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Royal Deeside : A brief history of Braemar

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Much of the history of Braemar cannot be separated from that of Upper Deeside but it is an ancient village which has seen many turbulent times. Situated in the heart of the mountains, near the conflux of the rivers Clunie and Dee, it also lies on several mountain passes that converge there.

Today, the same factors that made Braemar strategically important make it an important tourist village. The robust Braemar Castle now makes a fine visit. The bridge across the Clunie offers a fine view of the waters below. Games originated for recruiting soldiers have now become the world-famous Braemar Gathering and Highland Games.

A brief description of the history of Braemar is given below. More details can be found on the official Braemar web-site. See the green box on the left.

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Some Braemar History History of Braemar Macbeth and Braemar History of the Braemar Gathering The Clan Farquharson

The first clearly recorded stronghold in the Braemar area was the Castle of Ceann-drochaide - the bridgehead, the ruins of which stand next to the Clunie by the Car Park. The modern spelling is Kindrochit but even the briefest exploration of the site suggests the meaning of the name, standing, as it does above the steep banks of the Clunie adjacent to the modern bridge.

It was probably started by Malcolm II (1057-1093), also called Malcolm Ceann mor (Canmore) - big head i.e chief, not only to control the area but also as a base for hunting. (Even today hunting is of major importance to the area.) Around this castle, and relying on it for protection, grew the village of Castleton of Braemar. Canmore came here in 1057 when his army defeated Macbeth's at Lumphanan further down the Dee valley. (Macbeth was killed and his body later interred on Iona.) Canmore defended the area against incursions from Moravia (Moray) and he probably instituted the Highland Games as a contest to select the strongest and fittest for his armies. (His wife, Queen Margaret, was sanctified and it is to St Margaret that the Episcopal church of Braemar is dedicated. The Roman Catholic Church of Braemar is dedicated to St Andrew and both St Margaret and St Andrew are depicted in the stained galss windows of that church.)

During the reigns of King Robert II and III in the late 14th century the area was used often for hunting and permission was given for the Earl of Mar to extend the Castle. In 1435 the Earldom of Mar was annexed to the crown and the castle suffered from the uncertainties of the next century. By about 1600 it had become a ruin and was increasingly overgrown until being excavated in 1925. Now the remains are to be seen opposite the main village car park in Balnellan Road.

Kindrochit Castle

The text reads

The Castle of Kindrochit in Mar in the 15th Century

W. Douglas Simpson, Archaeologist

From the time of Mary, Queen of Scots  

The more recent history of Braemar began when in 1565 Mary, Queen of Scots, returned the Earldom of Mar to the Erskine family. In 1628 they started the erection of a new fortress - the current Braemar Castle, partly as a bastion against the turbulent Farquharsons.

The Royal lines of England and Scotland joined when in 1604 Mary's son James VI of Scotland inherited the crown of England to become James I, the first of the Stuart line. However, problems arose when James II, was deposed for his Catholic leanings and was replaced by William and Mary of Orange. In Scotland, 'Bonnie Dundee' tried brilliantly but unsuccessfully to re-establish the Jacobite (James's) cause. He was opposed by the Earl of Mar but supported by the Farquharsons whose leading light was undoubtedly John Farqharson of Inverey, the 'Black Colonel'. After the Battle of Killiecrankie he burnt down Braemar Castle to stop its use as a government garrison. His own castle at Inverey was in turn also burnt down and he had many escapades. He famously escaped capture by riding his horse up the steep side of the pass of Ballater and his hideaway was among the steep sided rocks of 'The Colonel's Bed' in Glen Ey.

By 1707 Scotland and England had joined through the act of Union. However, in 1714 the Royal lines of the two kingdoms separated and the new Hanovarian king George I had no direct claim to the Scottish throne. On this accession the Earl of Mar had been stripped of his office of Secretary of State and his response was to become the prime instigator and organiser of the rising of 1715. He raised the standard of James VIII on 6th September 1715 in Braemar village where the Invercauld Arms now stands. After a disastrous short campaign he was stripped of his lands some of which, including Braemar Castle, were later sold to the Farquharsons. Around this time the military roads of General Wade and others were constructed, remains of which are visible in Glen Clunie and the 'old Brig o' Dee'. These roads were important in improving the accessibility of the area.

The bewildering divisions and switching of allegiances continued through the rising of 1745 when John Farqharson of Invercauld supported the Hanovarian cause but Francis Farquharson of Monaltrie supported 'Bonnie Prince Charlie'. Braemar Castle was leased and rebuilt as a Hanovarian garrison in 1748.

And in more recent times...

The period 1750-1850 was one of developing prosperity for Britain as a whole. In the Highlands, however, it was the time of the notorious 'Clearances'. Deeside began to take on its modern appearance and by 1800 the new town of Ballater was developing and activity in Deeside increasing. In 1826 the modern Braemar Gathering was formed. Queen Victoria bought Balmoral, building a new castle on the estate. She attended the Gathering in 1848 and being pleased with what she saw bestowed Royal Patronage shortly thereafter. Queen Victoria's love of Royal Deeside, as it came to be called, gave a tremendous boost to the area and over the last 150 years millions of visitors have enjoyed what it has to offer and each year thousands attend the Gathering on the first Saturday in September.

By 1860 a new railway line from Aberdeen to Ballater had been built and the road to the North of the river upgraded. A new bridge across the river at Invercauld was built by Prince Albert and the road on the south side of the river through Balmoral removed. The road up to the village of Castleton of Braemar was improved by building an embankment and by 1863 the new wider bridge across the Clunie to Auchendryne (Achadh-an-Droighinn, thorny land) had been completed. Thus the scene was set for rapid development on that side of the river.

The bridge over the Clunie at Braemar looking towards Castleton from Auchendryne

The building of the Bridge required the co-operation of the Duke of Fife (owner of the Mar Estate and thus Auchendryne) and the Farquharsons of Invercauld. But there must have been considerable rivalry because the two estates were separated by past rivalries and religion (with Castleton and Auchendryne being predominantly Protestant and Catholic respectively). Hence, the village of Braemar, which comprises Castleton and Auchendryne, is endowed with two great hotels, the Invercauld Arms Hotel and the Fife Arms hotel, two mills and two village Halls. Both halls are named after Queen Victoria! Much of the village was constructed in this Victorian period and the fine stone buildings echo the excitement and confidence of that period.

Things have changed somewhat since those days. The Mar Estate has split to become two estates, Mar and Mar Lodge; the latter now run by the National Trust for Scotland for public use. The railway, which did so much to prompt development in Deeside, is no more. The rivalry between the two communities of Castleton and Auchendryne has disappeared and Braemar faces a future well-placed at the centre of the Cairngorms National Park.

Top of Page

Introduction A History of Royal Deeside The Deeside Railway The Old Military Road Old Kirkyardst
Queen Victoria and Royal Deeside John Brown, Loyal Servant Francis Farquharson Lord Byron, poet Alexander Gordon
Macbeth and Braemar Braemar Gathering and Highland Games History of Braemar Clan Farquharson Bridges of Ballater
19th Century Ballater History of Dinnet area Aboyne History Aboyne Wartime Poetry Aboyne Great War Records
History of Dinnet History of Tarland Scott Skinner, the Strathspey King Glen O' Dee Hospital Brunel's Bridge
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