Craigievar Castle

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Craigievar Castle in 1991

Craigievar Castle is a pinkish harled castle 6 miles (9.7 km) south of Alford, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. It was the seat of Clan Sempill and the Forbes family resided here for 350 years until 1963, when the property was given to the National Trust for Scotland by William Forbes-Sempill, 19th Lord Sempill. The setting is among scenic rolling foothills of the Grampian Mountains. The contrast of its massive lower storey structure to the finely sculpted multiple turrets, gargoyles and high corbelling work create a classic fairytale appearance.


An excellent example of the original Scottish Baronial architecture, the great seven-storey castle was completed in 1626 by the Aberdonian merchant William Forbes, ancestor of the Forbes baronets of Craigievar and brother of the Bishop of Aberdeen, Patrick Forbes of Corse Castle. Forbes purchased the partially completed structure from the impoverished Mortimer family in the year 1610. Forbes was nicknamed Danzig Willy, a reference to his shrewd international trading success with the Baltic states.[1]

Craigievar Castle in autumn in 2006
Location of Craigievar Castle within Aberdeenshire
Location of Aberdeenshire

William's son became a Baronet of Nova Scotia by Charles I and this title is now extant. The Forbes Baronetcy, of Craigievar in the County of Aberdeen, was created in the Baronetage of Nova Scotia on 20 April 1630 for William Forbes. He was also a descendant of Hon. Patrick Forbes, third son of the second Lord Forbes, and the nephew of the first Baronet of the 1628 creation. The fourth Baronet represented Aberdeenshire in the House of Commons. The 5th Baronet married the Hon. Sarah Sempill, eldest daughter of Hugh Sempill, 12th Lord Sempill. Their grandson, the eighth Baronet, succeeded as seventeenth Lord Sempill in 1884 (see the Lord Sempill for earlier history of this title). The titles remained united until the death of his grandson, the 19th Lord and tenth Baronet, in 1965.[2]

Designed in the L plan,[3] as was Muchalls Castle, which is located in the same region, Craigievar is noted for its exceptionally crafted plasterwork ceilings. Craigevar, Muchalls Castle and Glamis Castle are generally considered to have the three finest ceilings in Scotland. The Clan Forbes family was close friends of the Clan Burnett of Leys, who built both Crathes Castle and Muchalls Castle. The ceilings feature plaster figures of the Nine Worthies and other family emblems.

By the early 19th-century, the tower had fallen into decay. Sir John Forbes had considered demolishing the tower and consulted the Aberdeen city architect John Smith who advised against that course of action, stating the tower was: "one of the finest specimens in the Country of the age and style in which it was built."[4] Roof repairs were undertaken and involved the re-construction of almost the entire top floor. The windows, external harling and pointing were replaced and it is likely Smith also designed the gardener's cottage.[4][5]

The castle originally had more defensive elements including a walled courtyard with four round towers; only one of the round towers remains today. In the arched door to that round tower are preserved the carved initials of Sir Thomas Forbes, William Forbes' son. There is also a massive iron portcullis or gate covering the entrance door which is named a yett.

The castle interior boasts a Great Hall that has the Stuart Arms over the fireplace;[1] a musicians gallery; secret staircase connecting the high tower to the Great Hall; Queen's Bedroom; servants' quarters and of course several splendid plasterwork ceilings.[6] There is a collection of Forbes family portraits inside as well as a considerable quantity of Forbes furnishings dating to the 17th and 18th centuries. The castle also houses two original Henry Raeburn portraits complete with original receipts.

The Forbes family also owned a large granite house at Fintray near Inverurie, Aberdeenshire. This became the family's main residence for a number of years until the Second World War. During this time, Fintray House was used as a hospital for wounded Belgian soldiers.[7]


The castle, with new harling, in 2010

Between November 2007 and October 2009, the castle was closed for its exterior to be given a new harl, returning it to what is believed to be a close equivalent of the harling put in place during the refurbishment of 1820.[8] It was reopened to the public in April 2010.[9]

In popular culture[edit]

The castle is reputed to have been the inspiration for Walt Disney's castle motif.[10][11]


In 2013 the castle, its grounds, and an estate of over 200 acres (81 ha) of adjoining farmland and woodland, entered their 50th year as a property of the National Trust for Scotland. They are open to the public from Easter, or from the first of April (whichever is the earlier), until the end of September. Access to the castle, apart from the shop, is by guided tours only, with each tour lasting between 45 minutes and one hour, with tours starting approximately every thirty minutes, on a "first come, first served" basis. For conservation and visitor enjoyment reasons, the group size for individual tours is limited to ten people, so large groups and coach tours need to book in advance. Full details of opening dates and times can be found on the National Trust for Scotland website.[12]



  1. ^ a b Prentice, Robin, ed. (1978), The National Trust for Scotland guide, Cape, pp. 59–60, ISBN 0 224 01632 6 
  2. ^ "Craigievar Castle". Historic Environment Scotland. Retrieved 1 July 2017. 
  3. ^ MacGibbon, David; Ross, Thomas (1887), The castellated and domestic architecture of Scotland from the twelfth to the eighteenth century, D. Douglas, p. 104 
  4. ^ a b Miller, David G. (2007). Tudor Johnny: City Architect of Aberdeen: The Life and Works of John Smith 1781–1852. Librario. pp. 129–130. ISBN 978-1-904440-97-0. 
  5. ^ "Craigievar Castle, Canmore ID 17471". RCAHMS. Archived from the original on 18 November 2013. Retrieved 18 November 2013. 
  6. ^ Jones, Nigel R. (2005), Architecture of England, Scotland, and Wales, Greenwood, pp. 85–87, ISBN 978-0-313-31850-4 
  7. ^ Forbes, Ewan (1984). The aul' days. Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press. ISBN 0-08-032415-0. 
  8. ^ "BBC NEWS - UK - Scotland - North East/N Isles - Castle in the pink after facelift". 
  9. ^ "BBC News - Restored Craigievar Castle reopens to public". 
  10. ^ "BBC - Craigievar Castle restoration". 
  11. ^ "Walt Disney-inspiring castle returned to 'fairytale' pink". STV News. 
  12. ^ Craigievar page at

Other sources[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 57°10′27″N 2°43′05″W / 57.1742°N 2.7181°W / 57.1742; -2.7181