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Castle restoration register expansion

15 February 2010

Five new entries have been added to Historic Scotland’s Scottish Castle’s Initiative register to assist their owners in any plans to restore them from their current state.

The register contains the details of protected castles and tower houses that the Scottish Government’s historic environment agency believes could be sympathetically repaired without compromising their national importance.

Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop announced the expansion of the register, saying: “Scotland is known for its heritage and we know that this plays a huge part in attracting people to visit from all over the world.

“The buildings on this register are important historic assets, and have the potential to be brought back into use to create homes, jobs or business opportunities.”

The five new sites to be added to the register are:

  • Fairburn Tower, Highland,
  • Burgie Tower, Moray,
  • Blairfindy Castle, Moray,
  • Evelick Castle, Perthshire,
  • Sorbie Tower, Dumfries and Galloway.

Work is also being carried out to create a guide to castle restoration and repair, using the expertise and experiences of successful past projects. Conservation architects Simpson and Brown have been commissioned to write the guide, with support from castle owners and the Castle Association. The register can be found at

At Sorbie, members of the Clan Hannay society maintain the tower and grounds, where there are interpretation boards for visitors.

Professor David Hannay said: “We aim to put a roof on the tower and restore the castle to what it was like when it was lived in.  This would preserve the building for future generations, and act as a focus for clan members world wide and as a visitor attraction for the general public.”

Many of the castles on the register are protected as scheduled monuments and will require consent from Historic Scotland for any work to them, others are listed buildings and consent should be sought from the appropriate local authority. Inclusion on the register means that the agency believes that sympathetic restoration of the property is possible without damaging the historic fabric.

The Minister added: “Taking on the challenge of restoring a castle is a big commitment. This register and the guide will help those owners who want to reinvigorate their property, and will highlight those protected monuments that are most suited to reuse.”

Notes for editors

  • The entries on the Scottish Castle’s Initiative register are all in private ownership.

  • Inclusion is not an indication that the property is available for sale.

  • Historic Scotland is an executive agency of the Scottish Government charged with safeguarding the nation’s historic environment. The agency is fully accountable to Scottish Ministers and through them to the Scottish Parliament. For more information visit

1. Fairburn Tower, Highland

Fairburn Tower is a mid-16th century tower-house, standing virtually complete to the wall-head, high on a long ridge situated between the Rivers Conon and Orrin.
The tower is of two main phases. As originally built it was a tall, oblong tower of four stories and a garret. It was finished with crow-steps to the gables, with corbelled-out turrets on the north-east and south west angles which would have been conically roofed. Rather unusually for a tower of this date, the entrance was at first floor level, and the corbels which would have supported a timber fore-stair can still be identified.
At a later period, probably during the 17th-century, a small square projecting tower was added to the south side. This contained a broad circular stair providing more convenient access to the first-floor hall and second-floor chamber, with smaller chambers on its upper floors. The vaulted basement of the tower was not initially accessible from the exterior and was reached from a straight stair within the north wall. It has three deeply-splayed and prominent shot-holes in each wall.

The first-floor contained the hall and has several mural closets. A small circular stair in the north-east corner was the original access to the upper floors before the later stair tower was added. Each of the upper floors consists of one room of the same size as the hall, again with a number of wall-chambers. Attached to the east wall are the remains of a two-roomed cottage, which is shown as thatched in a photograph dating to 1879. The cottage contains a large arched fireplace with an oven, and appears to have been adapted from an earlier kitchen wing associated with the tower.

The tower dates to around the mid-sixteenth century, and was probably built for Murdo Mackenzie, after he had received a charter for the lands with the understanding that he built a house there. The famous Highland mystic, Kenneth Mackenzie, known as 'The Brahan Seer', prophesied about the Mackenzies of Fairburn and their tower that 'the day will come when the Mackenzies of Fairburn shall lose their entire possessions; their castle will become uninhabited and a cow shall give birth to a calf in the uppermost chamber of the tower.' The prophecy is said to have been fulfilled in 1851.

Conservation Options
Due to its structurally complete condition, and taking account of the fact that it shares a number of characteristics with other towers, it would be possible to restore it without detracting from its significance. However, it should be noted that the tower is essentially little more than 5 chambers stacked upon each other, with a first floor entrance, and this might be regarded as rather inflexible for modern occupation. The attached cottage provides further scope for accommodation, although it should be noted that the cottage does not have direct access to the interior of the tower.

