Rothes Castle

Written by Chris Thornton | 17th of January 2023
Rothes Castle

While not the most impressive of the castles in MorayRothes Castle is a great place to stop while travelling the A941, especially if you have children prone to travel sickness on the very windy road.

Rothes Castle can be accessed directly off Rothes high street from the A941, but don't look for any grand ruins here; the castle is simply a single thick wall overlooking the town; this is all that remains of a once great fortress that would have controlled this section of the Spey Valley.

From the castle car park, you can see part of the defensive ditch/dry moat that once surrounded the castle from the west. The remaining wall, although just a wall, is quite impressive in its own right at around 7 metres tall and 21 metres long.

Part of the outer wall.
Rothes Castle wall detail.

The inner side of the wall has slots; once used for wooden beams, there is also an indent that may once have been a fireplace.

Originally the castle would have consisted of a keep, several stories tall, surrounded by a curtain wall (the remaining part of the castle is this curtain wall).

The trees around the castle mask the 360-degree view the castle must have once enjoyed, a strategically important position on this part of the Spey.

A bandstand used to exist next to the castle, which actually damaged the site. I attended a concert here once called "Rockin' the Ruin".

Rothes Glen Castle.
Courtyard and remaining castle wall.

History of Rothes Castle

Here is a very brief overview of the history of Rothes Castle.

1160 - The de Polloc family arrive in Moray with orders from King William I to curb the Highlanders' lawlessness.

1200 - Petrus/Peter de Polloc constructs a castle above the hamlet of Rothes, gaining the title "Lord of Rothayes".

1286 - The great-granddaughter of Peter de Polloc marries Sir Norman Lesly, and his family from Garioch, Aberdeenshire, move to Rothes.

Sir Norman Lesie, the castle's owner in the 1300s.
South side of the castle wall.

Sir Norman Leslie

1296 - Sir Norman Lesly plays host to Edward I of England and 1000 men marching south. The king hunts within the Enzie and Darnaway forests. Hosting this amount of men likely led to food shortages in the local area for months to come.

1392 - The first Leslie to be named "of Rothes" is Sir George.

1457 - The Leslies are made earls of Rothes and continue to inhabit the castle for over 200 years.

1620 - The Leslie family finally abandoned Rothes Castle and moved to Fife, founding the village of Glenrothes.

At the south end of Rothes village lie the ruins of the castle.
The remaining part of Rothes Castle in its entirity.

The covenanters and Maquis of Montrose

1640 - The castle is damaged by the Covenanters and further damaged by the Maquis of Montrose in 1645.

1645 - The castle is deemed beyond repair.

1662 - The local villagers burned and destroyed the remnants of the castle, which had become a base of operations for robbers and vagabonds. It's strange how a single stretch of wall was left intact but the entirety of the rest of the castle removed.

1711 - The castle remains were sold to the Grants, who would go on to found Glen Grant Distillery (mentioned below).

1766 - The stone from Rothes Castle is repurposed to develop the town of Rothes.

Earl of Rothes. East view from castle.
Looking east over Rothes.

Rothes Village

During the 13th century, when the Polloc family were at the height of their power, the village below the castle would only have consisted of a few primitive homes built with the wattle and daub method (a stick lattice packed with rocks and clay/mud). The homes would have had no windows and thatched with heather.

The people living in Rothes at this time would have been farmers. Life was hard, and part of their crop would have to be given to the lord of the castle. If the crop failed, the people would starve, and the killing of animals (deer, boar, salmon) would have been severely punished by the nobility. On top of that, wolves were also a menace to the villagers of Rothes!

The township of Rothes would grow significantly in the late 1700s, with much of the stone robbed from the castle.

Information board and artists impression of Rothes Castle.
Information board and artists impression, provided by Moray Council.

How to get to Rothes Castle

Head to Rothes in central Moray in North East Scotland. You can get to Rothes from different directions:

  • South from Elgin on the A941.

  • East from Keith on the A95.

  • North from Craigellachie/Aberlour on the A95.

While travelling through Rothes, keep an eye open for the brown tourist sign marked "Rothes Castle". The sign can be seen on the sides of houses when coming from the north or the south.

Follow this road but do not go straight ahead into Glen Spey Distillery; instead, follow the curve of the single-track road to the left. This is also the way to Rothes Golf Club.

A small area is available for parking marked "Rothes Castle Path" will be on your right at the top of this hill. Alternatively, you could park in central Rothes and take a walk up to the castle.

Distant view of the south  side of the wall.
Distant south view of the castle wall.

Things to see near Rothes Castle

Rothes Visitor Centre

For all things Rothes, why not visit the visitor centre? Located in a white cottage on the main street of Rothes, there is a great deal of information on Rothes Castle, Rothes itself, and it offers free toilets and email facilities too.

Glen Grant Distillery

You can find Glen Grant Distillery just north of the castle, famed for its smooth single-malt whisky. Established in 1840 by brothers James and John Grant, they were pioneers in whisky distilling on the banks of the River Spey.

Tours of the distillery are available at the visitor centre at £7.50 per person. Glen Grant Gardens are also available to visit free of charge.

Glen Spey Distillery

This former oatmeal mill, once known as "Mill of Rothes", was converted to a whisky by James Stuart & Co in 1878. Located directly next to the Rothes Castle but has no shop or visitor experience available, but you can look through the gate to get a photo of this obscure distillery.

Craigellachie Bridge

Travelling 3 miles south of Rothes Castle, you can find Craigellachie Bridge, built by the famous civil engineer Thomas Telford. This cast iron arch bridge is very beautiful and spans the river Spey just northwest of Craigellachie. A great place for a quick walk and a picnic.

Craigellachie Bridge.
Craigellachie Bridge, a short distance south of Rothes.

Millbuies Country Park

Just northwest of Rothes Castle is Millbuies Country Park, a man-made loch on the outskirts of Elgin, the largest town in Moray. Millbuies is an excellent place for a short walk around a picturesque fishing loch.

Key information on Rothes Castle:

  • Built by Peter de Polloc around 1200 as commanded by William I.

  • It was visited by Edward I of England on the 29th of July, 1296.

  • Attacked by Covenanters in the 1640s.

  • Attacked by the Marquis of Montrose in 1645, destroying the castle.

  • Most of the castle was demolished in 1662 to prevent it from being used by thieves and bandits.

  • Stone from the castle ruin was used to build the town of Rothes after 1766.

North side of the Rothes Castle wall.
North side of the remaining curtain wall.

Conclusion

Rothes Castle (or "Rothes Wall" as it should be known!) isn't a very impressive castle, but while visiting Rothes, it's a nice little walk with a view over the rooftops and countryside. An ideal spot for a picnic and one for the Moray castle completionist's bucket list.

Images for this article were kindly provided by Mark Aldridge on one of his many cycling trips!

Rothes Castle location map.

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