A Fun Day Visiting Two Ancestral Castles in Aberdeenshire – Tulquhon & Fyvie

Wednesday, August 21st, we piled into the rental car and headed about 20 miles northwest from Aberdeen to our first stop, the small village of Tarves.

tolquhon and fyvie castle

The church in the center of town has a churchyard with some extremely old gravestones in it. In fact, there is one ancient monument, in particular, called the Tolquhon Tomb, which dates back to 1596 that I definitely wanted to show Errin and Grace. It used to reside inside what was once the south aisle of the medieval parish church. Protective glass structures now surround this ancient tomb from the eroding elements of the weather.

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This tomb is a particularly excellent example of medieval carvings. It displays an interesting mixture of Gothic and Renaissance forms. According to the interpretive signs onsite,

“The general scheme is medieval, but much of the detail is pseudo-classical in character. This is seen on the arcade front of the tomb chest and in the balusters on either side.

The grotesque animals on the external curve of the tomb arch are fashioned in the whimsical and vigorous style found in sculptural work of this period in northeast Scotland.

On the left spandrel is a shield bearing the arms of Forbes, a helmet, and the motto Salvs Per Christvm (Salvation Through Christ). On the right, a similar shield with a gentleman’s hat for a crest bears the arms of his spouse, Elizabeth Gordon of Lesmoir. Portrait statues of the Laird and his Lady support the tracery on either side. “

tolqhuon monument

It’s an outstanding example of a Laird’s medieval tomb, and it is mainly of interest to us because it just so happens that the Lord and Lady are a couple of my 10th great grandparents! (See the lineage below.)

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Naturally, I wanted to get a picture of Grace standing in front of her 12th great grandfather’s burial tomb. It’s not very often that one comes across such an ancient ancestral headstone and in such pristine condition!

Sir William, 7th Lord of Tolquhon Forbes 1530-1596
10th great-grandfather
Son of Patrick Forbes
John Forbes 1568-1635
Son of Sir William, 7th Lord of Tolquhon Forbes
John Fobes 1608-1661
Son of John Forbes
Lieut William Fobes 1649-1712
Son of John Fobes
Mary Fobes 1689-1712
Daughter of Lieut William Fobes
Fobes Southworth 1710-1755
Son of Mary Fobes
Pvt John Southworth 1743-1832
Son of Fobes Southworth
Hannah Southworth 1796-1842
Daughter of Pvt John Southworth
Hannah Mae Case 1828-1898
Daughter of Hannah Southworth
Daniel A Clapp 1853-1913
Son of Hannah Mae Case
Hannah Elizabeth Clapp 1897-1977
Daughter of Daniel A Clapp
William Kenneth Frew 1917-1997
Son of Hannah Elizabeth Clapp
Claudia Louise Frew
You are the daughter of William Kenneth Frew

 

While we were visiting the churchyard, we also noticed some strong young fellas working in the churchyard nearby straightening up a large headstone that was about to tip over.  They were jacking it up and refortifying its base on level ground once again to preserve it and keep it from becoming destroyed. What great work these guys do to protect history and the integrity of old burial sites. It is absolutely admirable what they do. So many headstones have been lost over the ages because of tipping and toppling. It is fantastic that they can save so many from a similar fate with modern tools and technology and a bit of human elbow grease and expertise!

We wandered about the churchyard looking at some of the other old grave slabs scattered throughout while Lindsay helped explain to the girls what a lot of the symbols meant carved into the ancient stones. He also pointed out the little rocks embedded between the blocks of the church building, adding a little touch of specialized decoration to the mortar.

Our next stop was only a couple of miles back down the road. We were headed to the castle where our Forbes great grandparents lived – Tolquhon Castle!

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We were so excited to explore the impressive ruins of this fairytale castle in the stunning Grampian countryside. Tolquhon has been described as one of the most beautiful castles in Scotland. It was our ancestor, Sir William Forbes, who commissioned it in 1584,  and intended it to be an impressive residence.

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The first structure built on this site was “Preston’s Tower.”  This tower was a typical Norman type square tower found in the early 15th century and built by Sir Henry Preston. The main feature was a Tower House, which was surrounded by a ‘barmkin’ (curtain wall) enclosing the auxiliary buildings such as a brewhouse, bakehouse, and stables. Sir Henry died in 1420 without leaving a male heir, so his estates were divided between his daughters. Tolquhon Castle passed through his second daughter, Marjorie, to her husband, Sir John Forbes. The castle would remain with the Forbes family for almost 300 years.

