The lonely Corgarff Castle sits at the head of Strathdon, deep in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park. This Castle, located in remote Strathdon, has played a fascinating part in Scottish history, both as an army barracks to track down Jacobite sympathisers and as a whisky smuggler’s hideout. If you want to learn as much as you can about Corgarff Castle, you’ve come to the right place!
We’ll be breaking down the history of the Castle, how to get there, and the top attractions to look out for during your visit.
In This Post
History of Corgarff Castle
Corgarff Castle is a relatively new Castle compared to the 12th and 13th-century castles dotted throughout the Scottish Highlands. It was said to have been built by John Forbes of Towie. These early renditions of the Castle were much plainer, boasting a tower house and rectangular shape rather than the iconic star-shaped wall that the Castle is known for today.
To set the historical scene, the Forbes family, who resided within Corgarff Castle, supported young James VI’s cause and were against the claim of Mary, Queen of Scots. This put them at odds with the Gordon family at Auchidoun. In 1571, Adam Gordon of Auchidoun attempted to capture the Castle and was met with the force of Margaret Forbes and 27 other women — the men were absent at the time.
Adam Gordon burned down the Castle with the Forbes women within. This event led to the suspicion that the Cargarff Castle was haunted.
Cut to 1645, when the Marquis of Montrose occupied the Castle (which had stood derelict and destroyed). The Maquis of Montrose made reparations to the Castle once more, but unfortunately, it was once again burned down. This time, the Castle was destroyed by Jacobite sympathisers to stop the Castle from being a base of operations for William of Orange.
Jacobites would continue to intersect with the Castle, first as an army barracks run by the 23rd Earl of Mar in 1715. Corgarff Castle was used to equip and ready the Jacobite Rising army before they marched down to Braemar. In the same year, the army was defeated, and government forces once more burnt Corgarff Castle.
The Earl of Mar’s lands were forfeited, and the Castle was returned to the Forbes family; we rebuilt as much as they could. Thirty years later, the Jacobite supporters would return to the Castle in early 1746 and used the Castle as an arms storage. The Jacobites stored over 300 muskets and large quantities of gunpowder, which were found when they fled the Castle after being notified of 300 foot soldiers and dragoons marching on their location.
The Castle was reinforced three years later and began to resemble its unique star shape. Until the early 1800s, the Castle was used as a barracks for over 50 men. The military would watch for Highlanders wearing kilts (they were banned in 1746) and whisky smugglers carrying weapons, etc. The iconic star-shaped Castle was introduced, with musket loops and other defences to keep the site safe.
From the 1800s, however, the Castle would degrade as part of a farmstead instead until the government repurchased it. Since 1961, Corgarff Castle has been in the possession of Historic Environment Scotland and is a premier tourist attraction in the middle of the Cairngorms National Park.
How to Get There & Details to Know
Corgarff Castle is open throughout the summer season, from 1 April to 26 September. Guests can enter the Castle from 9:30 – 17:30, with the last entry at 16:00. The Castle is closed for lunch between 12:30 – 13:30.
Entry ticket prices may vary year by year, but generally, adult tickets cost £7.50 per ticket, children tickets cost £4.50 per ticket, and concession tickets cost £6 per ticket. There are also several family ticket packages, between £15 – £21.50.
How to Get There by Car
Corgarff Castle is situated deep within the Cairngorms National Park and isn’t easily reached by public transit or transportation. The closest city to Corgarff Castle is Aberdeen, from which guests can travel west along the A96. Travel along the B994 after Denhead and then the B993 until Tillyfourie. From Tillyfourie, drive west along the A944, then the Old Military Road and the A980.
The A980 transfers back to A944 and into the Cairngorms National Park until you move to the A939 at Colnabaichan. The A939 takes you to Corgarff Castle, with signs posted that will lead you straight to the Castle.
Attractions at Corgarff Castle
Corgarff Castle may be in remote Strathdon, but there’s plenty to look forward to during your visit. From lovely views, architectural appreciation, and historic sites, here are some top things to do while at Corgarff Castle.
Walk Along the Star Shaped Perimeter
The most notable feature of Corgarff Castle is undoubtedly the star-shaped surrounding wall that encompasses the Castle. Built in the late 1700s, the wall is in perfect shape for the strife and time it has endured.
Visitors can look forward to walking along the prominent walls of Corgarff Castle, revealing stunning views out to the rest of the Cairngorms National Park.
Visit the Barracks
In the 1700s, Corgarff Castle was converted into an entire army barracks to keep an eye on the surrounding Highlands landscape. Visitors to Corgarff Castle can enter the garrison and see the barracks, which held over 50 soldiers, including where they slept, trained, and what a day in the life of a soldier would entail.
Admire the Cairngorms National Park
Corgarff Castle sits in the Cairngorms National Park, home to fantastic Highland landscapes from towering mountains, munros, and widespread forests and heathland. From the Castle, you’ll be able to see fauna in the surrounding area, including roe deer, mountain hares, and skylarks.
Keep an Eye Out for Ghosts
As we’ve mentioned, Corgarff Castle’s history involves war and fire. A number of the inhabitants perished within the Castle in all its forms, which has led to speculation and encounters with the paranormal.
Notable figures like Margaret Forbes, who died within the Castle, may still walk the halls waiting for their husband and his soldiers to come and rescue them. If you feel a cold wind on your neck or spy a shadow in the barracks, it may be a forlorn ghost!
Pick Up a Souvenir at the Gift Shop
There’s a quaint and cute gift shop within the Corgarff Castle where visitors can purchase a selection of adorable items like Scotch whisky, objects and clothing relating to Clan Forbes, and even a choice of local produce food items to enjoy for lunch or dinner.
Once you’ve explored Corgarff Castle, make sure to support this business, the proceeds of which are intended to maintain the state care of the building.