Not a member?
Register and login now.

Issue 42 - Solid and enduring

History & Heritage

This article is available in full as part of History & Heritage, visit now for more free articles and information.


Scotland Magazine Issue 42
December 2008


This article is 9 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

Copyright Scotland Magazine © 1999-2018. All rights reserved. To use or reproduce part or all of this article please contact us for details of how you can do so legally.

Solid and enduring

Charles Douglas visits Drum Castle,near Banchory in Aberdeenshire.

Situated 10 miles from the City of Aberdeen in the north west of Scotland is the solid and enduring Drum Castle.

This was previously occupied for six and a half centuries by 24 generations of the Irvine Family, but today is counted as one of the treasures in the portfolio of the National Trust for Scotland (NTS).

Standing on a ridge overlooking the River Dee, the castle’s appearance runs the full gamut of Scottish architectural style from fortified medieval tower to Jacobean mansion and Victorian country house. It genuinely looks different from all sides.

Gifted to the National Trust in 1975 by Henry Quentin Forbes Irvine, 24th Laird of Drum, its contents include period furniture, family portraits, and the spectacular vaulted ceiling of the great hall which is decorated with heraldic shields. But it is not so much the Irvine family treasures that impresses the visitor; it is the encircling atmosphere of a journey through time and the momentous events of Highland history.

As with most of Scotland’s oldest families, the fortunes of the Irvines came about in the early 14th century through the rise of Robert the Bruce and the fall of the House of Comyn from whom the Royal Forest of Oaks and the 13th century Tower of Drum were confiscated. In 1323, William de Irvine was granted a Charter of Barony, and so began the uninterrupted occupation of his descendants until the 20th century.

What William de Irvine acquired from his kinsman, King Robert, was the original keep.

Measuring 75 feet from base to battlement, with walls 12 feet thick at the base, this dates from the reign of Alexander III, Bruce’s cousin, and proved a formidable fortification, supposedly built by Richard Cementarius, the first Provost of the emergent town of Aberdeen. In those days in particular, thick stone walls were required for protection, not least to stand up to the violent Viking invaders of Scotland’s north east coast.

During the early part of the 15th century, the culmination of a long standing feud between Donald, Lord of the Isles and the Duke of Albany, Governor of Scotland, came to a head with a rebellion of West Coast islanders.

This climaxed at the Battle of Harlaw in 1411, where Alexander, the 3rd Laird of Drum, was killed in combat with the Maclean Chief, Red Hector of the Battles.

Prior to his demise, however, Alexander had entrusted his younger brother Robert with the Barony of Drum, and Robert not only honoured his promise, but married Elizabeth Keith, his brother’s betrothed. It was this Robert who later led a delegation to England to negotiate the release of the imprisoned James I, a triumph for which he was duly knighted.

Two centuries later, however, it became obvious that the accommodation provided for the Irvines at Drum was inadequate. In 1619, therefore, the 9th Laird decided to build a new mansion alongside the existing building. The family prospered, but, in the generation that followed, remained loyal to the Royal House of Stuart in a region where the majority of landowners followed the Covenanting Cause.

This led to Drum Castle being besieged, captured twice, garrisoned four time, and repeatedly plundered for its stone.

Alexander, the 10th Laird, was imprisoned in Edinburgh’s Tollbooth jail more than once, and, although released, was fined 10,000 marks. His younger son Robert, was not so fortunate and died for the Royalist cause.

Nonetheless, the Irvine line continued, and next came the Jacobite Uprisings of 1715 and 1745, when again the family supported the House of Stuart. The 14th Laird was out with the 11th Earl of Mar, and, in 1746, the 17th Laird fought for Prince Charles Edward Stuart at the Battle of Culloden. Twice charged with Treason, he astonishingly managed to escape both imprisonment and forfeiture.

Then came a more tranquil era, and, during the 19th century, a series of modifications were introduced to the old dwelling place. These included an extension on the north side to provide more space, and the old tower was interconnected to the house by a hole knocked through the walls which enabled its first floor to accommodate a library.

Thus the fabric of each adjoining section of Drum Castle resonates with the fads and innovations of generations of a great Highland Scottish family, but also not to be missed is the opportunity to explore the 300 acres of grounds. Here there are charming woodland walks, a 16th century chapel and, in particular, the historic rose garden opened in 1991 to celebrate the NTS Diamond Jubilee.

Divided into four quadrants, each section has a design from one of the last four centuries and incorporates roses from these periods. This “Garden of Historic Roses” is, of course, at its best during the months of June and July, but that should not deter anyone from visiting this most wonderful place at any time of year.

Drum Castle, Drumoak, by Banchory,
Aberdeenshire AB31 5EY
Open from Easter-30th June, and from 1st-31st
October 12.30-5pm (closed Tuesdays and Fridays).
Castle open daily from 1st July to 31st August,
11am-5pm. Grounds open daily all year.
Tel: +44 (0)1330 811 204


Claim your free Scotland Magazine trial issue