2. Burgie Castle, Moray

Burgie Castle consists of a single corner tower of a large-scale Z-plan fortified house, together with an adjoining portion the main block. The rest of the castle has been demolished, but is known from a drawing by John Claude Nattes of 1799. Between the tower and surviving fragment of the main block is a corbelled-out spiral stair that gives access to the upper floors.
The six-storeyed tower has a crenellated and turreted wall head with water spouts in the form of cannon. At first floor level, within the surviving fragment of the main block, is the hall fireplace which has a joggled lintel decorated with the arms of the Dunbar family and the date 1602.

Each storey in the tower has a single room, of these the basement, the two upper storeys and the apex of the stair tower are all vaulted. Although only a fragment of the castle survives, what remains demonstrates workmanship of the highest quality.  The section of the castle which has escaped demolition has also retained a number of important details and finishes. Extensive areas of plaster remain on the internal walls, while timberwork, including floors, cornice, doors and a shuttered window, also survive. Surviving ironwork includes a wrought iron yett and window grills at first floor level.

The castle was built for Robert Dunbar in about 1602. The majority of the castle, apart from the tower and fragment of the main block, was demolished in 1802 and its building materials re-used elsewhere. The Dunbar family also constructed nearby Blervie Castle around the same time, and almost to the same plan. Again, only a fragment of that castle survives and it has recently suffered a major collapse.

Conservation Options
The tower survives to the wall head and is still roofed. However, it is currently structurally unstable and is now supported by scaffolding. The Burgie Castle Trust are working with the Highland Building Preservation Trust in an attempt to ensure the preservation of the castle, and are contemplating a range of proposals for re-use.

3. Blairfindy Castle, Moray

The castle is situated above the Pass of Livet, historically an important routeway between Bamfhisre and Aberdeenshire. It consists of a 4-storey, L-plan tower house built of whin and sandstone random rubble in lime mortar with rough granite dressings. The walls are founded on large boulders just at ground level. The tower is entered through a round-headed entrance at ground level in the NE re-entrant angle. This has the remains of a boldly corbelled out box machicolation above.

The ground floor of the main block had a vaulted kitchen and cellar accessed by a corridor. The cellar has a narrow stair rising up to the hall. The vaulting was intact in the 1890s but has subsequently collapsed. Above was the hall, a second floor chamber and a third floor attic chamber giving access to a corbelled round or bartizan and the box machicolation. The wing or jamb contained a wide staircase to the first floor, with access to the upper floors being by a circular stair corbelled out between the junction of the wing and main block.

The tower house is commonly believed to have been constructed by the Gordon family and served as hunting seat for the earls of Huntly. A datestone set above the entrance bears the date 1586, the initials IG and HG and the family's coat-of-arms. However, it have been suggested that the castle was completed as early 1564 by a John Gordon. In 1647, the 2nd Marquess of Huntly was imprisoned here, one of his own houses, before his trail and execution in Edinburgh in 1649.

Conservation Options
The shell of castle is largely complete to the wall head. However, the vaulting and main stair have collapsed internally. There are also a number of very significant settlement cracks in the tower and 2 teirs of metal straps help to contain the spread of the walls at the upper levels. There tower will therefore require extensive work simply to stabilise its structure before any restoration work was begun. Although the castle has some interesting features (the box machicolation), it shares many characteristics with other tower houses of this date. Taken with its condition, it is therefore considered that it would be possible to restore it for modern occupation without detracting from its significance. It is also considered that the planning of the castle would lend itself to modern requirements quite easily.

4. Evelick Castle, Perthshire

The castle is set out to a staggered L-shaped plan, with a circular turret for a spiral stair in the re-entrant angle between the two elements. The main block of the tower is aligned approximately from east to west, and the wing, which is towards the west end of its south face, projects a short way beyond that west end. Masonry tusks projecting from the east gable show that there was to have been a lower range projecting from that side, though the absence of any roof crease suggests that any such range was never built in permanent form. The roofs appear to have oversailed the relatively thin walls, with no evident provision for wall walks at any point, and in its overall appearance the tower is domestic in appearance. However, there is an unusually generous provision of wide-mouthed gun holes at all levels, including a surprisingly large number at garret level.

The tower was entered at the base of the stair turret, above and to one side of which there is a moulded frame for an armorial tablet. Above the basement, the vaults of which have collapsed, there were two principal storeys and a garret in the main block. From the scale of the flues in the south gable of the wing it appears the kitchen was in the basement of that part. As might be expected, the hall was on the first floor of the main block, while the provision of paired stool closets in the north wall indicates that the second floor was divided into two chambers. The garret was lit by windows in the gable walls, and presumably also by dormers, evidence for the design of which may survive in either in the collapsed masonry or in the fragments that have been re-used around the modern steading.

