The Badenoch Valley is a hotbed of history and, to showcase many of the points of interest in the Cairngorms, September sees the Badenoch Heritage Festival.
“There’s real buzz around Badenoch when it comes to history at the moment”
“The festival will be a chance to experience for yourself some of the stories and heritage this great place has to offer. There are a wide-array of hidden historic gems to visit and
To mark this exciting occasion and celebrate how the mountains and rivers of this magical area have moulded the distinctive culture, we’ve listed 20 historical picks (unranked) in the Cairngorms National Park.
One of the events taking place, as part of the Badenoch Festival, is a history of Dalwhinnie Distillery, on September 11th at Dalwhinnie Village Hall, 2pm-4pm.
We won’t give away all the secrets now, except to say that it was opened in 1897 by a three businessmen who were thought to have chosen the remote Dalwhinnie location because it’s a crossroads of the two oldest trading routes; one from the west highlands and one from the north, connecting both to Edinburgh.
Indeed, Dalwhinnie’s name in Gaelic – Dail-chuinnidh – means ‘the plain of meetings’.
For more, you’ll have to go to the festival (and make sure you sample the delicious whisky and chocolate on offer there, too).
Pioneering historian Isabel Grant (1887-1983) created the museum; a hit with all the family due to its innovative outdoor format, which recreates what an old highland village was like, so realistic it’s even used in TV’s Outlander!
Particular favourites include the old school classroom (complete with strict teacher at times, small desks and fountain pens), the traditional quaint sweetie shop (which actually sells treats!) and mile-long township recreation. There’s also a cafe and good quality playground for weary tummies and brains which may need recharging.
From 1546, this Castle has been the home of the Macpherson-Grant clan (and still is today). Around this time, clan feuds were frequent and ferocious, so it was as much a fortress as a family home.
It’s built on the flat ground rather than the nearby hill, which doesn’t seem a logical choice. However, folklore goes that when they tried to build it on higher ground, a fierce storm broke and the builders apparently heard a sinister voice blowing in the wind, urging to build on the “coo haugh” (the cow’s meadow). And so they did!
An attractive turreted Castle, it is flanked by the River Spey on one side and River Avon on the other.
Originally opened by Queen Victoria in 1885, this bridge boasts views of the River Dee and Ballater. Architecturally it’s interesting as it’s a four arch bridge with dressed-stone arch rings and pinned ashlar spandrels.
Chief Cluny Macpherson was one of the key generals in the Jacobite uprising of 1745. This charming exhibition in Newtonmore tells the story of this characterful man and clan, who raised an army in Badenoch then subsequently went on the run for 9 years after being beaten at the famous bloodbath of Culloden.
Apparently one of his favourite hideouts, when on the run, was a cave beneath Creag Dubh summit, now known as ‘Cluny’s Cave’.
Don’t let the ‘ordinary’ exterior fool you: this castle has lots of quirky details and a rich history that are a delight to discover.
At one time it was lived in by the Forbeses of Corgarff (mid 1500s), another by the Marquis of Montrose. It was set alight by the Jacobites in the 17th Century because they didn’t want any chance it was used by the government as a stronghold.
Later on, in the early 19th century, it was even used as a distillery…illegally!
The Highland Wildlife Park is literally full of natural history. For example, it is home to the endangered Scottish Wildcats, for example, which feature prominently in clan history. The species, for instance, is behind the old clan motto “ouch not this cat bot a glove” (don’t mess with the Scottish Wildcat!)
This Pictish monument was beautifully carved in the 9th century and remains in good condition today. Take one of the gorgeous walks through the Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve to the Cross, the most direct of which being the Little Ord trail, marked with a yellow symbol.
For a longer walk, do the circular trail which encompasses ancient hut circles as well.
You can get your hands on free maps from the Muir of Dinnet Visitor Centre.
Ruthven, by Kingussie, was the main castle of infamous bad boy ‘the Wolf of Badenoch’, the nickname given to Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan, who lived in the 14th century. The barracks are now in a ruined state (though still stunning) because they were burnt after the Jacobites lost the battle of Culloden in 1746.
The ‘wolf’ infamously ordered the burning of Elgin Cathedral in 1390, one reason for his bad boy reputation.
This beautiful castle and gardens are said to date back to 1269 and its history is a tumultuous timeline of battles won and lost and chiefs who fell in and out of favour. The story, which is told in detail through information at the castle, covers 19 generations and will take you from Mary, Queen of Scots, to the Civil War and from the Act of Union to the Jacobite cause and the disastrous Culloden bloody battle.
Aviemore Ring Cairn & Stone Circle
Slightly surreally tucked away in Aviemore in a residential area, you’ll find it near the fire station. Dating back to 2,400 BC, it’s thought to have been created by farmers and herdsmen as the place for cremated human remains.
Old Packhorse Bridge, Carrbridge
Built in 1717, this is one of the most beautiful, iconic (and photographed) bridges in the Park. It was built to enable funeral processions to cross the water to access the church, hence it was known as “coffin bridge”.
