The parish of Braemar and Crathie has been a playground of kings, nobles and the great ones of the land since the dawn of Scottish history.

This brief history of Braemar introduces the key events and people for the 8th century King of the Picts to the 19th century and Queen Victoria’s chosen holiday destination.

The Colonel's Bed, Braemar

The Colonel’s Bed as it was, now partly collapsed.

Perhaps the earliest visitor to Braemar of national importance was Hungus or Angus MacFergus, King of the Picts, who, in the 8th century built a timber fort at or near where the present Braemar Castle stands. This fort was named Doldencha, and it was an important stronghold, as it controlled one of the main fords across the Dee. Near this site MacFergus was shown one of the bones of the martyr St. Andrew, and subsequently dedicated a Chapel to his memory, long before St. Andrew became Patron Saint of Scotland. The Chapel and its successor buildings, situated in the centre of the Braemar burial ground, became the main place of worship for the district, and apparently remained in use till 1830, although one must assume that after the Reformation of 1560, it was used by Presbyterian rather than the original Roman Catholic worshippers. The district became known as the Parish of St. Andrew, later changed to Kindrochit, and now Braemar.

Two centuries later, Kenneth II visited Braemar on a hunting expedition, and gave his name to Creag Choinnich (Kenneth’s Hill), the small rocky hill just outside the village. Malcolm Canmore and his first Queen, again on a hunting trip, came to Braemar about 1060, and legend has it that he held a great Gathering at Doldencha, awarding many prizes for feats of strength and skill – the original Braemar Gathering, at which young McGregor of Ballochbuie carried off the prize for the race up Creag Choinnich. Malcolm Canmore is also credited with having built a (timber) bridge across the Clunie, and the original Kindrochit Castle. He may well have done so, but it would probably have been a timber construction, and the ruins which may still be seen on the south bank of the Cluny are considered to be of 14th century origin. His timber bridge was replaced by a stone arch some time between 1732 and 1780. Around the castle grew the village of Castleton, which along with its sister hamlet Auchendryne (Field of the Thorn) forms the modern Braemar.

The Gallows Tree, Braemar

“The Gallows Tree” in the late 19th century.

Although Kindrochit Castle was built mainly as a base for royal hunts, it took over from Doldencha the function of a strategic power-base. Braemar in medieval days was at the crossroads of two important routes – the link between Aberdeenshire and Perthshire via the Cairnwell Pass, now the A93, and the route from the north across the Mounth to Angus via Glen Callater and Jock’s road. Other routes of lesser importance also converged on Braemar, so that whoever controlled that area was in a position of great strength. Kindrochit Castle is known to have been in regular use by the Scottish kings until the 16th century, but it is believed to have fallen into disuse during the reign of King James V, and was certainly ruinous by 1618.

In 1336, Braemar had another, but less welcome, royal visitor, in the shape of Edward III of England and his army, which passed through about 9th June en route from Blair (probably Blair Atholl), to Lochindorb in Moray and then south again, pillaging and destroying as they went.

When the Reformation of 1560 came along, it did not initially have a major effect on Braemar, although several chapels were destroyed, Roman Catholic population adhered to their faith, clandestinely tended by a succession of devoted priests. Nevertheless, ‘The Troubles’ did eventually affect Deeside, and in 1644 Campbell of Argyll and his Covenanting army mercilessly harried the whole of the area. This complicated period of shifting alliances and evanescent loyalties finally came to a head for upper Deeside in 1654 in the Battle of Tullich, where Roundheads routed a force of highland Royalists in the Pass of Ballater, the last British battle in which the long-bow was used.

Although the Monarchy was restored in 1660, the period of respite for Braemar was brief, as bloodshed inevitably followed the enforced exile of Roman Catholic James VII and II, and the accession of Protestant William and Mary in 1688.

“The Black Colonel”, John Farquharson of Inverey was a violent man in a violent age. Outlawed in 1666 for the murder of a Ballater laird, he became a hunted man, but nevertheless spent much time in his own castle of Inverey, and fought at the battles of Bothwell Bridge and Killiecrankie. In 1689, he burned the 67-year-old Braemar Castle to prevent it falling into government hands. Cornered on one occasion by redcoats in the Pass of Ballater, he ensured his own immortality by escaping on horseback up the near precipitous north side of the defile. Eventually a redcoat ambush was laid for him at Inverey, but forewarned, he escaped, and watched his castle burning. He thereafter took refuge in the ‘Colonel’s Bed’, below a rock overhang in a gorge in the River Ey, where his light o’ love, Annie Ban (Fair Haired Annie), brought him food. Before he died, about 1698, he instructed that he was to be buried at Inverey, beside his Annie Ban, but for some reason he was instead buried at Braemar. The next morning, his coffin was found on the ground beside his grave, and was re-buried. On the third occasion this happened, the coffin was taken to Inverey for re-burial, and was heard of no more.

On 6th September, 1715, one of the more memorable Braemar Gatherings took place when John Erskine, 24th Earl of Mar, raised the Standard for King James VIII and III on the spot now covered by the Invercauld Arms Hotel. The Earldom of Mar is one of Europe’s oldest titles, and at that time the Earl held a large area of land in Aberdeenshire. “Bobbin’ John”, the 24th Earl, however, was a politician of fickle loyalties (hence the title Bobbing) who bore a grudge after having been snubbed by George I.

The Standard Raising ceremony followed a great hunt held in the Forest of Mar, organised as a pretext for the many Jacobite clan chiefs to plan the intended uprising. The Earl of Mar’s Punchbowl, a hollow formed in the rock above the footbridge at the Linn of Quoich, was filled with brandy to entertain the guests, and may still be seen. The hunt had gone well, but the ceremony of the Standard, watched by about 2,000 highlanders, was marred when the gilt ball fell off the top of the flag-pole – an omen of disaster to come. What followed has been chronicled many times, and eventually led in 1746 to the slaughter at Culloden, and to the outlawing of tartan dress and clan gatherings till 1782, as part of the dismantling of the old clan system.

Following the failure of the 1715 uprising, the estates of the now attainted and exiled Earl of Mar were sequestrated, and John Farquharson of Invercauld, always a rather reluctant Jacobite, was first imprisoned and then released. The westernmost part of the Earl’s land was bought by the astute entrepreneur William Duff of Dipple, later created Earl of Fife, and formed the nucleus of Mar Estate, while John Farquharson, now a Hanoverian, was allowed to purchase Braemar Castle and also part of the Earl’s land. In the years that followed, the many minor lairdships surrounding the two large estates of Invercauld and Mar were gradually absorbed by one or the other, until they were the only two estates in Braemar. Balmoral, originally a Gordon property, had passed to the Farquharsons by marriage before being sold to the Earl of Fife, and then in 1852, to Queen Victoria.

Story-tellers used to tell of how, in the 16th century, following the hanging of a Lamont of Inverey by the Faquharsons, the victim’s mother cursed his killers, prophesying that the tree her son was hanged on would still be fresh and green when there were no Farquharsons left on Deeside. The prophesy did come true, as the male line of the Invercauld Farquharsons failed in 1805, and the tree did not die until 1920.