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Updated 05/12/2020


Craigievar Castle

Craigievar Castle is a pinkish harled castle 6 miles south of Alford, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. It was the seat of Clan Sempill and the Forbes family resided here for 350 years until 1963.

The great seven-story castle was completed in 1626 by the Aberdonian merchant William Forbes, ancestor of the Forbes baronets of Craigievar and brother of the Bishop of Aberdeen, Patrick Forbes of Corse Castle. Forbes purchased the partially completed structure from the impoverished Mortimer family in the year 1610. Forbes was nicknamed Danzig Willy, a reference to his shrewd international trading success with the Baltic states. Craigievar is noted for its exceptionally crafted plasterwork ceilings featuring figures of the Nine Worthies and other family emblems.

In 1824 Sir John Forbes, who had inherited the castle the previous year on the death of his older brother, commissioned Aberdeen architect John Smith to report on the condition of Craigievar. His report highlighted the need for a new roof and new harling, but noted that the castle was "well worth being preserved as it is one of the finest specimens of architecture in this Country of the age and stile in which it is built, and finely situated."

Sir John paid for a new roof, and had the castle completely reharled. Until then the exterior finish of the castle had been a cream color. Sir John agreed with John Smith's recommendation that the harling should have pigments added to make it more closely match the color of the granite detailing, and the result was a distinctly pink color. Meanwhile as little "improvement" as possible was undertaken within the castle, and as much of the original paneling and furniture as possible was retained. As a result Craigievar Castle became a very early example of a tourist attraction, and people started to journey from increasingly far afield in order to visit.

One visitor who didn't need to travel far was Queen Victoria, whose own castle at Balmoral was only just over 20 miles away as the crow flies. The royal visitor turned up unannounced on the afternoon of 18 June 1879 and, according to Victoria's journal, on finding no one at home, she simply wandered around this "strange and curious old castle" until the residents were alerted to her presence and returned to greet her.

By this time the Forbes were maintaining Craigievar Castle as a holiday home and tourist attraction, while running a main family home at Fintray House, at Hatton of Fintray on the River Don north of Aberdeen. This allowed them to strictly limit the concessions made to the modern world at Craigievar, which in turn helped preserve it for future generations. In 1884 Sir William Forbes inherited the title of 17th Lord Sempill, marking the start of what has become known as the Forbes-Sempill family. Fintray House was requisitioned for the war effort in 1941 and the family moved permanently to the much smaller Craigievar. After the war the problems of, in effect, living within a museum became increasingly obvious, and the family opened discussions with the National Trust for Scotland in 1962, which led to the NTS taking over the castle and opening it more fully to the public.