Castle Stewart drawn by Robert William Billings (1814-1874) and engraved by J. H.Le Keux. Source: Edinburgh (1852). Note: the historical commentary has “Stewart” but the engravings have “Stuart.” [Click on image to enlarge it.]

Commentary by the Artist

Not many years ago, the traveller on the verge of the Highlands would be attracted from the high road by a gloomy mass of ruins, rising over the tops of the trees, and affording all the pleasurable excitement of a discovery; for Castle Stewart is not one of the established sights which every tourist is driven to see. Entering by door or window, as he pleased, he might, without the annoying presence of a guide, grope his way among the gloomy vaults, or mount the winding staircases, and look forth from the bastions on the wide plains of Moray, and the mountains of Inverness. He would admire the many corbelled projections, square and round; the turrets of more than usual loftiness; the mouldings of the windows, and the cluster of high crow-stepped gables; and would generally regret that so fine a specimen of national architecture should apparently be doomed to rapid decay and destruction. It tended to make the effect of the ruin still more melancholy, that it did not appear to have been deserted from old historic times, but to have been recently inhabited; for, though all the flooring and the roofs were gone, fragments of rich cornicing, and other internal decorations, still clung to the mouldering walls. The natural inference, from the general aspect of the building, and especially from some great rents in the walls, was, that it had been burned. The clergyman of the parish of Pettle, however, gives a different and a singular account of this dilapidation, in a passage in which he also mentions the efforts which have lately been made to arrest the progress of the castle to decay — efforts which it must be regretted were not made in better taste, and with more reference to the original form of the building,

When Darnaway was building, the joists of Castle Stewart were taken out, nearly to the entire destruction of its beautiful mouldings and friezes; but they could be put to no use in the new edifice. For several years the castle had stood unroofed; and, from neglect, the heavy projections were tearing the walls asunder. Of late years, the eastern wing has been rendered habitable; the whole building has received a roof sufHcient to preserve the walls; and by the introduction of long bars of iron, the progress of the rents In the walls has been stopped, and their existence can now scarcely be detected. The interior of the building is one open space, from the vaults which cover in the lower story, and form the floor of the second, to the roof.

The introduction of the following notice, from the same quarter, may be justified by the extreme scantiness of the materials for an account of this mansion: — " The garden of Castle Stewart, about twenty-five years ago, was the favourite resort of the schoolboy, who used to repair from Inverness and other quarters to it, as a paradise in which to spend his holiday. The turrets of the castle could scarcely be seen at that time, surrounded as it was by an old and flourishing orchard. The castle now stands in naked majesty in an arable field, only distinguished from other fields by a hedge of ash-trees, which have weathered some hundred winters" (New Statistical Account — Inveraess-shire, 392).

Castle Stewart is surrounded by objects of lively and varied interest. It stands, as it were, between the old world and the new. On the field of Gigha, and In other neighbouring places, are scattered the remains of a very far antiquity — Druidical circles, cromlechs, cairns, and old hill-forts. On the other side, jutting into the sea, are the modern bastions of Fort George, bristling with cannon, and still vigilantly garrisoned, as if Prince Charles Edward might land again to-morrow.

Not many miles away lies the battlefield of CuUoden, and the whole neighbourhood is rieh in decayed buildings. Tlie people of the district are peculiar. Though inhabiting a very flat country, they have all the types of the Celtic race, and one is as much among Highlanders on those sandy fields as in the centre of the Grampians. The border where Celt and Saxon meet passes through the neighbouring town of Nairn, of which it used to be said that the western half did not understand the language of the eastern. Little is known of the history of this edifice. Its name must be comparatively modem, and the local antiquaries have failed to identify with it any of the ancient names in the parish.* The parish of Pettie was of old a part of the great earldom of Moray. In the seventeenth century the Macintoshes had got a footing in the district, and carried on a series of wild feuds with the kinsmen and followers of the Earl of Moray. In the midst of these we are told of the Macintoshes, that, in the year 1624, " assembling five hundred of their men and partakers, they joyned together against the Earle of Murray. They goe to ane hous which he hath now of late built in Pettie, (called Castell Stuart.) They drive away his servants from thence, and doe possess themselves of all the Earl of Moray his rents in Pettie. Thus they intend to stand out against him."i' In the year 1796, the Earl of Moray, who had only the privileges of the Scottish peerage, was made a British peer by the title of Lord Stewart of Castle Stewart.

R. W. B.

[These images may be used without permission for any scholarly or educational purpose without prior permission as long as you credit the Hathitrust Digital Archive and the University of California library and link to the the Victorian Web in a web document or cite it in a print one — George P. Landow ]


The Baronial and Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Scotland illustrated by Robert William Billings, architect, in four volumes.. Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Son, 1852. Hathitrust Digital Archive version of a copy in the University of California Library. Web. 10 October 2018.

Last modified 13 October 2018