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Duffus Castle

One of the finest examples of a motte and bailey castle in Scotland

Duffus Castle

One of the finest examples of a motte and bailey castle in Scotland with a later, very fine, stone hall house and curtain wall.

The original seat of the Moray family.

An ancient stronghold

Duffus Castle served as a fortress–residence for over 500 years, from the 1100s to the 1700s. During that time it underwent great change, none more radical than the replacement of the original timber castle by one of stone in the 1300s.

When the first castle was built, around 1150, it was among the strongest castles in Scotland. By the time of its abandonment in 1705, it was little more than a decaying fragment.

Ancestral seat of the earls of Moray

Duffus was built by a Flemish man called Freskin, who came to Scotland in the reign of David I (1124–53). Freskin settled in West Lothian, but following an uprising by the ‘men of Moray’ against King David in 1130, he was persuaded to go north as a representative of royal authority.

He was given the estate of Duffus, beside Spynie Loch, and there he built a large earthwork-and-timber castle that is today one of the best-preserved motte-and-bailey castles in Scotland.

Freskin’s son, William, adopted the title ‘de Moravia’ (of Moray). By 1200 his descendants had become the most influential noble dynasty in northern Scotland, with kinsmen settled throughout Strathspey and across the Moray Firth. From Freskin sprang the earls of Sutherland, and Clan Murray.

New castle, old earthworks

Around 1270 the castle passed by marriage to Sir Reginald Cheyne the elder, lord of Inverugie. Sir Reginald probably built the square stone keep on top of the motte, and the curtain wall encircling the bailey. In 1305 he acquired 200 oaks from the royal forest of Darnaway ‘to build his manor at Dufhous’. These were probably used for the castle floors and roofs.

Sir Reginald supported England during the Wars of Independence. However, his son sided with King Robert Bruce, affixing his seal to the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320. By 1350 the castle had passed, again through marriage, to the earls of Sutherland. They subsequently abandoned the keep on the motte for a new residence along the north side of the bailey. The move may have been prompted by the keep beginning to slip down the motte.

Last supper

In 1689, Viscount Dundee dined in the castle as a guest of James, Lord Duffus. This was during the viscount’s lightning campaign that ended in victory over King William at the Battle of Killiecrankie.

In 1760, an elderly woman recalled working at the castle as a girl and bringing the claret to the dining table. Soon after hosting the viscount, Lord Duffus moved to Duffus House, a short distance away. The ancient castle rapidly fell into decay.


The location – rising out of the low-lying Laich of Moray.
  • The walk around the outer moat – constructed in the late Middle Ages as part of a designed landscape around the ancient castle.
  • The imposing motte-and-bailey – the best in Historic Scotland’s care.
  • The privy in the stone keep – imagine sitting there when the keep started sliding down the hill!


Car Parking Strong Footwear Recommended


Region – North and Grampian

5m North-West of Elgin on the B9012 to Burghead.

Grid reference - NJ 189 672.


Telephone 01667 460232.