Balnagown castle


 

Balnagown Castle is recognised as the ancestral home of the Rosses and was occupied by them until the death of David the 13th Laird and last of the old family.  It then passed into the hands of the Halkhead and Lockhart Rosses along with the Balnagown lands for the reasons already described.  The castle remained in their hands until the 21st Laird, Sir Charles Henry Augustus Frederick Lockhart Ross, died in 1942.  It then passed to his third wife, Dorothy Mercado and eventually to her second husband, Francis Eveleigh de Moleyns on her death in 1957.  When he died in 1964, the castle lay empty and became more and more dilapidated until it was rescued by Mohamed Al Fayed who purchased it in 1972.

 

Some sources claim the castle dates from Hugh of Rarichies' time but the earliest documentary evidence for the Medieval tower house, that forms the nucleous of the west end of the present building, is dated 1490.  This is not to say that some form of building may have occupied the site at an earlier date but probably of a humbler structure.  The tower house was built of rubble stone covered by harling.  Its thick walls bound by barrel vaults gave protection from fire and it was provided with slits and gun loops.  Originally it would have had a thatched roof, probably heather, supported by whole tree trunks.  Situated at a point where a bend of the Balnagown River incised into the ground creating cliffs on two sides, it was built as a fortified residence.

 

Numerous improvements and additions have been made to this 15th century structure.  The main ones are summarised as follows:-

 

End of 16th/start of 17th Centies (by George, 10th Laird) - heightened and extended to the north.


Late 17th Centy (by David 13th Laird and his wife Lady Anne Stewart) - remodelled and a new wing built extending from the north eastern corner creating an L-shaped building.  Turrets, a parapet, crenallations, marriage stones, coats-of-arms and windows with glass were added as well as elaborate internal decoration, driveways and gardens.


1760's (by Sir John Lockhart Ross) - the space between the two wings filled in creating a square structure with a projecting south facing bow. (NB Thankfully, a plan for a completely new mansion which would have involved demolition of the original building came to nothing.)


First half of 19th Centy (by Lady Mary, wife of General Sir Charles Lockhart Ross) - castle again remodelled and provided with Gothic extensions - a loggia and conservatory aound the western end; a portico built on the southern side; a whole new castellated wing constructed at the eastern end; windows opened up on the northern side.


Last quarter of 20th Centy (by Mohammed Al Fayed) - a massive programme of renovation and restoration but keeping the original architecture and preserving the baronial atmosphere while modernising services and fittings.

 

Balnagown Castle thus began as a simple tower house but over the centuries was gradually extended and transformed into a much larger and more comfortable residence and more in keeping with the important part it has played in the history of Easter Ross.  Its most recent timely restoration has ensured its unique history will be preserved for the foreseeable future.

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