Corgarff Castle resides in Aberdeenshire in Northeast Scotland. It began around 1550 as a lordly residence and fortified home of the Forbes family of Corgarff. It was a typical Scottish tower house consisting of a first-floor hall with a vaulted ceiling, storage rooms on the ground floor, and private chambers above the hall. The tower house was surrounded by a courtyard wall with other buildings within the courtyard, including a stable, bakehouse, and brewhouse.
In 1507, James IV granted the Forest of Corgarff to Alexander Elphinstone of Kildrummy Castle, who became 1st Lord Elphinstone. The 2nd Lord Elphinstone gave the Corgarff estate to his eldest son in 1546 as a marriage gift. The tower house may have been built around that time. The lands of Corgarff passed to one of his tenants, John Forbes of Towie, shortly after, and it is possible it was Forbes who commissioned the tower house. The Forbes family, a powerful Aberdeenshire family, played a significant part in the Scottish Wars of Independence against England from 1296 to 1357. By 1500, the Forbes Clan dominated Aberdeenshire with castles such as Druminnor, Tillycairn, and Tolquhon.
Corgarff Castle was first mentioned in 1571 during the Forbes and the Gordons feud. Following the slaughter of the Gordons at Druminnor Castle, a battle was fought at Tillyangus, where the Forbes were routed. The Gordons followed that victory with a raid on Corgarff Castle. In November, Adam Gordon, laird of Auchindoun Castle, arrived at Corgarff Castle with his men to capture Forbes of Towie. Forbes was away, but his wife Margaret was there and refused to allow the Gordons to enter. They then set fire to the castle, murdering Margaret, her family, and servants. In all, 27 people perished in the fire.
In 1645, Corgarff Castle was occupied by the Marquis of Montrose, campaigning on behalf of Charles I of England, and the castle was repaired. During the first Jacobite Rising of 1689-90, the castle was set ablaze by Jacobite supporters of King James VII to deny its use as a garrison post for those supporting the new Protestant sovereigns, William and Mary.
In the spring of 1746, the army of Charles Edward Stuart, Bonnie Prince Charlie, withdrew from England to the Scottish Highlands. As the Duke of Cumberland's army advanced up the East Coast of Scotland in pursuit, the Jacobites took possession of Corgarff Castle, filling it with barrels of gunpowder, muskets, and ammunition in preparation for war. In March, a detachment of Redcoats was dispatched from Aberdeen and headed to Corgarff to rid it of the weapons stockpile. Upon arrival, they found the castle abandoned by the Jacobites, the fireplace still burning, with no living creature apart from a cat sitting by the fire. Before leaving, the Jacobites began destroying the ammunition stores before they fled, which the Redcoats completed. Soon after, the English army defeated the Jacobite army at the Battle of Culloden on April 16th, 1746.
In 1748, the Redcoats refitted Corgarff Castle as a military barracks, used as a base to hunt down Jacobite sympathizers. This refitting saw the stone vaulted ceiling of the hall taken down and an extra timber floor added to provide an extra level of accommodation for the commanding officer, three non-commissioned officers, and 42 additional men. The courtyard buildings and surrounding wall were also demolished and replaced by two pavilions and a star-shaped wall with musket loops.
In 1802, Corgarff Castle was returned to private ownership, and a local farmer, James McHardy, rented it as a farmhouse. In 1826, he is recorded as holding a license to distill whiskey on the premises. However, in July of the same year, his distillery was set on fire and destroyed. The following year, the Redcoats returned to Corgarff Castle to assist the excisemen in a nationwide drive to stamp out the illegal production of whiskey. The Redcoat garrison pulled out of Corgarff Castle for good in 1831, and the castle slowly fell into decay.
In 1961, the ruin was placed in the care of the State, who began the first phase of castle restoration. Today, Corgarff Castle welcomes visitors from all over the world.
Corgarff Castle sits on the edge of the Cairngorms National Park in a beautiful remote moorland setting with views of the surrounding countryside. It feels remote and desolate, with just a few farms nearby. It is a lovely castle to visit due to its two distinct histories: as a home for the Forbes family and a second life as a military barracks for the Redcoats.
The star-shaped wall surrounding the castle was part of the new star fort design introduced at that time as an extra defensive feature against cannons and gunpowder. The star-shaped walls at Corgarff are thin, perhaps to aid against musket shots as its remote location made it an unlikely target from cannon fire.
The most impressive feature of Corgarff Castle is the tower house. Above the entrance, high on the outer wall, the remains of a machicolation are still visible. The first floor houses the current shop for entry tickets. The upper floors contain barrack rooms furnished to replicate what life was like at the castle when the Redcoats were garrisoned there.
Outside the tower house, the west pavilion contained the brewhouse and bakehouse. The soldiers baked their food, but a local brewer would make beer once a week to keep the brewhouse well stocked. The east pavilion contains a guardhouse and a prison.
Corgarff Castle is relatively small and can easily be visited in an hour or two. To make a full day of visiting castles, Kildrummy Castle is close enough to see the same day.
Corgarff Castle is also haunted.