The 800-year-old Scottish Highland castle saved by the community in its shadows

One of Scotland’s oldest castles that was slowly vanishing from the landscape has been saved by the local community that lives in its shadows.

Castle Roy, near Nethy Bridge, which dates to around 1200, was built for the powerful Comyn family, chief adversaries of Robert the Bruce. But for decades the structure became a playground for local children and a dumping ground for farmer’s rubble after it fell into ruin.

Now, just under 30 years since resident Richard Eccles stood on the crumbling fortress wall with a friend and pledged to protect the remains for the future, Castle Roy stands firm in the landscape once again with the site now open to the public.

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Mr Eccles, chair of the Castle Roy Trust, said: "It has taken 29 years from standing on that mound to re-opening the castle. That was wonderful and it also came with a great sense of relief. There were certainly times when I never thought the trust would see it finished.

"Obviously, it is a ruin now, but it really was a ruin then. It was extremely vulnerable, but the four major walls were there, the architecture was still there, it wasn’t beyond saving. It was very difficult to see this slip into obscurity – castles are where history is made.”

Castle Roy, which was bought by the community for £1 from the Lochindorb Estate, dates from between 1190 and 1220 and was likely used by the local factor as a resting point, a tax collection centre and a base for hunting forays into the Abernethy Forest.

The four thick stone walls concealed and protected various timber buildings inside, including the Clan Chief’s dwelling and latrine as well as accommodation for soldiers and servants.

One of six fortresses that once lined the Spey, Castle Roy was owned by Alexander Buchan, also known as the Wolf of Badenoch given his feared character, in the 14th century. He also held Ruthven near Kingussie and Loch an Eilean at Rothiemurchus.

Castle Roy, near Nethy Bridge, which dates to around 1200, has been restored after residents embarked on a 30-year project to halt the decay of the fortress.

Mr Eccles said: "We think Castle Roy was abandoned around 1500. It was a tiny fortress and, by then, clans were used to living in a different style of place. By 1500, they are building tower houses with fireplaces and windows.”

Trustees spent years working with heritage chiefs on how their proposals could work within the strict criteria for protecting scheduled monuments. Historic Environment Scotland (HES) went on to play an essential part in unlocking funds, with around £430,000 put forward by the heritage body and a European fund for rural communities, with thousands more gifted by the local community.

Mr Eccles said he was sure the tower would have collapsed without the restoration. The former army major said he had been driven by a sense of “positive legacy” to get the castle secured for the future.

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Mr Eccles, who has arranged to have his ashes scattered at Castle Roy, said: “It got to a stage in the project where I thought ‘well, at least I would leave something behind’.”

Castle Roy is now a picnic spot, a venue for wedding vows and photographs and a place where the community gathers once again. A fundraising scheme to own a square yard of the castle site from a starting price of £50 has attracted international interest.

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