Duffus Castle – A Motte and Bailey Design

Hello there, friends. I am looking out my den window at a completely joyless day – well, weather-wise, at least. It is 32º F and misting, with more freezing rain expected later today. It’s the sort of day that makes me extra appreciative of my cozy, warm house and that the first day of spring is only about five weeks away! In light of the weather, I thought today I would talk about Duffus Castle, which we visited on a lovely (and warm) afternoon in May 2019.

Duffus Castle (or Doofus Castle as Mr. C and I like to say just to be silly – admit it, you thought it too) sits near the coast of the Moray Firth in the Moray region in northern Scotland. The site lies about an hour to the northeast of Inverness and ten minutes southeast of Elgin.

A stone road leading to Duffus Castle

Duffus Castle is a fine example of a motte and bailey castle, a common design during the 12th and 13th centuries in Scotland. Don’t worry. I had to look that up too. Wikipedia describes this type of fortification as one having “a wooden or stone keep situated on a raised area of ground called a motte, accompanied by a walled courtyard, or bailey, surrounded by a protective ditch and palisade.” Duffus was at one time a more defensible castle than it appears today, as it used to be surrounded by the now drained Loch of Spynie.

An artist's drawing of Duffus Castle
Artist’s rendering of Duffus Castle as it may have looked (#1 is the motte or raised mound; #2 is the bailey, or courtyard)
Duffus Castle sitting on an earthen mound
The remains of Duffus Castle sitting upon the motte, or mound
Remains of a castle curtain wall
What remains of the curtain wall that surrounded the bailey, or courtyard
The remains of a castle curtain wall
The curtain wall as viewed from outside the castle grounds

The original castle, constructed out of timber, was built in the 1100s by a Flemish man named Freskin. Freskin’s descendants eventually became one of the most influential noble families in the region. It is from this line that the Earls of Sutherland and Clan Murray was established.

a bridge over a wet moat
A water-filled ditch, or wet moat surrounds the perimeter of Duffus Castle

The remains of the stone castle and curtain wall that we see today were built by Sir Reginald Cheyne the Elder, Lord of Inverugie, probably in the late 13th century. The new stone keep replaced the original timber fortress. By the mid-1300s, Duffus was owned by the son of the Earl of Sutherland. The estate remained in the family’s possession until the mid-1800s, though the castle was probably already abandoned by the end of the 17th century.

When you visit Duffus Castle, you will notice right away that a massive piece of the stone keep has collapsed. The collapse likely happened centuries ago, as the motte upon which the castle was built could not sustain its weight. See…Doofus Castle! I’m just kidding, of course. 🙂

Duffus Castle
A collapsed section of the stone keep
The collapsed keep at Duffus Castle
Collapsed stone keep

I thought the sign on this wall sums up the situation pretty well!

The day that Mr. C and I visited Duffus, we were so fortunate to witness the Royal Air Force practicing their touch-and-go maneuvers at Lossiemouth Airfield, located just four and a half miles from the castle. Watching those loud, fast, modern jets whiz past the 14th-century ruin was an extraordinary sight! A real treat indeed!

A jet flying past a castle

Duffus Castle was a great find. Friends, if you ever find yourself in this region of Scotland, definitely add this one to your list. I think you’ll be glad you did.

Have a great weekend! Until next time…


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