Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Duffus Castle

Something generally unappreciated is that the north of Scotland between Tain and Aberdeen was as rich, important and as densely populated as the south in the early history of this nation. Today the gross urbanisation of the Central Belt distorts our view, but there was much less difference between north and south before the industrial revolution, and perhaps hardly any before the renaissance.

In Pre-Scottish Pictish times, overlordship of Alba see-sawed between the north Picts and the south Picts (those north of the Mounth and those south of it). This continued into medieval times until Lulach, the last northern king of Scotland, was killed in 1058 by southern rival Malcolm Canmore.

The southern hegemony was even then not quite complete, as the MacWilliams - whose ancestors had once ruled Moray as Moramers or Earls, but been replaced by the southern king's feudal imports - threatened to take the crown of Scots right up into the 13th century. This only ended with the brutal murder of the last MacWilliam in 1229, an infant girl killed on Alexander II's orders at Forfar merkat cross.

The seat of the Earls of Moray was Duffus Castle:

Climbing to the top of the castle and looking out reveals a land of flat arable fields, not the mountains and moorland that a casual visitor might expect from the north of Scotland.

View from Duffus Castle:

It is no surprise that the Earl built his castle here, surrounded by rich farmland and just a few miles from the sea; that the bishop of Moray built his palace nearby - complete with a medieval canal - and the magnificent cathedral of Elgin is just a few miles away.

Duffus interior:

I know what you are thinking. Why is that wall and window lopsided? The castle was first built on an artificial mound. But when a new keep was built in the 13th century, the mound simply failed under the weight, and the tower slowly toppled over. I'm not sure if the castle is pronounced 'duff-us' or 'doo-fuss', but the latter seems apt given the circumstances of the foundations. Whit a reddy.

Nearby are the ruins of Elgin Cathedral. This beautiful building was known as the Lantern of the North. It was burnt in 1390 by the powerful noble Alexander Stewart, unruly brother of king Robert III. This outrageous act came about because the bishop of Moray had ordered Stewart to leave the mistress he had taken up with and return to his wife. It was rebuilt, but abandoned to nature after the reformation in 1560. Today Elgin is the main market town for the largely rural country of Moray, and an epicentre of whisky distilling.

Elgin Cathedral:

The north of Scotland. It's not all mountain, lochs, and eagles, you know.


blueskyscotland said...
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blueskyscotland said...

Went there many years ago Robert and would love to go back for a proper tour of the area.The one part of the Scottish mainland I,ve not been to much.Cheers for bringing back almost forgotten memories of a long hot summer spent in the lands around Elgin learning about the Wolf of Badnoch and Lucy Irvine:)

Anonymous said...

Duffus Castle was NEVER the seat of The Earls of Moray. It was originally built, in wood, by Freskin de Moravia, ancestor to both the Sutherlands & the Murrays. The name DUFFUS is pronounced DUFF-US.