Castle Grant is the ancient, ancestral seat of the the Chiefs of the Grant Clan. There was an original fortification called "Ballachastell" meaning "Castle of the Pass" which was located about .25 miles south-east of the present castle, but the present location is on a slight rise called "Freuchie-hillock". Castle Grant was originally called "Freuchie", which means "Heathery Place", and the Chiefs of Grant were styled "of Freuchie" ("Grant of Freuchie") from roughly the late 15th century through the early 17th century. In the late 15th century the lands and Castle became part of the barony of Freuchie. Then, in 1694, by act of William and Mary of England, the lands and baronetcy of Freuchie were erected into the regality "of Grant". From that point the castle was renamed "Castle Grant" and the Chiefs were styled "of Grant" ("Grant of Grant" instead of "Grant of Freuchie").
According to "Castles of Scotland", the original building was a Z-shaped tower house, typical of many that exist in Scotland from the same period, and it dates from probably around the 15th century. The castle has had a number of additions added over the years, with the largest expansion taking place in the 1750's. This latter expansion enclosed the main building, and attached the two outer buildings to the south, creating "wings" on the south side which now enclose the courtyard. The castle has stayed roughly the same since that period. Originally a Comyn stronghold, Clan traditions tell us that the castle was taken from the Comyns by a combined force of the Grants and the MacGregors.
The Skull of the ComynAccording to legend, in the 14th century, a younger son of a Grant of Stratherrick ran off with a daughter of the MacGregor Chief, the MacGregor's being a very powerful clan at this time. They fled to a cave near-by the present castle, today called "Huntly's Cave", where they were set upon and much harrassed by the Chief of Comyn and his people, who were none too happy with these new settlers on their lands. Meanwhile, the MacGregor Chief and his men, catching up with the couple, were received graciously and with much hospitality by Grant and his retinue, and were welcomed into their hideaway. The Grant supposedly gave a feast and arranged the comings and goings of his men such that they appeared as a large force about him, and the MacGregor Chief was so impressed that he forgave the couple and even agreed to help his son-in-law against the Comyns.
The very next morning the Grants and MacGregors stormed the castle and in the process slew the Comyn Chief - and kept the Chief's skull as a trophy of this victory. Another variation of this tale is that a Comyn ran off with a Grant woman. Her father and a number of Grant men pursued the couple and one of the Grants slew the Comyn, decapitating him with his large two handed sword. In either event, the skull of the Comyn was taken as a macabre trophy and was kept in Castle Grant and became an heirloom of the Clan. (In the late Lord Strathspey's book on the Clan, he mentions that the top of the cranium was hinged, and that he saw documents kept in it.) Clan tradition predicts grave things if the skull ever leaves the hands of the family - prophecying that the Clan would lose all of its lands in Strathspey. One can only hope it is still safely in the hands of our Clan!
The GhostThe Castle also has its own ghost story. The ghost of Lady Barbara Grant, a daughter of one of the chiefs in the 16th century, is said to haunt the tower of the castle (the tower is still visible from the south and west sides of the castle, but slightly enclosed in its lower sections by architectural additions) called "Barbie's Tower" or "Babbett's Tower" - (this author has heard it referred to as both).
As the story goes, Lady Barbara fell in love with a man whom her father deemed unsuitable for her, a man below her station, and instead he found another man of his own choosing that he considered more suitable for her to wed. Barbara defied her father and refused to marry the man her father had chosen for her. Supposedly the Chief then had Barbara locked in a hidden closet in the tower that was concealed by tapestries and which was called "The Blackness". She was to be kept there until she ceased to defy his wishes. How long she was kept in the closet, no one knows, but legend says she died in it "of a broken heart". Witnesses later claimed to have seen her ghost coming through the door of the closet from behind the tapestry in the tower, stopping at one point and appearing to wash her hands - before disappearing through the door of the tower.
When the closet was opened in the 1880's, there was no body found in it. There were only some old swords and muskets hidden inside.
Recently when workmen
were working late at night in the Castle on the refurbishment of one of
the upstairs floors (for the most recent owner), near the tower, they
were disturbed by the sounds of footsteps in the tower, the sounds of
the door opening and closing, and the sounds of crying and of voices.
The workers fled the Castle that night and refused to ever work there
again after dark. It may be safe to assume that if the legend is true,
then Lady Barbara is still walking the tower which bears her name!
