A brief history of



Royal Deeside, Scotland


Braemar Castle, approaching 400 years old is at the edge of the village

There is a long history of human settlement in Deeside and numerous ancient remains are to be found in the valley. It is known that at the time of the Romans the North East of Scotland was inhabited by diverse Pictish tribes. In particular, the Braemar area was inhabited by the Vacomagi tribe. These tribes were Britons and spoke a language more akin to modern Welsh than to Gaelic and many local place names reflect this. References to Roman activity in the area are dated to 81AD and 138AD, In the latter reference is made to the crossing of the Dee by a substantial ford near the junction of the Clunie and Dee rivers. It is thought that they aided the armies crossing by putting large rocks into the river which supposedly were visible - and maybe still are - in the 19th Century. After the withdrawal of the Romans little is recorded about the area until between about 700 -900 AD when the Pictish inhabitants of the region were converted to Christianity.


To understand the history of the Dee Valley it is necessary to recognise that the River Dee runs approximately West to East. To the south of the river is the Mounth, a mountain barrier to all travelling North-South. Between Braemar and Aberdeen there are very few passes through the hills and even today there is no road through the mountains between Glenshee in the West and Cairn o' Mount in the East. Thus the passes through these mountains provided important routes and places where these routes crossed the Dee were strategically important. Several of these routes (including Glenshee and Glen Callater) converged on Braemar where the Dee could be forded. Therefore whoever held a stronghold here dominated the area and the traffic. It is known that Angus MacFergus, king of the Picts 731-761 had a stronghold here and granted asylum to Bishop Acca, the recently expelled bishop of Hexham, who was carrying relics of St Andrew. At Doldnahancha, 'meadow of the two islands', where the Farquharson Mausoleum now stands close to Braemar Castle, the first church in Scotland dedicated to St Andrew was built. At some stage the relics were removed to the church in the Fife town of St Andrews where they now reside. For some years the Pictish kingdom of Alba had to resist frequent attacks and incursions from the Vikings. In 843 Kenneth Macalpin, leader of the Scots or Gaels, invaded Alba from the west and united the kingdoms of the Scots and Picts. Thereafter Gaelic became the predominant language of the Deeside area.


The first clearly recorded stronghold in the Braemar area was the Castle of Ceann-drochaide - the bridgehead, the ruins of which stand next to the Clunie by the Car Park. The modern spelling is Kindrochit but even the briefest exploration of the site suggests the meaning of the name, standing, as it does above the steep banks of the Clunie adjacent to the modern bridge.


 The snow covered remains of Kindrochit Castle can be seen between the war memorial and the newly refurbished village hall. Though not visible in this picture the Clunie River runs through a deep cleft between castle ruins and memorial. This cleft is spanned by the bridge.


Rising above the village to the rear of the Invercauld Arms Hotel is Creag Choinnich or Kenneth's Crag named after Kenneth II (971-995) who some say built the castle. More reliable evidence suggest the it was built by Malcolm II (1057-1093) also called Malcolm Ceann mor (Canmore) - big head i.e chief. He almost certainly used the castle not only to control the area but also as a base for hunting. (Even today hunting is of major importance to the area.) Around this castle, and relying on it for protection, grew the village of Castleton of Braemar. Canmore came here in 1057 when his army defeated Macbeth's at Lumphanan further down the Dee valley. (Macbeth was killed and his body later interred on Iona.) Canmore defended the area against incursions from Moravia (Moray) and he probably instituted the Highland Games as a contest to select the strongest and fittest for his armies. (His wife, Queen Margaret, was sanctified and it is to St Margaret that the Episcopal church of Braemar is dedicated. The Roman Catholic Church of Braemar is dedicated to St Andrew and both St Margaret and St Andrew are depicted in the stained galss windows of that church.) After his death Scotland went through a prolonged period of disruption in which Deeside often acted as a buffer region. This was the time of Wallace and Robert the Bruce and incursion by the English, notably Edward I. One of the most important battles for the independence of Scotland was the battle of Culblean on the Muir of Dinnet (near Ballater). This took place on St Andrew's Day 1335 when Sir Andrew de Moray defeated English supporters. It had a turbulent history constantly repelling marauding bands.