Sir John Black Lips Forbes 1332-1446
16th great-grandfather
Baron Alexander 1st Lord Forbes 1377-1448
Son of Sir John Black Lips Forbes
James “2nd Lord” Forbes 1425-1460
Son of Baron Alexander 1st Lord Forbes
Patrick Forbes 1446-1476
Son of James “2nd Lord” Forbes
David Forbes 1478-1509
Son of Patrick Forbes
Patrick Forbes 1516-1554
Son of David Forbes
Sir William, 7th Lord of Tolquhon Forbes 1530-1596
10th great-grandfather
Son of Patrick Forbes

Six generations later, John’s descendant, William Forbes, 7th Laird of Tolquhon (who died 1596 and is buried in the tomb we just visited), began work on a new part of the castle in 1584. He kept the Preston Tower that his 5th great grandfather had built, but he also added new and more comfortable accommodations.

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He also improved the gardens and parkland around the house. It was quite the place in its day.  He had a lot of important and noble friends to entertain. In fact, King James VI was entertained here at Tolquhon in 1589 just after its completion. The new buildings were arranged around a central courtyard and included an elaborate gatehouse and a first-floor gallery.

A carved inscription on the gatehouse’s rock exterior records that “AL THIS WARKE EXCEP THE AULD TOWR WAS BEGUN BE WILLIAM FORBES 15 APRIL 1584 AND ENDIT BE HIM 20 OCTOBER 1589”.

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The home of a ‘Renaissance man,’ Tolquhon was designed for show rather than defense and was the work of the mason-architect Thomas Leiper, who converted the site into a compact palatial residence. While the castle’s overall footprint didn’t significantly change, the buildings surrounding the courtyard were completely rebuilt. After William’s death, his descendants continued to occupy Tolquhon until 1718, when they were forced to move out following support for the Jacobite rebellions.

Parliament declared his estates forfeited in 1716, but Forbes refused to vacate and had to be forcibly evicted in September 1718. Tolquhon Castle ceased to be a high-status residence at that time and was eventually purchased by the Earl of Aberdeen to use as a farmhouse and continued in this role until the early nineteenth century when it was allowed to drift into ruin. Luckily, it is now in the guardianship of Historic Scotland and is open to the public. 

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We enjoyed exploring the castle, the grand hall, bedrooms, galleries, and kitchens alike. So many rooms to discover and stairs to climb to various levels and sections. It was a lot of fun, and the views from the uppermost levels didn’t disappoint on such a lovely morning.

As we made our way to leave and were back at the main entrance, we had to turn around for one last look at another magnificent example of an ancestral castle we get to add to our list!

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IMG_4327We got back in the car and headed back down the castle road to the main highway to return once again to the village of Tarves. We had worked up quite an appetite, and I knew just the place to satisfy those hunger pangs – The Murly Tuck Cafe! We enjoyed some delicious home-cooked soups and sandwiches. We replenished our energy levels to be able to continue our explorations further out into this beautiful countryside to yet another castle on the horizon about 20 miles away.

Our next destination was Fyvie Castle. We drove through the outer gates, up the long drive that follows alongside a beautiful lake teeming with wildlife and flora, and which ends at the castle entrance.

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We timed it just right. The next tour would soon begin, and we had just enough time before it started to wander around the castles’ exterior to see what it looks like from all sides.

Afterward, we entered the front door and began making our way through the entry hall filled with armorial displays and hunting trophies to the room where the tour would begin.

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I’ve been to Fyvie a couple of times before and never tire of its tour. There are so many things to look at, you can’t possibly see them all in one visit anyway. During past visits, we were not allowed to take any photographs inside. Much to my surprise and delight, the tour guide announced that they have changed their policy, and photography is now allowed, so I have lots of photos of its beautiful interior to share with you.

We started in the dining room with its table beautifully laid with china and beautiful crystal, and its many stunning portraits gracing its walls.

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As we visited each of the main rooms, the tour guide started to relay the complicated history of the castle bit by bit, introducing various historical figures in the beautiful portraits that we were looking at adorning the walls.

Formerly, the castle served as a Royal stronghold until 1390, shortly after the Battle of Otterburn. It was then passed down to a succession of 5 clan families: Preston, Meldrum, Seton, Gordon, and Leith, respectively.

Evidently, each of the families constructed a new tower onto the castle after they took possession, and the castle began to grow.  The first of these towers was the Preston Tower. Dated between 1390-1433, the tower remains to this day.  The impressive Seton tower forms the entrance, and it was erected in 1599 by Alexander Seton. Seton also commissioned the grand processional staircase several years later. The Gordon tower followed in 1778, and lastly, the Leith in 1890. The descendants of Alexander Leith, who owned the castle until the early 1900s, sold the castle to the National Trust for Scotland in 1984. The castle is now open to the public to admire its architecture, art collection, and family history.

