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Easter Ross
The Castles

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 green fields.

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 particularly handsome.

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 plants.

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 Tarbat House.


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 Graham, etc.

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.

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