During the reigns of King Robert II and III in the late 14th century the area was used often for hunting and permission was given for the Earl of Mar to extend the Castle. In 1435 the Earldom of Mar was annexed to the crown and the castle suffered from the uncertainties of the next century. By about 1600 the castle had become a ruin. How the castle came to its end is not clear but legend claims it was destroyed by canon fire when plague broke out. For 350 years the site was increasingly overgrown but was excavated in 1925. Now the remains are to be seen opposite the main village car park in Balnellan Road.




The Castle of Kindrochit in Mar

in the 15th Century

W. Douglas Simpson,



From the time of Mary, Queen of Scots

The more recent history of Braemar began when in 1565 Mary, Queen of Scots, returned the Earldom of Mar to the Erskine family. In 1628 they started the erection of a new fortress - the current Braemar Castle for the same purposes as the original Kindrochit Castle. In particular it was intended to be a bastion against the turbulent Farquharsons. (The history of this castle is given elsewhere but it was central to the Jacobite wars of the 17th and 18th centuries - at different times it was burnt down and used as a garrison for Royal troops in a very chequered history.)

In the 16th century both England and Scotland had undergone religious reformation both turning Protestant. After conflict between the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots and the Protestant Queen Elizabeth of England, the two Royal lines joined when in 1604 Mary's son James VI of Scotland inherited the crown of England to become James I, the first of the Stuart line. Scotland, as well as England, was affected by the Civil War and the brief republic governed by Oliver Cromwell. Charles II was returned to the Crown in 1659 but his son, James II, was deposed for his Catholic leanings. He was replaced by William and Mary of Orange.

In Scotland, 'Bonnie Dundee' tried brilliantly but unsuccessfully to re-establish the Jacobite (James's) cause. He was opposed by the Earl of Mar but supported by the Farquharsons whose leading light was undoubtedly John Farqharson of Inverey, the 'Black Colonel'. After the Battle of Killiecrankie he burnt down Braemar Castle to stop its use as a government garrison. His own castle at Inverey was in turn also burnt down and he had many escapades. He famously escaped capture by riding his horse up the steep side of the pass of Ballater and his hideaway was among the steep sided rocks of 'The Colonel's Bed' in Glen Ey.

By 1707 Scotland and England had joined through the act of Union. However, in 1714 the Royal lines of the two kingdoms separated and the new Hanovarian king George I had no direct claim to the Scottish throne. On this accession the Earl of Mar had been stripped of his office of Secretary of State and his response was to become the prime instigator and organiser of the rising of 1715. He raised the standard of James VIII on 6th September 1715 in Braemar village where the Invercauld Arms now stands. After a disastrous short campaign he was stripped of his lands some of which, including Braemar Castle were later sold to the Farquharsons. Around this time the military roads of General Wade and others were constructed remains of which are visible in Glen Clunie and the 'old Brig o' Dee'. These roads were important in improving the accessibility of the area.

The bewildering divisions and switching of allegiances continued through the rising of 1745 when John Farqharson of Invercauld supported the Hanovarian cause but Francis Farquharson of Monaltrie supported 'Bonnie Prince Charlie'. As a result Braemar Castle was leased and rebuilt as a Hanovarian garrison in 1748. On the other hand Francis Farquharson was captured at Culloden and imprisoned, and subsequently exiled, in England. On his return some 40 years later he developed the spa at Tullich and commenced the building of the new town of Ballater. He can be seen as the originator of the Tourism industry for Deeside. On the death of his nephew the lands returned to the Farquharsons of Invercauld. Now the lands of Invercauld, the seat of the Clan Farquharson, stretch from Ballater in the east through Braemar to Glenshee in the south.


