Kildrummy & Craigievar – Two More Castles and One of Them is Ancestral!

On Thursday, August 22nd, we drove west out into the sunny countryside about 30 miles from Aberdeen to visit a couple of two very different castles.
kildrummy and craigievar castle map from Aberdeen
The first one we visited was Kildrummy Castle.
In its medieval heyday, this colossal castle dominated Strathdon as the seat of the mighty Earls of Mar, and it was built by and belonged to yet another one of my ancestors.
According to the timeline above on the interpretive sign, William Erskine, Earl of Mar, began working on this castle in 1250. He is my 20th great-grandfather through my dad’s side of the family and one particular great-great-grandmother of mine,  Elizabeth Holiday, who I affectionately call ‘Princess Lizzy’ since she leads to oh-so-many noble ancestors such as this one.
William Erskine 1274-1331
20th great-grandfather
Robert Erskine 1310-1385
Son of William Erskine
Thomas Erskine 1340-1405
Son of Robert Erskine
Robert Erskine 1368-1452
Son of Thomas Erskine
Thomas Erskine 1418-1493
Son of Robert Erskine
Alexander Erskine 1436-1508
Son of Thomas Erskine
Robert Thomas Mar Thomas Erskine 1458-1513
Son of Alexander Erskine
John ERSKINE 1487-1555
Son of Robert Thomas Mar Thomas Erskine
Margaret Erskine 1513-1572
Daughter of John ERSKINE
Son of Margaret Erskine
Lord Archibald Campbell Marquis of Argyll Earl of Argyll 1606-1661
Archibald “9th Earl of Argyll” Campbell 1629-1685
Son of Lord Archibald Campbell Marquis of Argyll Earl of Argyll
David Daniel Campbell 1675-1753
Son of Archibald “9th Earl of Argyll” Campbell
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
Throughout this mighty castles’ long and turbulent history, it has seen siege and counter-siege, forced marriage, treachery, historical drama, and even treason. The castle, although a ruin now, was once a mighty fortress situated in a strategic location along the old main road. It has a very complicated past, and it has passed through many historic hands and has seen many famous visitors, including Edward I King of England.
In 1435, about a hundred and seventy-five years after it was built, James I annexed the earldom of Mar and took ownership of Kildrummy. He made two large fortress type round Barbican Towers at the entrance for extra protection and fortification. The castle passed through several Kings and other noble families until, eventually, it went back to the Erskines in 1626.

As the interpretive sign above states, there is a sad story about a woman who inherited Kildrummy Castle and became Countess. Her name was Isabel Douglas, Countess of Mar (1360-1408). Just outside these gates in front of the castle, a terrible injustice took place.

Isabel was the sister of the famous James 2nd Earl of Douglas and Earl of Mar, who died leading the Scots to victory at the Battle of Otterburn. He died without any legitimate children, and Isabl inherited most of his property, including Kildrummy.

After becoming Countess, she became the most sought after bride in the land and was soon married to Sir Malcolm Drummond, brother-in-law of King Robert III. She was unable to produce any children, however, and soon the Countess became the focus of several plots to usurp her lands by scheming noblemen.

Isabel and Malcolm lived at Kildrummy Castle, but Sir Malcolm was frequently away on royal business since he was one of King Robert’s close advisors. In 1402, while he was away at one of his other castles, he was suddenly attacked by a large group of highlanders led by the infamous Alexander Stewart, the illegitimate son of the Wolf of Badenoch.

Alexander captured the castle and put Sir Malcolm into one of his dungeons, where he soon died. King Robert III was sick and infirm, and real power was in the hands of his younger brother, the Duke of Albany. Isabel could no longer access the King and was now completely isolated and easy prey for her husband’s murderer.

In the summer of 1404, Alexander Stewart and his gang of highlanders descended on her castle at Kildrummy. They captured the castle along with the Countess. He extorted from her a signed document promising to marry him and give him all of her lands, including the earldom of Mar and lordship of the Garioch. Under normal circumstances, this incident would not have been allowed. Still, Isabel had the misfortune that these events took place during the regency of the Duke of Albany, who was, in fact, the uncle of Alexander Stewart.

Because of his relation to the Royal Family and the close friendship with his uncle, Alexander was saved from any actual punishment. Isabel was forced to marry the man who murdered her husband and lived the last four years of her life as his captive. She died in the year 1408. That poor woman!

With all that in mind, we were grateful we live in a different time when women have rights and then we crossed what used to be the drawbridge and entered the castle’s inner courtyard to start exploring its interior in a clockwise manner. Poor Isabel. Once she walked in here she never got to leave ever again.



The Snow Tower was a fascinating part of the castle. It was the architectural centerpiece and served as the residence for the Earls of Mar. The tower had a system of pully’s which hoisted buckets of water up through the center of the tower from the ground floor to the uppermost floors. That way, heavy buckets of water didn’t have to be carried all the way up the narrow spiral stairs! Now that’s clever!

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About halfway around the ruin, we came to the Great Hall, as seen above. The sign reminds me to tell you another story about this castle. Because it was the hub of activity and lots of various people came and went, several other historical figures play into the castles’ past as well, such as Robert the Bruce, for example.

