Findlater Castle on the Moray Firth Coast
Findlater Castle is located on a 50-foot (15 metres)-high cliff overlooking the Moray Firth on the coast of Banff and Buchan, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. The Castle is extremely ruinous and perched on a rocky outcrop attached to the mainland by a thin access point at the cliff top. The name "Findlater" may originate from the Gaelic term "Fionn Leiter", meaning white cliff.
Sheer cliffs surround the site of the Findlater Castle, making it an extremely defensible position. The castle was only accessible by a drawbridge which could be withdrawn if the castle was under siege. Findlater Castle would be impossible to attack from any of the remaining three sides due to the near-vertical cliffs. It is a fantastic spot for a castle and must have been some feat of engineering in its day.
History of Findlater Castle
There is evidence that an early castle at Findlater has existed since the 1200s; however, the current ruin dates from the 1300s. There is a reference to Findlater in the 1246 Exchequer Rolls. Alexander III strengthened the castle in the 1260s in anticipation of an attack by King Haakon IV of Norway. The current castle was built in the same style as Roslin/Roslyn castle in Midlothian and therefore is likely to have been built by Sir John Sinclair.
In 1455 James II ordered Sir Walter Ogilvy of Auchlevin a license to fortify the existing castle at Findlater even more.
Sir John Gordon
The Castle has a substantial political history with Mary Queen of Scots in the 1560s. Sir Alexander Ogilvie granted Findlater to Sir John Gordon and not to his son James Ogilvie. Enraged, James used his influence with Mary Queen of Scots to instigate a visit to the castle, but her entry was refused. Mary's forces attacked the castle but were repelled by Gordon... but he was captured a short time later at the Battle of Corrichie. John Gordon was beheaded, and Findlater was given to Sir James Ogilvie. It sounds very like Game of Thrones!
As time passed, Findlater Castle became too old-fashioned (and probably cold!), and by the 1650s, was abandoned by the Ogilvie family in favour of a new residence - now the site of Cullen House, in Cullen.
In a field near the castle is a beehive-style doocot that was restored in 1992. Doocot is the Scottish equivalent of "Dovecote", with a pigeon being called a "Doo". The birds would nest in one of the 700 nesting boxes. The Doocot would have provided food all year round for Findlater Castle in the final century of its inhabitation.
The Doocot was restored by Banff and Buchan District Council in 1992 with grant assistance from Historic Scotland.
The Ghosts of Findlater Castle
No Scottish Castle would be complete without its very own ghost story.
Legend has it that long ago, a young boy and his nursemaid were standing near an open window of the castle. In a sudden and heart-wrenching moment, the child slipped from the nurse's grasp, plummeting down the jagged cliffside to an untimely demise. Distraught and overcome with grief, the nursemaid leapt after him, succumbing to the same tragic fate.
It is said that the restless spirit of the nursemaid now haunts the castle, forever wandering its grounds in search of the lost child. Their apparitions have been reported by countless witnesses over the years.
Castle Ruins of Findlater Castle
Unfortunately, time has not been kind to Findlater Castle, and there doesn't seem to have been any support given to the castle to maintain it like other more popular castles in Scotland. It's a real pity as even photographs from 100 years ago show serious degradation in the castle's structure, with masonry erosion and collapsed sections. The original access point with a drawbridge along the narrow isthmus no longer exists.
I feel bad that future generations may miss out on the mystique and grandeur of Castle Findlater; our history is literally slipping into the sea and lost forever.
The ruins of Findlater Castle can be explored at your own risk, but there is always the fear that the castle could slip down the cliff into the sea or the lower rooms could collapse; it really does look that unstable.
For those less brave, you can take the short walk down the cliffside path - which is fairly steep - to the beach on the west side of the castle.
FAQs on Findlater Castle
Here are a few frequently asked questions about Findlater Castle.
How to get to Findlater Castle?
Castle Findlater is located on the Aberdeenshire coast between the settlements of Cullen (to the west) and Sandend and Portsoy further to the east. You can walk from Cullen to Findlater along a fantastic coastal route through Sunnyside Beach (which would also be a great wild camping spot).