And in more recent times...

The period 1750-1850 was one of developing prosperity for Britain as a whole. In the Highlands, however, it was the time of the notorious 'Clearances'. Deeside began to take on its modern appearance. Although roads used to run through Deeside both to the North and South of the Dee, access to the area, even from Aberdeen must have been difficult. However, by 1800 the new town of Ballater was developing and activity in Deeside increasing. For many years after the Battle of Culloden Highlanders were banned from many activities including the wearing of kilts. By the early 1800s many of these restrictions had been lifted and in 1826 the modern Braemar Gathering was formed. In 1838 Queen Victoria bought Balmoral, building a new castle on the estate. She attended the Gathering in 1848 and being pleased with what she saw bestowed Royal Patronage shortly thereafter. Queen Victoria's love of Royal Deeside, as it came to be called, gave a tremendous boost to the area and over the last 150 years millions of visitors have enjoyed what it has to offer and each year thousands attend the Gathering on the first Saturday in September.

By 1860 a new railway line from Aberdeen to Ballater had been built and the road to the North of the river upgraded. A new bridge across the river at Invercauld was built by Prince Albert and the road on the south side of the river through Balmoral removed. The road up to the village of Castleton of Braemar was improved by building an embankment and by 1863 the new wider bridge across the Clunie to Auchendryne (Achadh-an-Droighinn, thorny land) had been completed. Thus the scene was set for rapid development on that side of the river.




A scene little changed for over a hundred years. The Clunie river passes one of the Castleton mills. Behind it can be seen the old parish church near which the standard of King James VIII was raised at the start of the Rising in 1715.


The building of the Bridge required the co-operation of the Earl of Fife (owner of the Mar Estate and thus Auchendryne) and the Farquharsons of Invercauld. But there must have been considerable rivalry because for a long time the two estates were separated by past rivalries and religion (with Castleton and Auchendryne being predominantly Protestant and Catholic respectively). Hence, the village is endowed with two great hotels, the Invercauld Arms Hotel and the Fife Arms hotel, two mills and two village Halls. Both halls are named after Queen Victoria! A story relates how when the Duke of Fife spotted the building of the stone hall in Castleton to celebrate the Jubilee of Queen Victoria (see picture above), he ordered the immediate construction of the wooden, and therefore quicker to build, hall in Auchendryne. Much of the present village of Braemar was constructed in this Victorian period and the fine stone buildings echo the excitement and confidence of that period. Things have changed somewhat since those days. The Mar Estate has split to become two estates, Mar and Mar Lodge; the latter after and interesting history has now been bought using National Lottery grants by the National Trust for Scotland for public use. The railway, which did so much to prompt development in Deeside, is no more. The rivalry between the two communities of Castleton and Auchendryne has disappeared and Braemar is the adopted name of the combined village. Now we can enjoy the benefits of having a double helping of everything.

In the present day Braemar has become a conservation village, not to be frozen in time, but to identify and maintain the best of the past. It suffers from many of the problems of the present era. Its distance from urban centres and the weaknesses of public transport make us vulnerable to increased petrol prices etc. The reduction in local authority support particularly affects remote areas like ours. There is a shortage of opportunities for young people growing up in the town. However, the development of telecommunications will help to overcome some problems and we are blessed with a beautiful environment that will continue to appeal to visitors. Braemar, with the rest of Royal Deeside, faces a challenging but exciting future with confidence.


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Pages on Braemar : Brief History of Braemar and Royal Deeside

Braemar History

Queen Victoria and Balmoral

John Brown of Crathie

Old Churchyards near Braemar

The Clan Farquharson



Pages constructed by Mike Franklin, Braemar, 27th January 2002

Web: Callater Lodge Hotel

e-mail mike@hotel-braemar.co.uk

Photographs by Sandra Geddes, Mike Franklin, Steve Heyes and others.