Welcome to Huntly Castle, the seat to one of Scotland’s more powerful Renaissance families. Although left in ruins today, visitors can look forward to seeing intricate sculptures and stunning inscribed stones, all in a beautiful setting. This old Castle has seen a substantial share of Scottish history, with the scars to show for it.
Through numerous assaults, sieges, and reconstruction, Huntly Castle has stood firm and offers its history to anyone fortunate enough to visit where the River Deveron and River Bogie meet. We’ll be breaking down the history of this noble ruin, how to get there, and things to do while you’re there.
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History of Huntly Castle
Huntly Castle’s origins stretch as far back as the 12th century. Duncan II, Earl of Fife, built the Castle and was initially known as the Peel of Strathbogie. Earl Duncan’s Castle changed its name to Huntly Castle in 1506 once the ownership of the Castle and the estate passed over to Sir Adam Gordon of Huntly by Robert the Bruce.
During James IV’s Reign
The introduction of Gordon’s official turned Fife into ‘Gordon Country’, and Huntly Castle was improved during James IV’s reign and beyond to reflect their newly acquired status. Many famous Scottish nobles, including James IV, Alexander Gordon, and Sir Alexander Seton visited the Castle. James IV gave generous gifts to help the stonemasons remodel the Castle and even played cards and participated in a shooting contest.
Emergence of Mary, Queen of Scotland
But it wasn’t until George Gordon, the 2nd Earl of Gordon and affectionally called ‘Cock o’ the North’, extensively remodelled the Castle in the 1550s. The newly built structure was the jewel of Fife, with Thomas Randolph saying it was, “fayer, beste furnishede of anye howse that I have seen in thys countrie.” during a two night stay.
Unfortunately, Mary, Queen of Scots, took the Castle and made it into a garrison and held Charles Crawfurd and 20 soldiers. The fine furnishings and tapestries were taken from the Castle and taken to Aberdeen and Edinburgh to add to the royal collection.
The Huntly’s would return to their Castle after Mary surrendered, but their history would take an unfortunate turn for the Gordon family after this point.
Death of George Gordon
George Gordon, 5th Earl of Huntly, passed at Huntly Castle in one of the most peculiar ways that a noble could during this time – during a game of football in 1576. According to details compiled by Richard Bannatyne, Lord Gordon had likely suffered a stroke or collapsed due to food poisoning during a game of football outside the Castle.
Although he was taken to the tower house of the Castle straight after, nothing could be done, and the 5th Early sadly passed away.
James VI demolished Huntly Castle
During the late 16th century, James VI sent a royal garrison and 100 workers to subdue the power of the Huntly family and destroy the Castle. George Gordon, 6th Earl of Huntly, had been notified of the plan, stripped the Castle of its furniture and fled to the countryside. George sent a plea to spare the structure and surrendered himself as an offering.
Five years later, James VI came once more with plans to have Huntly Castle destroyed, or at least the old ‘gret tower house’. Lords of the king’s court appealed that Huntly Castle and others should be preserved for the convenience of royal garrisons. Still, ultimately, parts of Huntly Castle were demolished and placed under the keeper Sir John Gordon of Pitlurg.
Nearly 20 years after the partial demolition, Huntly Castle was restored and rebuilt for the Marquis of Huntly. A small fortune was spent repairing the Castle, with historical paintings on the ceiling, and restored facades with the names of the Marquis, George Gordon and his wife, Henrietta Stewart. The 6th Earl also added oriel windows, a great round tower, inscriptions of Gordon’s ownership of the Castle, and a rectangular turret.
Huntly Castle’s restored walls and turrets met their match throughout their time when the Castle was occupied by the Scottish Covenanting Army in 1640. During its occupation, James Wallace was there to ensure that any of the Covenanters did not deface the Castle. A similar occupation occurred in 1647 when Lord Charles Gordon defended the Castle against General David Leslie until they were forced to surrender. Finally, in 1650, the civil war ended the Huntly’s reign of the Castle.
Without their historic family, Huntly Castle passed through various owners, including the Viscount Dundee during the first Jacobite rising, British troops during the later Jacobite rising, and then Historic Environment Scotland as a monument. The Castle has sadly deteriorated throughout this time, but the remains are fascinating to explore.
How to Get There & Things to Do
Huntly Castle sits firmly in the centre of the Kingdom of Fife, with the closest city being Aberdeen. You can visit Huntly Castle throughout the year, with opening times varying.
Between 1 April – 30 September, the Castle is open daily between 9:30 to 17:30, with the last entry at 16:30. During the autumn and winter months, the Castle’s opening times shift to 10:00 to 16:00, with the last entry at 15:00. The Castle remains closed between 25 December – 5 January.
Adult tickets cost £7.50, child tickets cost £4.50, and concession tickets cost £6.00. There are also family packages for larger groups, ranging from £15.00 to £25.50. These admission prices are subject to change.
How to Get There by Car
From Aberdeen, travel along the B999, B979, B947, and Old Meldrum Road north west for about an hour until you reach the town of Old Meldrum. From there, take the A920 and A96 until you reach Huntly. From the town, the Castle is only a 4-minute drive, with car parking available.
How to Get There by Transit
Taking transit to Huntly Castle is also quite simple, but it takes slightly longer to reach – around an hour and 20 minutes. Travel to Aberdeen’s ScotRail station and catch the rail to Inverness for five stops until you reach Huntly. From the station, Huntly Castle sits only about a 22-minute walk away through the picturesque town of Huntly.
Attractions at Huntly Castle
Once you’ve reached this historic palace block, keep an eye out for several of the top things to do while you’re visiting Huntly Castle.
Tour the Interior of Huntly Castle
The interior of Huntly Castle has a few surprising hidden gems that have survived the centuries of war, occupations, and demolishment. Most prominently, the beautiful architecture created by the Marquis and marchioness during the restoration is an eye-opening window to historical building stylings.
The heraldic fireplaces, inscribed stone friezes, and various sculptures throughout the Castle and supporting buildings are the supporting jewels of the Castle. We have yet to mention the fantastic atmosphere that visitors can immerse themselves in as they explore the Castle.
See the French-inspired South Front
The South Front of the Castle was a prominent portion that took a few batterings throughout Scotland’s warlike history. However, the Marquis restored the front in an exquisite style. The French-inspired South Front is a beautiful but intimating part of the Castle that you must see during your visit.
Photograph the Heraldic Frontispiece
The crown jewel of Huntly Castle is undoubtedly the Heraldic Frontispiece. This historic architecture was added to the Castle by the Marquis during the 16th century and has remained in spectacular condition for over 400 years.
The heraldic frontispiece has several important signets and heralds, as well as clan Gordon symbols throughout. If you’re planning a to-do list for Huntly Castle, this should be on your list.
Pick up a Souvenir at the Gift Shop
If you’ve fallen in love with Huntly Castle (we don’t blame you), pick up a souvenir or two for yourself or your friends and family back home! You can purchase several unique heraldic symbols, whiskies, glasses, and many more to remember your trip.