Red Castle enjoys one of the most beautiful locations of any castle in Scotland. It stands high on a bluff on the south side of the mouth of the Lunan Water, the river which loops behinds dunes before emptying into the North Sea about half way along the broad sweep of Lunan Bay, one of Scotland's very best beaches.
Lunan Bay can be reached via minor roads that follow the coast more closely than the A92, and is usually accessed from a parking area behind the dunes at Lunan, some four miles south of Montrose. Visible traces of a path from the beach up to the castle show that it can be accessed directly from below. But for anyone using the beach from the car park, the obvious approach to the castle entails not just the steep haul up the bluff, but also a (double) crossing of the Lunan Water, which looks difficult to achieve with dry feet, especially if the tide is in. As a result, the best approach to Red Castle is from inland.
Not far south of the bridge that carries the minor road across the Lunan Water, a couple of pull-off spots on the west side of the road help locate an unsigned path heading, apparently, into woods to the south-east of the road. Following this path takes you through an old gate and uphill onto the ridge occupied by the castle, and then along it. The total walk is perhaps three hundred yards.
It is worth noting that anyone visiting Red Castle should take great care when doing so. We took a photograph (below right) in 1992 which shows considerably more stonework in place on the side of the tower house nearest the river than can be found today. At some point between then and 1999 an entire window and surrounding stonework collapsed. And a report in 1999 pointed out that the north-east corner of the tower house was being undermined by ground slippage down the slope into the river, and as a result the whole structure was "in imminent danger of collapse".
Things have not improved since, and a serious vertical crack down the middle of the the main surviving wall of the tower house, visible both internally and externally, suggests that fully half of what still remains of the tower house could give way at any time. This warning holds especially true for anyone wanting to stray "into" the tower house itself: and an obvious path though the elderberry trees here shows that many visitors do.
A castle first appears to have been built on this magnificent spot for William the Lion (William I) in the late 1100s. According to some accounts it was intended as a defence against Viking attacks, but it seems to have been used more as a hunting lodge by William. In 1194, William granted the castle, and estates in the area, to Walter de Berkely, the Royal Chamberlain.
The castle was rebuilt on a much grander scale as a stone castle of enclosure in the 1200s, and part of the curtain wall or enceinte from this period still survives. This measures some 32m long by 6m high by up to 1.8m thick, despite the obvious erosion that has taken place. The castle changed hands a number of times, and deeds produced in 1286 describe it as rubeum castrum, Latin for "Red Castle", a direct reflection of the colour of the stone used in its construction.
In 1328 Red Castle was given by Robert the Bruce to the Earl of Ross (see our Historical Timeline). The tower house was added to the castle in the late 1400s, at which time it was the property of the Stewart family, the Lords Innermeath. The tower house was originally four storeys plus an attic in height, and one wall still stands to roof level, with many of the corbels surviving. Unusually, the lowest level did not have a stone vaulted ceiling, with wood being used for floors.
The story of the castle's demise is a sad one. In 1579 the wedding took place between the castle's owner, Lady Elizabeth Beaton, and James, son of Lord Gray. Unfortunately James then fell in love with Lady Elizabeth's daughter. He was kicked out by his wife, but returned with supporters and over the following two years mounted a series of attacks on the castle. Red Castle did not fare well from the experience, and although it was lived in by a local church minister in the 1760s it never really recovered.