If visiting by car, you would travel along the A98 from West or East; it is well-signposted with brown tourist signs. There is a small car park near Barnyards of Findlater and a grassed path between fields that lead to the information board on the castle. Again the path near the castle and the castle itself could be dangerous, so approach at your own risk.
Step-by-step directions by car to Findlater Castle car park:
Travel along the A98 from Banff or Portsoy.
Look for the brown tourist sign marked "Findlater Castle" and follow this.
Follow the single-track minor road north. At the first junction, turn left.
Look for the next right turn up a farm track; a small sign reads, "Car park Sunnyside Beach Findlater Castle & Doocot".
Follow the road around to the left; behind some farm buildings, you will find a makeshift car park.
From the car park, you should see the doocot (a circular building). Follow the farm tracks in that general direction.
You will see a viewing area for Findlater Castle and well-trodden paths to reach the castle.
How do you pronounce Findlater Castle?
Most people without the area seem to call it "Find-later", but as a local, we have always called it "Finnlitter". I guess that matches up with the Gaelic name "Fionn Leiter".
What wildlife can I see at Findlater Castle?
It is possible to see a wide variety of wildlife at Findlater Castle on its coastal prominence. Dolphins, seals and Orca have been seen here in the past, but there is also a wide variety of birds. Macduff Aquarium nearby is a great place to learn more about the sea life in the North Sea.
What efforts are being made to preserve Findlater Castle?
Currently, Findlater Castle is managed by Historic Environment Scotland, which is responsible for overseeing the preservation of historical sites across Scotland. However, due to the castle's precarious location and ruined state, active restoration is not currently taking place.
Is there a visitor centre at Findlater Castle?
There are no visitor facilities on-site at all. Just a makeshift car park and a viewing area with an information board. The castle is not maintained.
Is Findlater Castle safe?
Not really; the stonework on the face of the castle looks like it could fall into the sea at any moment. Explore at your own risk. There are some very steep cliffs around the castle, and the path to the beach below the castle can be treacherous.
You don't need to walk to the actual castle promontory to get a good view; the viewpoint is the best place to see the castle externally, but exploring the castle is moderately dangerous.
How old is Findlater Castle?
Findlater Castle is around 720 years old built in the 1300s.
Is Findlater Castle worth visiting?
Yes, even though it is very ruinous, it's a bit of an adventure getting to and exploring Findlater. The coastal scenery around the castle is beautiful, and the crumbling ruin makes for some excellent photography.
Where can I eat after Findlater Castle?
Cullen is ideally situated to grab a bite to eat after your visit to Findlater Castle. Rockpool Cafe is fantastic but might require booking first due to its popularity. There is also a Fish & Chips takeaway and an excellent ice cream shop on Seafield Street. Boyndie Visitor Centre to the east (9 miles, about 15 minutes by car) has great food and offers a brilliant walk to a full-size wind turbine.
Findlater Castle video
Here is a video taken by my friend John Luckwell from his drone, it really gives a great view of the castle and coastline.
Key information on Findlater Castle
Findlater Castle is a ruin on a hillside between Cullen and Portsoy.
The castle dates from the 1300s.
Built by Sir John Sinclair.
Visited by Mary Queen of Scots in the 1560s.
A well-preserved Doocot (Dovecot) can be seen near the castle.
Abandoned by the Ogilvie family in the 1650s in favour of Cullen House.
There are some steep cliffs near the castle, be careful.
The castle itself is very ruinous and has the potential to be dangerous.
The coastal path from Cullen to Findlater Castle via Sunnyside Beach is lovely.
A visit to Findlater Castle makes for a great day out, even better with a walk along the stunning Moray coast, a picnic, or a camp on the beach. Just approach with extreme care; it is a very ruinous castle and not well maintained.
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Hi, please leave a comment below, or why not start a discussion on the forum?
19th of June 2022 @ 20:08:55
I loved reading about Findlater Castle, and seeing the pictures. I loved Scotland because my grandmother is from Edinburgh. I have been there once, and should love to come back again. Would really like to see and read more from you. Best, Anne of Simi Valley, Ventura, Calif.