The ruins of Findlater Castle stand on a rocky promontory projecting out into the sea some two miles east of Cullen and a mile west of Sandend. Brown tourist signs direct you from the A98 to a parking area at a farm, Barnyards of Findlater, and from here it is a half mile walk along a good grassy path to the interpretive board on the cliffs behind the castle.
And, unless you want to follow the path along the cliff towards Sunnyside Beach to the west, that is about as far as we would recommend you go. Scotland has no shortage of dangerous structures, but few give off such an aura of genuine risk as Findlater Castle. The presence of paths down the cliffs behind the promontory, and then out along it, show that people can and do explore the promontory and castle itself. But the cliff paths are steep and slippery and once out among the remains of the castle there seems considerable risk of slips into the sea 50ft below, or of collapses into underground vaulted areas, or of falling masonry from what seem to be unstable structures which in places still stand to a considerable height.
To today's visitor it is easy to see why someone might have wanted to fortify such an inaccessible site: but far more difficult to see how they might have gone about actually doing so. The name "Findlater" seems to come from the Gaelic "fionn leitir", meaning "white cliff", and the first record of a castle here dates back as far as 1246. In the early 1260s the existing castle here was strengthened by King Alexander III in preparation for an expected invasion by King Håkon IV of Norway. Though this invasion concluded in defeat for Håkon at the Battle of Largs, the Norse do seem to have occupied Findlater, and nothing is known about this early castle on the site.
The remains you see today appear to date back to the castle built here, presumably incorporating earlier work, in the 1450s by Sir Walter Ogilvy. This is sometimes said to have been based on the design for Rosslyn Castle: though whether this is really the case, or it is simply that both were constrained by similar sites on spurs of rock surrounded by precipitous drops, is unclear. The interpretive board on the cliffs above shows a building that actually looks oddly reminiscent of Eilean Donan Castle, though on a much smaller site. This was built up to a considerable height from the rock on which it stood and has a footprint which seemed to wholly cover the end of the promontory. At the landward end access was via a walkway raised on a stone causeway considerably above the surrounding rock, which had two gaps crossed by drawbridges. Residents would have felt completely safe from unfriendly visitors, but perhaps less so from coastal erosion.
And there were unfriendly visitors. In 1560 the castle passed to Sir John Gordon, son of the 4th Earl of Huntly. In the Autumn of 1562 the Gordons rose in rebellion against Mary Queen of Scots, and Findlater Castle was besieged by Mary's forces. On 28 October 1562 Mary defeated the Gordons at the Battle of Corrichie, near Aberdeen, and Sir John was executed. Findlater Castle returned to the Ogilvy family, who abandoned it in favour of a more modern residence, Cullen House, in Cullen at the beginning of the 1600s.
Half way between the car park and the cliffs is Findlater Doocot, a beehive doocot probably built here in the 1500s, which would have meant it stood here for the final century during which the castle was occupied. It was restored in 1992.