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Auchindoun Castle, castle and fort

A Scheduled Monument in Speyside Glenlivet, Moray

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Latitude: 57.4229 / 57°25'22"N

Longitude: -3.0854 / 3°5'7"W

OS Eastings: 334910

OS Northings: 837464

OS Grid: NJ349374

Mapcode National: GBR L9R3.7BJ

Mapcode Global: WH6KH.KPYF

Entry Name: Auchindoun Castle, castle and fort

Scheduled Date: 3 March 1994

Last Amended: 25 February 2020

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM90024

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Industrial: kiln, furnace, oven; Prehistoric domestic and defensive: fort (includes hill and promont

Location: Mortlach

County: Moray

Electoral Ward: Speyside Glenlivet

Traditional County: Banffshire


The monument comprises the remains of a medieval castle dating to the late 15th century located within the earthworks of a prehistoric fort. To the southwest are the remains of a late 18th/ early 19th century lime kiln and there is evidence of historic quarrying on the eastern side of the hill. The monument sits on a prominent hill overlooked to the south and east by the slopes of Ben Main. To the north it is bounded by the Allt Catha and to the east a steep drop to the River Fiddich.

The castle consists of a L-plan tower house set within a rectangular courtyard with a round tower at the northwest corner. The tower house stands four storeys high but the south elevation wall and most of the dressed stone has been robbed. The first-floor hall was double height with a four-part ribbed vault ceiling in two bays. The hall was accessed by staircases in the northwest and southwest corners. From the hall a door in the southwest corner leads to a chamber in the jamb (wing) with a simpler groin vault ceiling, fireplace, latrine and window seats. The ground floor consists of single barrel-vaulted store rooms in the main block and jamb.

The courtyard wall surrounding the tower is roughly rectangular with the later eastern wall projecting beyond the original line of the courtyard, as does a later round tower at the northwest angle. In places, the wall is supported by much later buttresses. The south wall contains the main gateway which has the remains of a double arched head, and there is evidence of a range of buildings against this and the eastern courtyard wall. The castle sits within the defensive earthworks of a prehistoric fort. The defences are visible as a surrounding inner ditch and bank that is less distinct to the south east and two outer ditches; one to the north 95m in length and one to the southwest 70m in length. Although no longer visible the outer ditches continued towards an entrance to the west.  

The scheduled area is irregular. It includes the remains described above and an area around within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment is expected to survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. The scheduling specifically excludes the above ground elements of all modern boundaries and gates and all modern fixtures and fittings.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

The national importance of the monument is demonstrated in the following ways (see Designations Policy and Selection Guidance, Annex 1, para 17):

a. The monument is of national importance because it makes a significant contribution to our understanding or appreciation of the past as a late medieval castle. In particular, it adds to our understanding of castellated architecture and the siting of castles in the landscape.

b. The monument retains structural, architectural, decorative or other physical attributes which make a significant contribution to our understanding or appreciation of the past. In particular, the castle survives almost to wallhead height and retains important architectural features. The prehistoric defences , which probably date to the late Bronze Age/ Iron Age, survive as impressive earthworks. There is also significant potential for the preservation of buried features and deposits dating to both the prehistoric and later medieval phases of occupation.

c. The monument is a rare example of a medieval castle reoccupying the site of a prehistoric fort, reusing the defences as part of the castle defensive circuit.

d. The monument is a particularly good example of a multi-period high status power centre comprising a late Bronze Age/ Iron Age multivallate fort that was then used a medieval castle site. It is therefore an important representative of this monument type.

e. The monument has research potential which could significantly contribute to our understanding or appreciation of the past. In particular, the study of the hall's architectural details would contribute to our understanding of Scottish castle architecture; investigation of buried archaeological deposits could confirm the date of the earthwork defences, their relationship with the castle and existence of any medieval structures predating the tower house. Historical research could provide a better understanding of who built the castle and its later use.

f. The monument makes a significant contribution to today's landscape and/or our understanding of the historic landscape. In particular it provides a powerful physical reminder of the area's prehistoric and medieval past. The monument could be studied alongside other prehistoric settlements to better understand land-use in the late Bronze Age/ Iron Age. The castle is integral to understanding the medieval landscape of this area and its development through the post medieval period and improvements to the landscape of today. The monuments location above the river Fiddich and a major north south route way allowed it to control movement through this section of Glen Fiddich.

g. The monument has significant associations with historical, traditional, social or artistic figures, events or movements. In particular, Auchindoun is traditionally linked with Thomas Cochrane, a supposed master mason and favourite of James III. The monument has been associated within John Stewart, Earl of Mar as well as the Ogilvy and the Gordon families. The castle is the subject of a traditional Scottish ballad.