Evidently, the Earls of Mar were closely allied to the Bruce family, and when Robert the Bruce launched his fight for an independent Scotland in 1306, he sent his second wife and his daughter to Kildrummy for safety. It wasn’t safe, so the royal court members were forced to try to flee further north when an English force under the Earl of Pembroke and Prince Edward (later Edward II) besieged Kildrummy.

When repeated attempts to take the castle failed, the English resorted to treachery. A paid informer among the defenders, a blacksmith named Osbourne, set fire to the great hall, where grain was temporarily being stored. The castle was taken, and then Nigel Bruce, brother of Robert the Bruce, and the rest of the garrison who stayed behind to defend Kildrummy, were executed by hanging.  Did the traitor get his reward? Oh, you bet he did! Osbourne was rewarded with much gold – poured molten right down his throat. Ouch!

The English partially destroyed the castle so that it could no longer be used by the Scots. Bruce’s wife and daughter were captured and harshly imprisoned, the 12-year-old Lady Marjorie was held in a cage at the Tower of London and forbidden to speak. Can you imagine?

After the Great Hall, we walked through the kitchens and then the Warden’s Tower in the corner. There is a steep ravine on the backside of the castle. The ‘back door’ of the castle was located near the bottom of the Wardens tower. I walked out of the castle through the back door entryway by the Wardens Tower and walked around to the outside of the castle to see the view from its northern side.


You could also really see the dry moat as well that was there for added defense.


Back around to the inner courtyard again, we explored the section of the castle that used to have the chapel on the upper floors with large arched windows on the north wall.

The castle passed back to the Clan Erskine before being abandoned in 1716 following the failure of the Jacobite rebellion of 1715 led by John Erskine, the 6th Earl of Mar. After the collapse of the Jacobite cause, Kildrummy was deliberately dismantled and used as a quarry. In 1951 it was put into the care of the State after a man named Colonel James Ogston had done a lot of work to repair and maintain the remaining structure in the late 19th century.

It’s a fascinating castle to visit and in a lovely location. Behind the castle, down in the ravine where the rock quarry was and where they got the stone to build the castle initially, James Ogston planted a Japanese Garden and transformed the quarry into something quite beautiful. He also made another small castle nearby. It is now the Kildrummy Castle Hotel. I had hoped to take the girls to the garden to have lunch and see the lovely ponds, waterfalls, and plantings, but unfortunately, the castle hotel was currently up for sale. The gardens are connected to the hotel; therefore, the gardens were also closed. I was quite disappointed because it is one of my favorite gardens and I had hoped to share them with the girls.
Instead, we piled back in the car and headed about 10 miles further down the road to another one of my favorite castles, Craigievar!


We arrived in plenty of time before the next guided tour began, so we found a picnic table and enjoyed our lunch while we took in the beautiful views.


Craigievar is a castle that the National Trust for Scotland maintains. Unlike Fyvie castle that we visited the day before it still does not allow any photography once you’re inside on tour. I did find a couple of photos from NTS that show what you can expect to see inside, however.

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The tour is excellent and takes you all the way up to the rooftop. There are lots of beautiful paintings by famous artists and some very ornate and well-preserved intricate molded plastered ceilings to admire. Each tour group is kept small because of the narrow staircases and modestly sized rooms. This castle is built on a domestic scale. Even the Great Hall, the largest room on the lower floors, is dinky by the standards of most castle halls. Still, it is unique because when you enter the Hall, you do so through its original screened off passage with the original Jacobean carved woodwork, which is exceptionally rare. The guides are also quite informative, friendly, and well versed in the castles’ history.

When we got up to the top, I couldn’t resist looking out over the ramparts to the ground far below. Oh look, there are the picnic tables we ate at! The views from up there were outstanding!

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This elegant pink castle nestled on a picturesque hillside is spellbindingly beautiful; its exterior is virtually unchanged since William Forbes completed it about 1626.

It’s very authentic, and artificial light has not been installed on the upper floors. This means that the castle’s extensive collection of historical artifacts and art is seen in the shifting light from the sun, precisely as they would have been when they were made. The interior probably looks much as it did when the castle was visited by Queen Victoria and Albert in 1879. You really get a sense of how dark the rooms would have been. Imagine what they are like in the wintertime!

The Craigievar lands were held by the Mortimer family from 1457. The Castle was begun in the early part of the 17th century. However, in 1610 William Forbes of Menie bought the property and the unfinished Castle. A year before William’s death in 1627, the Castle was completed and has remained more or less unaltered ever since.

We had a great day exploring two very different castles.  We only had one week left to spend in Scotland so we were trying to fit in as many places as possible without being in a mad rush but we managed to fit in the perfect amount and variety. In subsequent blog posts, we will be visiting some Stone Circles, Pictish Standing Stones, a couple of more castles and we’ll be attending one of my favorite events, the Lonach Highland Games in Strathdon! Stay tuned and until then, happy traveling!

Author: Claudia Frew

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

One thought on “Kildrummy & Craigievar – Two More Castles and One of Them is Ancestral!”

  1. I’ve heard these stories before but they are still sad. Oh the problems of living in that day and age in Scotland!


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