It’s important to note at this point that one of these families includes some of our own ancestors. Alexander Seton mentioned above, and his wife, Lilias Drummond were another set of my 10th great grandparents, like the Forbes from about the same time from Tolquhon!

Alexander Seton Earl of Dunfermline 1555-1622
10th great-grandfather
& his wife,
Lilias Drummond 1580-1601
10th great-grandmother
Margaret Seton 1599-1630
Daughter of Alexander Seton Earl of Dunfermline and Lilias Drummond
Anne Mackenzie 1627-1707
Daughter of Margaret Seton
David Daniel Campbell 1675-1753
Son of Anne Mackenzie
Charles Campbell 1699-1767
Son of David Daniel Campbell
William Campbell 1728-1803
Son of Charles Campbell
Jeanette Campbell 1770-1851
Daughter of William Campbell
John Holliday 1803-1872
Son of Jeanette Campbell
Elizabeth “Lizzie” Holiday 1842-1872
Daughter of John Holliday
Nancy Anne Brundage 1867-1948
Daughter of Elizabeth “Lizzie” Holiday
William Rose Frew II 1885-1976
Son of Nancy Anne Brundage
William Kenneth Frew 1917-1997
Son of William Rose Frew II
Claudia Louise Frew
You are the daughter of William Kenneth Frew

Knowing this ancestral connection makes looking at the crests and heraldic symbols and the various items in each room that much more exciting and relative – literally! To think my ancestor could have been sitting in this library, at this desk, and looking at this very book hundreds of years ago! Fascinating!

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The castle (like many places in Scotland) is said to be haunted, the odd tale of a ghost or two is commonplace, and with Fyvie Castle, it certainly is the case, with a little added for extra emphasis. For instance, when Lady Meldrum died sometime in the 13th century, her body was sealed in the wall of a secret room within the Meldrum Tower as she had requested. She had cursed disaster on anyone who entered the room. During the renovation of the castle in 1920, workmen discovered her remains. From that day on, the castle has been plagued by strange noises and unexplained happenings. The ghost of Lady Meldrum was seen frequently after that. Her spirit is referred to today as the ‘Grey Lady.’

Another ghost, known as the ‘Green Lady,’ also frequents Fyvie Castle. She is thought to be the wife of Sir Alexander Seton, who starved her to death because she hadn’t produced a male heir and so he could marry her cousin. Folklore states that after her death, the ghost of Dame Lillias Drummond scratched her name upside down on the window sill outside of the bedroom being used by the newlyweds. Her name can still be seen there today.

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It is reported that the ‘Green Lady’ also leaves the scent of roses wherever she goes. To think that my 10th great grandfather murdered my 10th great grandmother because she didn’t produce a male heir! I’m not so proud of him, after all! Geez! It’s no wonder she haunts the place; I probably would too if I was her!

The tour took us through many rooms, and we ended it in the beautiful and stunning Gallery whose walls are lined with exquisite old 17th-century tapestries. The massive organ at the end of the room is fascinating, and they even allow you to play the grand piano if you’re so inclined! A beautiful setting for a special occasion, such as a wedding. I understand that if you plan a wedding there, you can rent out a whole suite of rooms and spend the night there as well.  That would be something, wouldn’t it?

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IMG_2510We finished up our tour and exited through the Tea Room, where we bought some ice cream and enjoyed it out on the terrace outside. A very friendly little Robin had joined us and was hoping for some crumbs to drop perhaps. 

Fyvie Castle also has some beautiful gardens associated with it in the walled garden, and a hike around the lake, especially in June when the rhododendrons are blooming, is a real treat. The castle has a lot to offer.

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We certainly enjoyed it. It was getting late in the afternoon, and we still wanted to drive over to the coast at Collieston about 20 miles away to see the ocean before we headed back to Aberdeen. When we got back to town and went to the grocery store to buy something to fix for dinner, we came across these delectable fruit tarts and cakes and some absolutely darling animal-shaped cookies that made us giggle.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed our visit to two more meaningful and beautiful ancestral castles. There will be more to come! Stay tuned! Next time we’ll be visiting Kildrummy and Craigievar – another couple of ancestral castles in Aberdeenshire!

Author: Claudia Frew

Adventuresome, independent, and fun-loving 68-year young American great-grandmother who loves to travel; often going solo!

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