the lamp.
Modern Lighthouse. The lighthouse was replaced with an automated beacon in 1991.
Wine Tower. The Wine Tower is the oldest building in Fraserburgh and pre-dates the castle itself by a few years. It seems to have been built to command the harbour and act as a warehouse. It was converted into a magazine for the militia in the late eighteenth century.