This castle, now in ruins, dates back to the 14th century. You’ll find it on the banks of the River Clunie in Braemar.
Originally its purpose is thought to be to shelter Royal huntsmen but it evolved to be a more strategic stranglehold. No doubt it’s location at the crossroads of prominent routes elevated this purpose. It was often used by Scottish kings but fell into disrepair and then ruins by the early 17th century.
Signposts on site tell its story.
Glen Banchor Townships
In bygone times, rural populations tended to live in townships, which were small groups of croft-like houses built of stone, turf and wood (you can see wonderful recreations of these at the Highland Folk Museum, already mentioned).
There were 8 townships in Glen Banchor, near Newtonmore, by 1841, located at Ordnance Survey referenced Easterton, Westerton, Dalvalloch, Dalchurn, Lurgan, Milton, Croft Couneach, and Luib. Numbers dramatically fell in the famous highland clearances in the 19th century (mostly between 1851 and 1891) but ruins can still be seen. Couple this with a walk through the beautiful moors of Banchor.
This 19th century built house and estate was at one time owned by the Macpherson clan, one of the main clans behind the Jacobite uprisings (see the Clan Macpherson Museum in Newtonmore, already mentioned, for more on this!). The historic site is also a popular film location, being the set for TV series Monarch of the Glen, Netflix hit The Crown and the forthcoming James Bond film, currently being filmed there as we write.
The famous Royal residence is steeped in history. Prince Albert bought it for his wife, Queen Victoria, in 1852, who apparently described it as “small but pretty” and a place where you can “breathe freedom and peace” and “forget the world and its sad turmoils”, something with which today’s Royals still agree.
The Queen visited Balmoral, just off the SnowRoads, for decades. So it’s clearly fit for a Royal and worth a visit! But remember, though, the castle and gardens are closed in August and September for the Royals’ holiday residence, opening again in October.
This church dates back to the 9th century, founded by Saint Manire, a follower of Saint Columba, the pioneer of Christianity in Scotland.
The Queen made a special effort to visit Crathie Kirk when she was on holiday at Balmoral, building on a long royal tradition; Queen Victoria was the first monarch to attend the church in 1848.
Place Names Guide & Map
Place names can give us vital clues about the history, culture and former people of a place. In the Cairngorms, some of the magical Gaelic place names give us some insight into the local folklore. For instance, River Avon (Aan: Uisge Athfhinn)’s name means ‘water of the very bright one’ and apparently comes from the story of Athfhinn, the wife of legendary Celtic warrior Fionn, who, the tale goes, drowned while trying to cross this river.
This, and many other charming and interesting examples can be found in the “Place Names of the Cairngorms” free guide published by the Cairngorms National Park Authority and found here.
Located roadside between Tomintoul and Grantown on Spey, this chimney was made in the 1920s as part of a conservation drive led by the Crown Estate and the Scottish Conservation Projects Trust. After a hard day’s work, make shift walls were erected around the chimney to create a warm place to sleep.
Located in Rothiemurchus, this pictoresque, ruined castle stunningly set mid-loch and surrounded by trees, is apparently another old haunt of the Wolf of Badenoch. It’s thought to date back to the 14th century and is said to have been a safe place to hide from thieves and danger.
As so many of the Cairngorms castles, this one was no stranger to battle. It was beseiged by the Jacobites in 1690.
Walking around the loch you’ll get stunning views of the castle and, the story goes, if you stop across the water from it, you’ll hear a sinister echo…
This impressive castle, situated on the SnowRoads, has housed clan Farquharson since the mid 18th century.
The first Farquharson chief clans man was called Finlay Mhor, descended from Farquhar Shaw, who came to Braemar from Rothiemurchus. Finlay was standard bearer for Mary Queen of Scots at the Battle of Pinkie, a significant head-to-head as it was the last between the Scots and English before the Union of the Crown in 1603). His wife was a lady in waiting to the Queen, too.
This is a high pass, a military road across the mountains, built at the time of the Jacobite risings but which was, rather ironically, first used by the opposition, Bonny Prince Charlie with his army. He used it to march south after raising his standard at Glenfinnan in 1745.
Located on a ridge above the meeting of Rivers Livet and Avon, it is recorded that King Robert II gave this now-ruined castle to his son Alexander Stewart (the Wolf of Badenoch again!) on 17th July, 1372. However, it is not thought he ever took up permanent residence here, but one of his sons did.
Another historical note of interest recorded is that the Marquis of Argyll stopped here with his army before the Battle of Glenlivet in 1594.
You can access the ruins via a pleasant walk with stunning views.
Roads of General Wade
The section of this route from Newtonmore to Ruthven is one of the best preserved. You can find details about this walk in the walks section of Newtonmore’s visitor guide.
*The SnowRoads has much history on its 90 mile stretch of scenic road, for a blog dedicated to this see here.
*The Badenoch Project is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund’s Great Place Scheme. Voluntary Action in Badenoch and Strathspey (VABS) is helping deliver the project on behalf of Cairngorms National Park Authority and seven other partners (including VABS).