Assessment of Cultural Significance

This statement of national importance has been informed by the following assessment of cultural significance:

Intrinsic characteristics (how the remains of a site or place contribute to our knowledge of the past)

The monument is a good example of a multi period high status power centre with evidence for occupation during the late Bronze Age/ Iron Age to be then reoccupied in the medieval period. The significance of the site is enhanced by its time depth and the reutilisation in the medieval period of the prehistoric defences. Other examples where medieval castles have reoccupied sites of earlier defended settlements are Dundonald Castle (scheduled monument SM90112) (South Ayrshire); Littledean Tower (scheduled monument SM5999) (Scottish Borders) and Dunnideer Tower (SM59) (Aberdeenshire).

The monument includes the remains of a 15th century tower house with enclosing courtyard wall and two ranges of buildings with later alterations and additions. Although some later quarrying and stone robbing has taken place the tower house still retains much of its original fabric and its layout can be identified and interpreted (Wordsworth 1990, 169). The tower house is L-shaped in plan and was accessed at ground floor level through a door in the southern wall, an unusual feature as it is more common to find the entrance in the re-entrant angle of L-planned tower houses. The elaborate vaulting within the hall again is unusual and the unribbed groin vault in the adjacent chamber is a rare example of the revived use of such a vault type, seen also at Alloa Tower (listed building LB20959). These architectural features add to the significance of the monument.

The tower is surrounded by a courtyard wall, and unusually the tower sits completely within the circuit, rather than linking into it. The courtyard wall and ranges have undergone several alterations with the southwest range extending beyond the boundaries of the original courtyard wall showing it to be later. It was perhaps constructed after the castle became a Gordon possession in 1535 or after the Macintosh attack of 1592 (Walker and Woodworth 2015,469 - 470). The round tower with shot-holes at the northwest angle is also an addition. The courtyard ranges would have accommodated stables, kitchen, bakehouse and brewhouse, with a guardroom next to the main entrance, which had an unusual double arch in the inside face (MacGibbon and Ross 1887-92, 315, fig 268).  

The castle and courtyard wall are surrounded by a series of substantial earthworks, with a possible entrance to the west. These earthworks are prehistoric in origin and are comparable to other D-shaped forts of the late Bronze Age/ Iron Age such as Barra Hill, Aberdeenshire (Canmore ID 19668). To the south west of the castle is a kiln, marked on the 1st and Edition Ordnance Survey as a 'lime kiln,' which dates to the late 18th or early 19th century. There is evidence of historic quarrying on the  eastern side of the hill which, due to the nature of the bedrock, could be associated with later lime production.

Archaeological excavation undertaken in 1984 clarified the layout of the tower house and its alterations (Wordsworth 1990, 169). These excavations have indicated a high potential for the survival of important archaeological remains below the present ground surface. We can expect structural remains such as traces of earlier fortifications and buildings, ancillary ranges, pits and middens to survive, along with artefacts and environmental information. Not only can such remains enhance our knowledge of the layout and phasing of the castle but also of the prehistoric fortifications which preceded the medieval castle. The archaeological remains can enable us also to better understand daily domestic life of the inhabitants and their society, economy and trading contacts.

Contextual characteristics (how a site or place relates to its surroundings and/or to our existing knowledge of the past)

The monument's location lends itself well to defence and has been used for such in prehistory and the medieval period. It sits on a low hill rising from flat ground to the north and west and is bounded to the north by the Allt Catha burn. To the east the ground slopes steeply away, descending to the River Fiddich. This position would have allowed the hillfort and subsequent castle to have controlled this section of Glen Fiddich as well as north/south route over the Cabrach.

The monument is overlooked by the hill of Ben Main which lies to the southeast.  Prehistoric settlement remains known collectively as Allt A' Choileachain (Canmore ID 16796) are located on the slopes and likely to date to the Bronze or Iron Age. To the southwest of the monument, at the farm of Parkhead, a decorated flanged Bronze Axe head was also discovered (Canmore ID 16814). Their proximity to the monument supports the view that the earthworks have their origins in prehistory, primarily the late Bronze Age/ Iron Age. Though it is the only fort of this form in the immediate area it sits between two other defended settlements; Little Conval (Canmore ID 16307) to the northwest overlooking the Dullan Water and Craig Dorney (Canmore ID 17275) to the southeast overlooking the River Deveron. Study of these forts in their geographical location could tell us about status, society and land division in the late Bronze Age/ Iron Age.

