Auchindoun Castle stands in a superb defensive location at a height of nearly 1,000ft just over two miles south-east of Dufftown. Immediately to the south and east the ground falls away steeply into the valley of the River Fiddich, and the location offers control over one of the main routes south from Speyside into Aberdeenshire, today followed by the A941.
And it is from the A941 that Auchindoun Castle can be reached. As the road climbs south after turning off the A920 not far from Dufftown itself, a signposted track ascends to the left. When we last visited the only parking was in a pull off beside the main road. We understand that since then a parking area has been constructed at the top of the track. From the track you follow an offshoot to an old farmstead before a final few hundred yards skirting fields along an obvious path to the open land around the castle itself. Good footwear is recommended, especially for the last stretch of track which can be pretty muddy after bad weather.
You catch glimpses of Auchindoun Castle as you follow the track to the farmstead, and the header image shows the castle as you see it from the approach path. What is immediately obvious is just how much of the castle is still standing. It is certainly ruinous, but it is also remarkably complete, perhaps saved from large scale robbing of structural stone by the remote location and, apart from the farmstead, which has clearly reused stone from the castle, the absence of nearby settlement.
As you get closer still, you ascend the slope towards the castle past a stone structure that seems to be a spring, presumably fed by the water source also tapped into by the castle well. Closer still, and the state of preservation of the surrounding walls becomes more and more astounding, albeit with more than a little help from some very hefty buttresses added some time after the walls themselves were built.
The next feature you discover is not obvious as you approach. The entire castle is surrounded by a deep and very well defined defensive ditch, and you begin to think that whoever lived here really didn't want to have to entertain uninvited guests. They didn't, but these ditches were not actually dug by the builders of Auchindoun Castle. Rather they chose to build within an extremely well preserved Iron Age hillfort that had stood here for up to 1500 years previously. Some say the hillfort continued in use into the Pictish era: this is an attractive idea, but there seems to be no evidence to prove it was the case.
Auchindoun Castle itself comprises a massive L-plan tower house surrounded by a defensive wall. The south-west face of the tower has been lost, almost as if carved away by some giant unseen hand. What is left is a cross section of the tower revealing well preserved (or restored) vaulting between the first and ground floors, and visible remains of the supports of the very unusual and highly decorative stone vaulting between first and second floors. Some architectural details remain, but not many, while parts of the outer wall, especially on the south-east and south-west sides, show signs of having supported ranges of buildings. These are believed to have included kitchen and bakery, a guard room, and the stables.
The exposed side of the tower is heavily buttressed with recent stonework, and this is one of only a few obvious signs of the skillful restoration and consolidation that took place at Auchindoun in the years prior to 2007, when it was opened up to the public by its custodians, Historic Environment Scotland. Previously, access to what had been a dangerous structure had not been possible within the outer walls.
Auchindoun Castle was built for John Stewart, Earl of Mar, the youngest son of James II, in about 1470. The builder was possibly Thomas Cochrane, a master mason much favoured by the royal household. It subsequently passed to the Ogilvy family, and in 1567 was sold to Sir Adam Gordon. Gordon was a staunch supporter of the claim of the imprisoned of Mary Queen of Scots to the crown of Scotland, and this led to conflict with supporters of the infant James VI, and especially with the Forbes family of Corgarff Castle, twenty miles to the south.
In November 1571 Adam Gordon of Auchindoun tried to capture Corgarff Castle. The Forbes menfolk were absent, but John Forbes' wife, Margaret, refused to surrender the castle and shot one of Gordon's men through the knee with a pistol. In response Adam Gordon piled kindling against the castle and burned it down, killing Margaret Forbes and the 27 other women, children and servants who were inside. For his murder of the children he is remembered as "the Herod of the North."
Auchindoun Castle was itself attacked and badly damaged in 1591 by Mackintoshes, as a result of a different quarrel. It was subsequently repaired, and ownership passed to the Ogilvys once more in 1594. In 1660 the castle was granted by the newly restored Charles II to the Marquis of Huntly. Within 50 years it was recorded as standing derelict, and some, but thankfully not much, of the stone was subsequently removed for use elsewhere, including in the construction of Balvenie New House.