Aberdour Castle stands on a site that has been occupied since at least the Iron age. It is also known as Invermarky Castle and was built in the 1500s by Alexander Gordon, 2nd Earl of Huntly.
Aberdour Castle was rebuilt following a fire in 1877. The castle is now home to the Balfours who manage it as a hotel and golf course.
Alexander Gordon wanted to extend his family’s land holdings and power, so he built Aberdour near a former fortification that dated back to at least the Iron age and was probably a Pictish settlement called Invermarky (meaning ‘river mouth’).
The original castle had four towers with terraced gardens on top surrounded by stone walls. It was unique for its time because it had a spiral staircase built in stone. The basement housed the kitchen and storage areas; there were also proper medieval toilets and a garderobe. The first floor contained the main hall, which would have been used for feasting, dancing, and bardic gatherings. The second floor contained bedrooms that were large to accommodate nobility and their servants.
Alexander Gordon extended the land of the castle by purchasing neighbouring farms and houses; he also built an additional tower to the north-west in 1560 which is now in ruins. His son John Gordon added a new range of buildings in 1585 which included stables, offices, a bake-house, and bedrooms for guests. The north-east tower was built in the early 1600s. In 1670 William Gordon, 4th Earl of Huntly added a new south range which contained a kitchen, scullery, servants’ quarters and some bedrooms.
The Gordons owned Aberdour until 1877 when they sold it to James Balfour along with the entire estate. The castle was unused for around 40 years before it was extensively renovated in 1905–1906 and turned into one of Scotland’s first luxury hotels.
In 1955 the castle became a golfing hotel which has been extended over time to provide 64 rooms and accommodation for up to 200 guests. In 2006 the hotel underwent another extension and refurbishment that included six new junior suites.
The castle is protected as a category A listed building, and the grounds are included in the Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland.
Aberdour Castle was built around a courtyard. There were originally four towers; one of the towers is now in ruins but it can still be viewed. Two stubs where other towers would have been located can also be seen. The courtyard was enclosed by a tower house which measured about by . It was at least three storeys high and had rooms on each floor; these were used for feasting, dancing, music practice, and sleeping. The entrance was protected by a gatehouse.
The courtyard was surrounded by two smaller courtyards which were protected by stone walls and contained gardens. The north-east tower contained a spiral staircase that led to the terraced garden on top of the castle; this had plants and turf that could be used for growing food or making fuel. There were also spiral staircases inside the other towers, although these are now in ruins. The south-east tower had a garderobe which was probably used for storing supplies; waste would have been chuted down to the courtyard below.
There is some debate over whether another tower existed in the past but has since been removed or demolished, as there is no visible evidence of it. However, its location is known to have been within the boundaries of the castle.
The castle was accessed through an arched gatehouse in the west wall. There was a drawbridge in front of this that would have been raised when the castle was under attack; it could also be raised to stop enemies getting into the courtyard area.
There were two main entrances into the tower house at ground level; one gave access to a staircase leading up to a second floor room, while another led to a spiral staircase that went deeper into the building. This spiral staircase had 97 steps and is now in ruins but would once have climbed six storeys all the way up to where there terrace would have been in front of each tower.
Francois I of France stayed in Aberdour Castle in 1538 and had dinner with the Balfours when he was traveling. Mary, Queen of Scots visited Aberdour Castle with her husband Lord Darnley in 1566; they were received by Alexander Gordon, 4th Earl of Huntly and his son Lord Aboyne. Two years later Queen Mary and Lord Darnley visited Aberdour without Huntly. In 1585 King James VI stayed at the castle for three days while travelling between Aberdeen and Inverness; he returned again in 1618 to hunt.
The castle is still used as a hotel and restaurant, and also caters for conferences and corporate events. The hotel’s main restaurant has panoramic views of the Firth of Forth and holds a Michelin star.
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