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Behind the pink-harled walls of the fairy-tale castle, Balnagown - home to a succession of Lairds, heroes and Clan Chiefs since the 15th Century- has seen its fortunes change and façade alter dramatically since the original building was constructed in 1490.
From the embellishments of the nobility who inherited the castle down the centuries through to the dark days of near dilapidation and bankruptcy in the 1960s, Balnagown’s turbulent history has undergone an uplift in fortune since the acquisition in 1972 by its new benefactor, Mr Mohamed Al Fayed, whose passion for the extensive and meticulous restoration programme has seen The Balnagown Estate painstakingly restored to its former glory.
Some sources claim that the castle dates from Hugh of Rarichies’ time, but the earliest documentary evidence for the Medieval tower house which forms the nucleus of the west end of the present building is around 1490. It is possible that some form of building may have occupied the site prior to that although it is likely it would have been of a more modest stature.
Initially the tower house was built of rubble stone covered by harling (the traditional Scottish equivalent of render), with thick walls bound by barrel vaults which gave protection from fire. Slits and gun loops assisted with fortification and defence of the building. Originally, there would have been a thatched roof, probably made of locally collected heather, which would have been supported by whole tree trunks. The tower was strategically built at a point on a bend of the Balnagown River, which still runs through the Castle grounds, thus creating a natural defence of cliffs on two sides.
Balnagown’s nobility gradually transformed the once humble building into a majestic Castle by extending the original building and adding various elements of architectural interest, such as turrets, parapets, crenellations, coats-of-arms and windows. Other changes, such as the landscaping of the gardens, elaborate internal decoration and installation of driveways and paths around the estate were also added gradually.