Braemar Castle stands on a bluff rising above the south side of the River Dee, two thirds of a mile north east of the centre of Braemar. In basic form it is an L-plan tower house with a large round stair tower in the inner angle of the the "L", and it is adorned by bartizans, stepped-out from the corners of the basic structure at the level of the top two floors.
The tower house dates back to 1628 and it is surrounded by a star-shaped perimeter wall pierced by musket loops added when the castle was rebuilt and used as a base for government troops from 1748. As a result, Braemar Castle can be seen as one of a pair formed with Corgarff Castle, equipped with a similar outer wall at about the same time and located just 12 miles as the crow flies across very mountainous country to the north east of Braemar.
From the early 1800s Braemar Castle served as the ancestral home of the Farquharsons of Invercauld and until 2005 was open to visitors. It then closed its doors, leading to a period of uncertainty about its future. In February 2007 the community of Braemar became the lease-holders when they acquired the castle from Invercauld Estate for 50 years on a peppercorn rent. Braemar Community Ltd. is co-ordinating the project on behalf of the village, and since May 2008 the castle has again been opening its doors to visitors. See the box on the right for more detailed opening, admission and contact information.
Since taking over the castle, local volunteers have embarked on an ambitious 10 year restoration programme to secure the its future. This has included the complete removal of a run-down wing built in the 1800s at the rear of the castle.
From a visitor's point of view, Braemar Castle is well worth the entrance fee for the sense it offers of how a family would have lived in a castle like this. But the wider picture of community operation on limited resources means that visitors are also helping support the castle into the future, giving an additional reason to visit.
Visitors are able to view around a dozen of the castle's rooms. These include the strikingly decorated Dining Room and the Morning Room on the first floor plus the Laird's Day Room and the large Drawing Room on the second floor, together with a exhibition area in what used to be the Rose Room.
At higher levels within the castle you find the Four Poster Bedroom and Principal Bedroom, plus a guest bedroom. One of the particularly attractive features of many of the rooms on the upper floors are the corner alcoves provided by the stepped-out bartizans.
One of the upper hallway areas is given over to a display of material about the author Robert Louis Stevenson and his book "Treasure Island", which he began writing while on holiday in Braemar in 1881.
Having climbed to the upper bedrooms, visitors return to the Dining Room, then descend the service stairs which lead to the vaulted kitchen and shop on the ground floor. Here, too, you find the entrance to the bottleneck dungeon into which prisoners were lowered or dropped. This looks a pretty unpleasant place from above. From below it probably looked much worse: and that is before you take into account that at one point during the religious conflicts of the late 1600s it was temporary "home" to no fewer than 17 prisoners.
The main tower of Braemar Castle was built in 1628 by John Erskine, Earl of Mar. Erskine's aim in building the castle was twofold. Firstly he wanted to strengthen his political and military control over Deeside: and he especially wanted to ensure that the Farquharson Clan, nominally his vassals, did not step too far out of line or gain more power than he felt was good for them. He also wanted a lodge for his use when hunting in the extensive forests of Deeside.
During the 1689 Jacobite Uprising, the Erskines and the Farquharson's found themselves on opposing sides. John Farquharson of Inverey, popularly known as the "Black Colonel", was a strong supporter of the Jacobite cause and attacked government troops holding Braemar Castle before burning it down to prevent it becoming a permanent government garrison. Plans were made to rebuild Braemar Castle in 1689 and in 1715, but on neither occasion were the plans realised.
The 1715 Jacobite uprising saw the old enemies united, when the Farquharsons supported a Jacobite cause which was this time led by John Erskine, 23rd Earl of Mar. Mar actually launched his ill-fated campaign to restore the Stuarts to the throne by raising his standard at the Farquharsons of Invercauld's home in Braemar, located where the Invercauld Arms now stands.
Following the defeat of the Jacobites, Mar's estates were forfeited to the Crown. In 1725 Lord Dun and Lord Grange, both Erskines and distant relatives of the Earl of Mar, purchased the forfeited Deeside estates back from the Crown. In 1732 they in turn sold the ruined Braemar Castle and surrounding estates to John Farquharson, the 9th Laird of Invercauld.
John Farquharson refused to support the Jacobite cause in the 1745 uprising and his Deeside estates were plundered by the Jacobites before their final defeat at the Battle of Culloden. In the aftermath he took what probably seemed the prudent decision to lease the ruin of Braemar Castle for use as a barracks by the Hanoverian Government. The lease, for 99 years from 1748, was in return for the payment of £14 per year. The main tower house was subsequently rebuilt as you see it today and the star-shaped surrounding wall was added.
The army ceased to use the castle in 1797, and in 1807, James Farquharson, the 10th Laird of Invercauld, negotiated its return. The castle subsequently became the family home of the Farquharsons and frequently hosted Queen Victoria during her regular visits to the Braemar Gathering.