Huntingtower Castle is to be found just west of Perth, not far from the junction of the A9 and the A85 Crieff road. Its location is unspectacular, and the margins of Perth seem to be growing steadily out towards it. But both the grounds and the castle are beautifully cared for and what you find is a unique time capsule with a wonderful atmosphere.
Huntingtower is medieval in origin but has seen significant redevelopment during its colourful history. Two families, the Ruthvens and the Murrays, made it their home and it also played host to royalty: twice to Mary Queen of Scots and once to her son James VI, who was held against his will there for ten months in 1582 during the episode known as the Ruthven Raid (see our Historical Timeline).
The Ruthvens held the lands from the 1100s to 1600. One resident in the early 1500s was Katherine Ruthven who later became Lady Glenorchy. In 1600 James VI's patience with the family finally ran out as a result of yet more plotting against him. As a result they were first killed and then tried for high treason; their lands were forfeited; and even the very name of the place, until then Ruthven, was changed - to Huntingtower.
The property was later given by the Crown to the Murrays of Tullibardine. Amongst the family's notable sons was Lord George Murray, who played an important role in the Jacobite uprisings of 1715, 1719 and 1745. During the occupation of John Murray, the first Duke of Atholl, the castle became run down and with the death of his wife in 1767 it was abandoned as a place of residence.
During the occupancy of the House of Ruthven, Huntingtower consisted of two quite separate tower houses built three metres apart, one for each of the sons of William Ruthven. Other buildings were set around the courtyard of the castle precincts.
Huntingtower today offers an interesting glimpse into the past, and holds some surprises for its visitors. Entry is either by steps from the courtyard into the first floor of the Western Tower, or into the ground floor of the East Tower.
The West Tower originally had three storeys and a garret and was the larger of the two properties; what remains today is a spacious hall with traces of wall paintings and coat of arms still apparent in the west window recess.
The Eastern Tower was originally built as a gatehouse but was converted in around 1500 into a residential tower house. The first floor hall boasts a painted wooden ceiling and intricate painted plasterwork representing a bird amid luxuriant foliage. This building is three floors and a garret, and on the second floor the fine 15th Century fireplace also survives.
It was in the 1600s that work was undertaken to link the two towers and make Huntingtower look more like a regular country mansion of the time. This work was undertaken by the the Murray family, and the bridging work between the original two towers is clearly visible both internally and externally.
At this time the grounds still housed the ruins of an earlier great banqueting hall and these were still standing more than a century later. The Murrays also developed significant formal gardens to the south and east of the castle.
Huntingtower also has a romantic tale to tell. Dorothea, daughter of the first Earl of Gowrie is said to have leapt between the tops of the two towers of the castle, a distance of 9 feet 4 inches, in retreat from her mother as she was almost discovered when visiting her lover in his chamber (doubtless deliberately located by her mother in the other tower).
The mother was reassured to find her daughter in her own bed that night, and her lover alone in his: but was probably less impressed when the couple eloped the next day. To this day the gap between the towers is know as The Maiden's Leap.
Some castles' claim to fame is a resident ghost. Huntingtower is known more for is resident colony of pipistrelle bats, who live here all year round alongside brown long-eared bats and some rarer Natterer's bats. An information board within the castle notes that bats aren't house trained, so evidence of their presence can be all to obvious. On the other hand, it points out that even a small pipistrelle bat can can eat up to 3,000 midges each night. And if you see butterfly wings carelessly scattered around, these are the leftovers of another of the bats' favourite meals.