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May 7, 2008

Braemar Castle captured by community

It was where the Earl of Mar raised his standard to launch the 1715 Jacobite Rising and, during the 1960’s, John Profumo brought a whiff of scandal during a brief stay. Last weekend, after more than three years of being closed to the public, this 17th century castle raised its portcullis once more but this time under community control. Braemar Community Company have taken a 50 year lease


Braemar Castle does not perhaps stir the public imagination in the way its next door neighbour Balmoral does, but its past is every bit as colourful.

It was where the Earl of Mar raised his standard to launch the 1715 Jacobite Rising. It was also where the former Secretary of State for War John Profumo holidayed in 1963 as the scandal over his sleeping arrangements were about to rock Harold Macmillan’s government.

Today the early 17th century castle, which has been closed to the public since 2005, reopens for visitors under the care of the villagers of Braemar. Local landowners, the Farquharsons of Invercauld, have handed the castle over to Braemar Community Ltd, on a 50-year lease at a peppercorn rent.

The re-opening will be celebrated by a fete in the grounds and Steve Robertson, of Scotland the What?, will turn the key to officially open the castle at 12.30.

Braemar has 12 rooms open to the public. These include the infamous “pit” or bottleneck dungeon which was once home to no fewer than 17 Cameron prisoners after the 1745 Jacobite Rising when the castle had become a Hanoverian garrison.

The redcoats’ carvings marking their 18th century stay in the castle can also be seen.

There is also the elegant dining room and drawing room, the laird’s bedroom with its our-poster bed and the glorious vintage plumbing of the Victorian bathrooms. One of the turret rooms has been dedicated to Robert Louis Stevenson’s life and work, because he had come to stay in a cottage in Braemar for the clean air and this was where he wrote Treasure Island.

Since the village acquired the building in February last year, teams of volunteers have worked to get the castle into shape for the re-opening. A leaky Victorian wing at the rear of the building has been demolished. Rooms have been repainted and carpeted but still retain that “shabby chic” that is the essence of the castle. It is filled with the furnishings and personal memorabilia of the Farquharson family including a piece of the plaid worn by Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Much of the castle’s old furniture was sold at Sotheby’s last year by the Farquharson family, but as Doreen Woods of Braemar Community Ltd explained: “Most of it is back now because of a benefactor who bought it for us and sent it back. His or her identity is known to only a few.

The Prince of Wales has already lent his support to the restoration of Braemar, but the community would also be happy if he lent some of the 85,000 people who visit Balmoral Castle’s grounds, gardens and ballroom each year.