Auchindoun castle is an odd site, poorly understood both historically and architecturally.  It is set in the wilds less than 3 miles south-east of Balvenie castle and there is much argument as to when the castle was founded and indeed what it actually was.  Some claim it as a large prehistoric hillfort, others suggest it was a large, early earthwork castle.  Indeed even the modern history of the site is uncertain, some suggesting that the current masonry structure was founded by Earl John of Mar before he died in mysterious circumstances at Craigmillar castle in 1479, possibly having been murdered by his own brother King James III (1460-88).  Others say it was commenced by Thomas Cochrane (later wrongly called Robert), a favourite of the same James III and according to later chronicles, the successor to the king's brother as earl of Mar.  Certainly Cochrane was constable of Kildrummy castle by March 1482.  Sadly no solid evidence has to come to light to prove the point either way, or indeed to point to another founder.

The shadowy Cochrane was later alleged to have been a mason or architect and certainly was a retainer of King James III.  If he did acquire or build Auchindoun castle he did not enjoy it long, for he was probably hanged from Lauder Bridge just 3 years later in 1482 when the king was overthrown during Duke Richard of Gloucester, the lord of Middleham's, invasion of Scotland.  The leader of the rebels who executed him was the earl of Angus, Archibald Bell-the-Cat Douglas of Hermitage and Tantallon castles.  Auchindoun then passed in 1489 to the Clan Ogilvy, hereditary sheriffs of Angus and from them to the Huntlys of Clan Gordon in 1535.  The fortress was sacked by the Clan MacKintosh in revenge for Huntly personally killing the Bonny Earl O'Moray on 8 February 1592.  After this, in March 1593, Patrick Gordon of Auchindoun was declared a rebel and his lands forfeited.  Consequently Auchindoun castle was given to Sir George Home, whose wife Elizabeth Gordon was Patrick Gordon's stepdaughter. 

Rebelling against the Protestant King James VI (1567-1625) Earl George Gordon of Huntly (d.1636) advanced his 1,500 cavalry to Auchindoun castle on 2 October.  The next day they rode some 10 miles to attack the royalist troops of the earl of Argyll, some 12,000 men strong and despite being so numerically inferior defeated them at the battle of Glenlivet.  Amongst the rebel dead was Patrick Gordon of Auchindoun.  A cairn was built at the battle site in his memory.   Despite this victory the rebels received no support and consequently fled the country, while King James ordered that Auchindoun, Slains, Huntly, Abergeldy and Newton castles should be slighted.  Huntly was certainly blown up by the royalists and probably Auchindoun too, Huntly fleeing Scotland about March 1595.

Following the Restoration of King Charles II in 1660, the castle was restored to George Gordon, Marquis of Huntly (d.1716).  During the first Jacobite rising of 1689, Auchindoun was occupied on 6–7 June 1689 by Viscount John Graham of Dundee and his Jacobite army.  This may have hastened the ruin of the castle and it was described as derelict by 1725.  Around this time it was systematically stripped of its carved stones which were used for the repair of nearby farm buildings and Balvenie castle.

Naturally with Auchindoun there are 2 interpretations of the earthworks surrounding the masonry castle.  The first is that it is a hill fort, the second that it was an early wooden castle of the ‘Norman period'.  The earthworks consist of an inner enclosure and ditch occupying the summit of the hill about 160' in diameter with a nearly right angled spur to the north-east, each side being about 100' long.  The whole is covered by a ditch about 20' across, which in turn is surrounded by a counterscarp. 

The outer enclosure occupies the foot of the slope and runs from the south-east, where the scarp falls steeply to the River Fiddich, around the hillock to the west, north and north-west where it again falls sharply into the valley.  It consists of a rampart, ditch and counterscarp and fluctuates with the contours of the land between 50' and 80' from the inner ditch.  Entrance may have been to the west, although later work has damaged this section.

The L shaped tower stands in the north-western portion of the rectangular ward enclosure.  It is 3 storeys high and, as was normal, had a hall on the first floor.  The keep is currently entered via 3 ground floor doorways.  To the south much ruined entrances lead into the main tower to the west and the subsidiary tower to the south-east.  The smaller, square tower contained a simple chamber with aubrey to the south and a loop to the north, while the entrance to the south had a narrow passageway running off it to the north in its west wall.  The main rectangular chamber had loops to north and south and a circular stair entered from the entrance passage.  Both rooms were barrel vaulted.  There was a second stair vice in the north-west corner of the tower entered externally. 

Both spiral stairs gave access to the hall above.  This was double the height of the other floors and had a 4 part ribbed, vaulted ceiling of 2 bays and loops to east, west and south.  The northern part of the western loop embrasure allowed access to the corner vice, while the south-western stair entered the room through a short dog legged passage.  North of this was a narrow, lighted mural chamber, probably a garderobe although no chute is visible.  The smaller tower was entered via a doorway which also led to mural stairs dog legging up to the floor above.  The small private chamber in the smaller tower contained loops to north and south, a fireplace and a garderobe at this level.  Window seats were fitted on this entire floor where room allowed.  The upper floor was residential.  An excavation in 1984 uncovered a barrel vaulted chamber, some 6' by 5' and almost 6' deep, cut into the bedrock beneath the main tower.  The tower bears comparison with Dunnottar keep.

Main Ward
The tower was surrounded by a weak curtain wall about 100' north to south by 80' east to west.  To the west was also a projecting kitchen about 80' long and 20' wide.  The inner, original curtain wall of this has gone.  The main entrance was to the south and was a simple hole in the wall double arched gateway.  Internally to the east of this was a guardroom, while to the west lay the larger stables.  The south enceinte also possessed 3 loops.  The west wall contained 2 loops and a postern at its north end.  This was opposite the entrance to the keep's north-western vice doorway.  At the north-west corner of the enceinte was the only mural tower, a boldly projecting D shaped tower with a square interior and loops in the 3 inner faces.  The kitchen and tower are later additions to the design.  The north wall was featureless apart from a small chamber built into the north-east corner.  Buttresses supporting the curtain are even more modern.  As Balvenie castle ward bears some sort of a resemblance to Auchindoun, being rectangular with a singular D shaped tower, it is possible that the latter was based upon the plan of the former.

Why not join me at other Great Scottish Castles this Spring?  Information on tours at Scholarly Sojourns.


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