The Register of the Great Seal of Scotland provides the earliest mention of a castle at Auchindoun in 1509. This lists its fortification, castle hill, the Mains of Auchindoun and the lands of Keithmore (Thomson 1882, 719). By the 18th century the castle had become ruinous, but the surrounding pre-improvement landscape was still in active agricultural use. Map evidence from 'A survey of the Contents and Estimates of the Lordship of Auchindoun belonging to His Grace the Duke of Gordon between 1772-1773', provides clues to how the landscape was administrated during the preceding centuries with a 'Castle Gairden' noted to the southwest and a 'Castle Haugh' of cultivated rig and furrow shown to the northeast. To the northwest a Gallows Hill is depicted – the proximity of this hill to Auchindoun Castle suggests it may have still been associated with the administration local justice, such as executions in the medieval period.

Associative characteristics (how a site or place relates to people, events, and/or historic and social movements)

The castle has been associated with some of Scotland's prominent medieval families. However, the exact date of its construction and early owners are not certain. The surviving tower house is said to have been built around 1470 by John Stuart, Earl of Mar, brother of King James III. Upon Mar's suspicious death in prison, the earldom and castle are said to have passed to Thomas (or Robert) Cochrane, supposed master mason and favourite of James III, who was hanged from Lauder Bridge during the rebellion against the King in 1482.  However, it has been suggested that much of what we know of Thomas Cochrane is an invention by later historians (Macdougall 1992, 28–49, 42–3). The suggestion that the castle was built by Cochrane does appear to be a much later tradition, recorded by James Gordon, parson of Rothiemay, in the 1670s. 

The castle was held by the Oglivy family in the late 15th/early 16th century when the barony was part of the lordship of Deskford. It is first mentioned in 1509 when Sir James Ogilvy of Deskford granted to his nephew, Alexander Oglivy 'the mains Auchindoun with its castle, fortalice and castle hill'. In 1567 Alexander's son sold the castle to Sir Adam Gordon but in 1594 it was back in Ogilvy hands.

The castle features in at least one historic ballad, 'Willie MacIntosh' said to date from the 17th century (Child, 1860 159-60). It describes the burning of Auchindoun an attack carried out by the Mackintoshes in 1592 (Walker and Woodworth 2015, 469- 470). By 1725 the castle was derelict, and William Duff of Braco was granted permission to remove stones from it for his new house at Balvenie, Dufftown.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



Historic Environment Scotland reference number CANMORE ID 16797 and 277799 (accessed on accessed on 18/12/2019).

Local Authority HER/SMR Reference NJ33NW0012 (accessed on 18/12/2019).


Roy, W (1747-52) Military Survey of Scotland, Highlands. (accessed on 18/12/2019).

Ordnance Survey (surveyed 1869, published 1870) XXV.14 (Mortlach) 25 inches to the mile. 1st Edition. Banffshire: Ordnance Survey. (accessed on 18/12/2019).

Ordnance Survey (published 1904, revised 1902) XXV.14 (Mortlach) 25 inches to the mile. 2nd Edition. Banffshire: Ordnance Survey. (accessed on 18/12/2019).

Geology of Britain Viewer, British Geological Survey, (accessed on 14/01/2020).


A survey of the Contents and Estimates of the Lordship of Auchindoun belonging to His Grace the Duke of Gordon between 1772-1773. National Records of Scotland RHP1825.

Miscellaneous papers 9. 1788 January Copy lecture on the castles of Auchindoun and Boharm, etc. by or taken from works of, Mr Cordiner, Banff, (by the Rev. John Grant, Elgin). GD248/572/2/4.


Child, F.J. (1860) English and Scottish Ballads. Boston: Little, Brown and Company (accessed on 18/12/2019).

Historic Scotland Environment Scotland 2011. Auchindoun Castle. Statement of National Significance (accessed on 18/12/2019).

Macdougall, N. A. T, '"It is I, the earle of Mar": in search of Thomas Cochrane' in Mason, R and Macdougall, N. A. T. (eds.), People and Power in Scotland: Essays in Honour of T. C. Smout (Edinburgh, 1992)

MacGibbon, D. and Ross. T., (1887) Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland, vol. 1. Edinburgh: David Douglas.

Paul, J. (1882) The Register of the Great Seal of Scotland, A.D. 1424 to 1523 vol. 2. Edinburgh: General register House. Available online at (accessed on 18/12/2019).

Simpson, W.D. (1928) The Early Castles of Mar, in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol.63 pp. 102-138. (accessed on 18/12/2019).

Tabraham, C. (1997) Scotland's Castles. London: B.T. Batsford Ltd / Historic Scotland.

Walker, D. and Woodworth, M. (2015) The Buildings of Scotland - Aberdeenshire: North and Moray. London. Yale University Press.

Wordsworth, J. (1990) Excavation at Auchindoun Castle, Moray District, in 1984 in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. 120. pp. 169-171. (accessed on 18/12/2019).
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Auchindoun Castle
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Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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