The CastleThe Castle sits on a little hill about 1.5 miles north of Grantown-On-Spey, in Moray. It contains dozens of rooms, one of which is a massive dining hall. While the south face of the Castle with its two extended wings protuding from it, and its large stone staircase and courtyard, make it appear to be the "front" of the castle (the side it is most often photographed from), it is actually the back! The main door in the courtyard, which looks like the front door, actually leads from the back down a long hall to the front of the castle.
From the north side, the Castle appears rather plain and unassuming, its north face consisting of a large, flat, four story stone facade that Queen Victoria rather unflatteringly described as "looking like a factory" in her journal, when she saw the Castle on her tour of the Highlands. Upon viewing the Castle from the north side, first hand, a viewer may find Victoria is not far off. The main doors on the north side are not the massive, wooden, double-doored affairs one would imagine should exist on such a magnificent structure - instead they are a small, black, set of double iron doors that seem very out of place as the main entrance to such an otherwise grand residence. It's easy to see why it is often confused as being the back door! Although the Castle's north face does appear very plain there is also a very good reason for this. When "The Good Sir James" Grant (Chief from 1773-1811) set about his plans to build the town that would become "Grantown-on-Spey", there were no masons of sufficient skill to be employed in Strathspey. Sir James set up a training school for local men at Castle Grant and the modern appearance of the north face of Castle Grant is the result!
The Castle was the center of all clan activity, as it was the primary residence of the Chief of Grant. Here the Chief dealt with various clan matters, dealt out justice, resolved disputes, and gave grand parties on festive occasions. Elizabeth Grant of Rothiemurchus gives an interesting account of the Castle as the Clan's ancestral home in her "Memoirs of a Highland Lady", where she describes it thus:
..."Our great house then was Castle Grant, the residence of our Chief. It was about twenty miles off down Speyside. My Father and Mother were much there when they were first married. My Aunts Mary and Lizzy delighted in the gaiety of a scene so new to them. Generally about 50 people sat down to dinner in the great hall, in the shooting season, of all ranks. There was not exactly a "below the salt" division so marked at the table, but the company at the lower end was of a very different description from those at the top, and treated accordingly with whisky punch instead of wine.
Neither was there a distinct "yellow drawing room" party, though a large portion of the guests seldom obtruded themselves on the more refined section of the company unless on a dancing evening, when all again united in the cleared hall. Sir James Grant was hospitable in the feudal style. His house was open to all; to each and all he bade a hearty welcome, and he was glad to see his table filled, and scrupulous to pay fit attention to every individual present; the Chief condescending to the Clan, above the best of whom he considered himself extremely. It was rough royalty too, plenty, but rude plenty. A footman in the gorgeous green and scarlet livery behind every chair, but they were mere gillies, lads quite untutored, sons of small tenants brought for the occasion, the autumn gathering, and fitted with the suit they best filled"...
-- Elizabeth Grant of Rothiemurchus from her "Memoirs of a Highland Lady"
The Castle Today
Castle Grant ceased being a family residence for the Grants around the 1950's and was sold in the 1970's. Much of the Castle's contents, including the arms and weapons, paintings, and other items are now in museums throughout Scotland. In the Appenix of "A History of Clan Grant" written by Lord Strathspey (the 32nd Chief of Grant), he lists some of the paintings and arms that were in the Castle's collection, and it makes for interesting reading.
During the late 20th century the Castle became derelict. Dry rot had spread throughout the wooden timbers in the upper floors and attic. The late Lord Strathspey (the father of our current Chief) speculated that when soldiers were quartered in the castle in the 1940's, during World War II, that the repeated mopping of the floors (one assumes like "swabbing the deck" - a military exercise in order and cleanliness), and the constant moisture from this activity in the wood, caused a terrible dry rot to set into the timbers, which slowly demolished the upper floors of the building. It seems that many of the castles in Scotland that housed troops during this period suffered similar problems.
The Castle went through a series of owners, and in the late 1990's started to be rennovated. At one point it was the target of Highland developers who wanted to turn it into a resort, and an even ghastlier fate for the ancient home of our clan was proposed when Hollywood interests considered buying it for use in film production! For a while it appeared it might end up back in the hands of a Grant, but this deal fell through. The future of the Castle remains uncertain.
Perhaps someday the Castle will once again become the residence of a Grant!