There are two very old
uninhabited castles in the district, Balloan or Balone in Tarbat and Loch
Slin in Fearn. There are also the beautiful modern castles of Ardross,
Invergordon, Balnagown, and Carbisdale.
BALONE was certainly built for strength as its strategic situation on the
high cliffs about a mile from the port, and its ruins, show. It is
approached by the King’s Causeway and the Big Causeway and is typical in its
interior arrangements of the period during which it was built.
It appears that William, Earl of Ross, received the surrounding lands by
charter from King Robert the Bruce in 1314, and built the castle about that
time, in 1340 the lands were confiscated for his taking part in the
rebellion against James the Second. Later in 1476 they were restored by
James III., to Elizabeth the wife of the last Earl of Ross. In 1516 after
this lady’s death we find Sir David Dunbar of Durris in possession for nine
years, and thereafter Dunbar of Tulliglamis. In 1610 James VI. granted to
George Munro of Meikle Tarrel the lands of Easter Tarbat with the
“fortilace” of Balone Castle. In 1623 we find Roderick Mackenzie of Coigach
in possession, and later on his grandson the great George Mackenzie, Lord
Advocate to Charles II.
The last to inhabit it was the crafty Lord Tarbat previous to his building
New Tarbat House. It has not been inhabited for more than two hundred years.
WHAT remains of this old castle stands on an eminence about a mile
north-east of Loch Eye and about four miles from Tain and must have been a
remarkable building when erected over five hundred years ago. It was
certainly built as a place of security in the days of violence, and commands
a wide view of the countryside. Its shape according to the Ordnance Survey
Report and the Statistical Account resembled two figures, nearly square
joined together at the corners where there was a staircase to the top. The
lesser one then looked to the west, and the greater to the east. It was
fortified with three turrets and was considered impregnable when erected.
For long it was a stronghold of the Earls of Cromarty but the hands of
thoughtless vandals have been upon it and now only one high corner remains
to show how stately the building was and how well built by stones of all
qualities, and it now appears as if a blast of winter wind would blow down
the last remnant and then the last of the stones which composed it will
likely be removed to build byres and dykes.
The Castle is a modern building, romantically situated on the north side of
the River Alness, about five miles from Alness Station.
The Castle, which is a good specimen of the old Scotch Baronial style of
architecture, was commenced by the late Sir Alexander Matheson about the
year 1849-50 in what was then a comparatively bleak upland glen, though now
a richly cultivated district, with thriving woods, rich pasture, gardens and
The building, which was commenced as a small shooting lodge, was extended by
Sir Alexander Matheson, and the Public Room, Hall, and Tower added.
Si- Kenneth Matheson, with the superintendence of Mr Ross, Architect,
Inverness, further extended the Castle, and subsequently extensive
alterations were made by Mr Perrins.
The Castle, which is well seen from the eastern approach, is entered through
a stone groined Porte Cochere, under massive crow stepped gables with angle
turrets. On the left ot the entrance are the Public and Reception rooms, to
the right the Library, Billiard room and Great Hall, which is a feature in
the house. It measures 65 ft. by 25 ft., has a lofty timber roof, oak floor
and panellings, richly decorated and emblazoned roof. .
The gardens, which were extensive, have recently been further extended, laid
out afresh, terraced, etc.
Invergordon Castle is situated about one mile north of Invergordon.
The new castle is built just in front of the site of the old castle, which
was burnt down, and the remains of the old house incorporated into part of
the offices attached to the new building.
The present house was erected in 1872 by R. B. A. M‘Leod of Cadboll, from
designs of Dr Alexander Ross, Architect, Inverness. It is a handsome square
block of Elizabethan architecture, with a square battlemented tower with
angle turret at south-east angle, and the elevations enriched and relieved
with bay and corbelled and mullioned windows. The principal entrance is
through the base of the Tower, and the Public Room, Hall and Staircase are
The grounds are extensive and well wooded, and there is a fine old avenue of
trees with rich underwood and rare evergreens, etc.