Evelick was the residence of a branch of the Lindsay family. The designation 'of Evelick'; was evidently first used in 1497 by the David Lindsay who then held the estates; before then the family is said to have been designated as 'of Leroquhy'. The existing tower house probably dates from the later decades of the sixteenth century.

The family was granted a baronetcy in 1666. The castle has been associated with a number of significant events. Thomas, the second son of the first baronet, was murdered by his step-brother, William Douglas, in 1682, and the latter was subsequently executed. In 1752 Margaret, the daughter of Sir Alexander and Lady Amelia Lindsay, eloped with the painter Allan Ramsay to become his second wife. The last of the line died through drowning in 1799.

Conservation Options
Despite the losses of masonry in some area of the upper walls, careful analysis of what remains, together with archaeological investigation of the collapsed masonry within the tower, would probably afford sufficient information for restoration of both the external forms and the internal planning to be carried out with an adequate level of authenticity. The relatively large scale of the tower, together with the way in which there were larger rooms in the main block and smaller rooms in the wing, all of which were reached from a spacious spiral stair, would make use by modern family life relatively straightforward. Despite the relatively remote hillside location of the tower, there is easy access by an adequate single-track road. However, the tower is immediately adjacent to a working farm, which may in fact perpetuate agricultural buildings that have always been associated with the tower.

5. Sorbie Castle, Dumfries and Galloway

Sorbie Tower, or the Old Place of Sorbie, is a late 16th century tower-house, standing virtually complete to the wall-head. It is located within a plantation on a low rise which originally would have been surrounded by bog and marsh. To the south of the tower is a square mound, the remains of a predecessor motte and bailey castle. The motte has been terraced, presumably at a later date as a garden feature in the later phases of the tower's occupation. The tower is surrounded by a cobbled courtyard.

The tower is built to an L-shaped plan; above a vaulted basement there are three storeys with perhaps an attic in the roof space. The masonry is rubble with undressed quoins and simple chamfered sandstone dressings. The entrance to the tower is in the re-entrant angle of the wing, which contains a scale-and-platt stair to the first floor. The ground floor has typical late 16th century arrangements with a passageway giving access to cellars and a kitchen which are well lit with a number of unusually large windows for the ground-floor spaces in a tower of this date. The kitchen has a large a fireplace, the arch of which has been rebuilt, and a slop drain.

The first floor of the main block would have contained a well lit hall, and there was a large fireplace, now very ruinous, in the east wall. The lower end of the hall may have been enclosed by a screen, as there is a small fireplace in the south wall. The upper floors would have been reached by a large circular stair corbelled out in the re-entrant angle, although the stair treads have been robbed out. Each of the upper floors of the main block was divided into two unequal chambers with separate access from the stair. The third-floor chambers, which were partly in the roof and lit by dormer windows, are augmented by small studies in roofed turrets at the north-west, north-east and south-west angles. There would have been further accommodation in the wing

The tower was probably built by Alexander Hannay of Sorbie, who held the lands of Sorbie from 1569 to around 1612. The Hannays were an important and influential family in Wigtownshire from at least the 13th century and appear to have held the lands of Sorbie from the mid-15th century. The family's fortunes declined during the late 16th century due to feuds and disputes with powerful neighbours such as the Murrays of Broughton, the Stewarts of Garlies and the Kennedys. Most of the Sorbie estates were sold in 1626 to Sir Patrick Agnew, and the lands were later granted to the Stewarts of Garlies, who took possession of the Old Place of Sorbie in 1677. The last occupant was Brigadier-General John Stewart, M.P. for Wigtonshire in the British Parliament of 1707, who owned the tower until his death in 1748.  In 1965 the tower was donated to the Clan Hannay Society who have maintained the building and obtained grants to stabalise the walls.

Conservation Options
The tower is largely complete to the wall head and, having been stabilised over the last 10 years, is in good structural condition. It has suffered masonry robbing over the centuries, and the surrounds of many windows are either wholly or partly lost, as are the steps of the circular stair. Other areas have suffered collapse, including the vault of the kitchen and the superstructure of the angle turrets. However, the building remains substantially complete and sufficient details survive to enable an authentic restoration.

For further information

Jennifer Johnston Watt
Communications and Media Officer
Communications and Media
0131 668 8070 or 07827 956 866