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Main Details

Primary ReferenceNJ16NE0004
NRHE Card No.NJ16NE4
NRHE Numlink 16140
HES SM No. 90105
Site Form Standing Structure
Site Condition Incomplete
Details Remains of a 12th Century motte and bailey castle, abandoned early in the 18th Century, passing into State care in 1926. Duffus Castle is a particularly fine example of a motte and bailey castle, with one of the finest stone keeps in Scotland. Originally a timber and earth castle stood atop the entirely man-made motte, with a timber palisaded bailey, built circa 1150 by Freskin, Lord of Strathbrock, a Flemish soldier. In the bailey, a variety of buildings would have existed including ancillary halls, lodgings and service offices, such as the brewhouse, bakehouse, stables, workshops, and perhaps a chapel. It is recorded that King David I stayed here when inspecting the building work at his new foundation, Kinloss Abbey, in 1151. Freskin's son, William, assumed the name 'de Moravia' ('of Moray'), and by the early 13th Century the family had become one of the most influential in northern Scotland. The castle passed into the Cheyne family, through marriage, in the late 13th Century, who were supporters of the English King. The timber castle was burnt down by the Scots in circa 1297, but was rebuilt, in stone, probably in the early 14th century. The only evidence of rebuilding is from a reference in 1305 recording a grant to Reginald Cheyne for 200 oaks from Darnaway forest 'to build his manor of Dufhous'. The heavy, square, stone keep was built atop the original motte, intended to support a much lighter timber structure, resulting in the collapse of the northeast corner. The castle still stands three storeys high, with slit windows, but is roofless. A series of passages survive within the walls. The bailey is approximately oval with a stone curtain wall. Following the death of the last Cheyne, Lord of Duffus, in circa 1350, the castle passed to the Sutherlands, through marriage. Within the bailey are the remains of a 15th Century domestic range, including a hall, cellars, and an oven of clay and stone, which replaced the abandoned tower and may itself have been greatly remodelled by the late 17th Century. The fosse itself encloses approximately 8 acres and is crossed by a stone causeway which still survives today. Small scale excavations were carried out in 1984 and 1985 in the north-east corner of the bailey, before and after emergency works to stabilize a leaning portion of curtain wall. The excavations produced clear evidence for a primary occupation in the 12th century, and for a substantial masonry-building phase in the 14th and 15th centuries. A watching brief in 2007 during remedial work near the moat north and south of the castle revealed that the original profile of the moat was a steeper, more V shaped cut. No other features or finds of archaeological significance were observed. Archaeological watching brief by Kirkdale Archaeology January 2007 during two stages of remedial work in areas where drainage and erosional problems had been identified. An archaeological watching brief was maintained by Kirkdale Archaeology in October 2014 during the excavation of two test trenches ahead of proposed pinning works to stabilise the motte. Most of the material removed was imported soil from landscaping in the 1920s and remedial work in 2001. No features or artefacts of archaeological significance were uncovered. Building and materials analysis was carried out by University of Stirling in 2018 as part of the Scottish Medieval Castles and Chapels C14 Project. Constructional mortar was sampled to assess its archaeological and palaeoenvironmental potential.
Last Update18/07/2024
Updated Bycpalmer
Date of Compilation 

Google Map for NJ16NE0004

National Grid Reference: NJ 1893 6725

Event Details

Event DateEvent TypeOASIS ID
1984 Excavation
1985 Excavation
2007 Watching-Brief kirkdale1-249644
2014 Watching-Brief kirkdale1-311333

Excavations and Surveys

Date MDate YTypeDurationDirector / OrganisationAuspicesFundExtent
 1984 Excavation  CANNEL & TABRAHAMHSHS 
 1985 Excavation  CANNEL & TABRAHAMHSHS 

Artefact and Ecofact


Ecofact Notes

Monument Types

Monument Type 1Monument Type 2Monument Type 3OrderProbability