Balnagown Castle, the property of Sir Charles Ross, Bart., of Balnagown, is
a venerable pile, beautifully situated amidst extensive stretches of green
sward on two sides, and overlooks deep and wide ravines on the other two
sides. The grounds are extensive and well wooded, and the Balnagown River
rushes down through the ravine in many cataracts.
Artistic bridges have been thrown across at frequent points and this adds
much to the interest of the valley. Beautiful Italian gardens are also laid
out along the ravine.
The castle itself is a very fine example of the Scottish Baronial style,
with many turrets and battlemented parapets. The severity necessarily
associated with this style of architecture is considerably softened by the
introduction, at a date long after the erection of the castle, of a very
fine conservatory, which has been skilfully designed to harmonise with the
castle. This conservatory forms a great feature both externally and
internally, and is well stocked with orchids and other rare and beautiful
Internally the castle is designed on broad lines ; the public rooms are all
spacious and conveniently grouped, and characterised especially by the
excellence of the decorative plaster work which is a great feature of most
of the rooms. On the ground floor the outer door opens into a fine entrance
hall, and the smoking room which enters off the hall is remarkable, as some
very ancient paintings were discovered on the original wall after having
been covered up by panelling, lath, and plaster, for generations. On the
principal floor, the drawing room is an exceptionally fine room, and with
the anti-drawing room which communicates with it by a wide doorway, occupies
the whole breadth of the castle. The gallery alongside the drawing room
contains a very fine collection of marble statuary.
Generally speaking Balnagown Castle represents one of the most interesting
and delightful of the ancient Baronial Castles of Scotland.
On the other side of the railway and not far from Kildary Station is New
Carbisdale Castle, Culrain, the residence of Countess Bubna, about eighteen
miles from Tain, is a prominent feature of the landscape as seen from the
railway, as it occupies a magnificent site on an outjutting rocky spur of
the densely wooded Hill of Lamentation, and overhangs the waters of the
Kyle. 180 feet below.
The Castle is a very modern building having only been completed during this
present year. Built of the local gray whinstone, relieved by dressings of a
fine light coloured freestone from quarries near Elgin, it presents a very
pleasing example of the so-called domestic architecture, and combines many
features characteristic of the builder and architects. While suggesting many
styles, it has as a whole a harmonious effect.
The South or principal fagade—rising from a broad stone terrace— with its
tall mullioned windows and ornamental pediments is reminiscent of the
Elizabethan period ; while, dominating the whole, the lofty clock tower,
with its massive battlemented and turreted belfry, gives the impression of
the stern strength which belongs to the Scottish Baronial style.
The interior is rich in decoration, works of art, and furniture, reflecting
the artistic tastes and travels of the owner.
The various galleries and reception rooms are arranged according to periods
representing Tudor, Jacobean, Queen Anne, etc., with fine ceilings in
classic and other designs ; tapestry, Spanish leather work, and panelling in
many rare woods cover the walls.
A long and lofty gallery is devoted entirely to statuary and pictures, in
which are displayed to advantage many respresentative works by past and
present Masters, including Romanelli, Scorrie, and the Scoto-Italian Lorenzo
M‘Donald amongst sculptors, and paintings by Burne-Jones, Landseer, Peter
The grand staircase leading from this gallery is a noticeable feature of
massive carved oak, and representing fruit, flowers, and animals ; it is a
faithful copy of an original in an old Essex Manor house, by that master of
wood carving, Grinling Gibbons, whose work for Charles II. still adorns
several of the Royal Palaces.
From the terrace a fine view is obtained of the beautiful and varied scenery
of this part.
Historically the district around this castle is interesting as being the
scene of the last stand of the Marquis of Montrose in 1650. Relics of the
battle have been found in recent years, and many cairns on the pine-clad
hill side remain on the supposed line of retreat. The cairns are by
tradition said to cover the remains of the faithful Highlanders who fell,
and respect for such tradition will always protect them from desecration.