A History of the Architectural Design of Castle Fraser, Aberdeen

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As an atmospheric baronial castle that could date back to the fifteenth century, Castle Fraser was once the home of the Fraser family. The landscape of Castle Fraser remains overwhelming after almost 300 years, to the people who approach it for the first time. Visitors to the estate are confronted with 'one of the most spectacular of the Castles of Mar', which is the largest and most elaborate Scottish castle. The castle was built on the ‘Z-plan’ design and stands in 140 hectares of beautiful farmland. Following the woodland trails, visitors could venture through the castle and up to the round tower, with its panoramic views of the gardens and estate beyond, they have a glimpse of the life in the medieval to the Victorian period. The main castle itself was completed around 1636, there were several eighteenth- and nineteenth-century changes.

The name of Fraser initiated in Anjou in France.

The history of Castle Fraser could be traced to the middle of fourteenth century, the time when James II gave the lands around Muchall and Stoneywood to Thomas Fraser as a gift. At the beginning Castle Fraser bore the name of Muchall-in-Mar (as the castle’s former name until 1695).

The building work of Castle Fraser was completed between 1575 and 1635. In the 1570s, Michael Fraser decided to build a larger house for his family, with the name of "Michael's Tower", but the castle remained under construction at his death in the end of the 1580s. Therefore, his heir, Andrew Fraser completed the castle after his death, to the appearance that it has now. After that there have been some small changes in the early nineteenth century and a new grand staircase in Victorian times (which was demolished after the Second World war).

In the year of 1976, the castle itself and land of 26 acres were gifted to the National Trust for Scotland. At that time, Major and Mrs Smiley were the last owners.

Castle Fraser set amidst 120 hectares of beautiful gardens and open woodland, only 16 miles from Aberdeen. The design of Castle Fraser's landscape is mainly done by Thomas White in 1794. Naturally, it is surrounded by the grassland with higher level. The range of level difference within the estate between highest and lowest is 30 meters approximately. However, regarding the area, it is rather smooth and flat relatively.

The estate has two easily followed trails passing through a mixture of parkland, farmland and woodland, with the opening views of Bennachie. The ancient system of shared farming on open fields was replaced by a more profit-driven, agriculturally 'improved' estate, together with fashionable leisure areas and an attractive parkland setting.

Castle Fraser. as a well-preserved five-storey tower building, was mainly built from local granite. It a Z-shaped architecture with a rectangular main building and two towers at diagonally opposing corners of it, as an ordinary style of Scottish castle at that time. It is surrounded by over 300 acres of open wood and farm, with a specially designed walled garden. It is owned by the National Trust for Scotland and is open to tourists during the and is open to tourists in the summer. It is a good place for weddings and corporate events as well.

Aberdeenshire finest master-masons made a great contribution to an nearly perfect Z-plan massing of blocks combined with an fantastic upperworks as elaboration; Since the time is close to the peak of Renaissance Aberdeenshire, the castle was furnished with a colossal asymmetrical bedroom stack of six storeys which yet trys to make a balance of the whole.

Immediately surrounding the castle, but with a greater extent to the West than the East is an enclosure known as the Cherry Yard, presumably planted with cherry trees, and beyond it to the West is a larger enclosure, the Ducat Yard. And the Cherry Yard is to the West, as expressed in the map of Policies in 1780.

The landscape today of Castle Fraser was established in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Former estate plans show that the gardens built next to the castle in typical Scottish chateau style, with the doocot(dovercote) and cherry yards to the west and a large, probably hedged, garden to the east. With its gramd entrance to the castle,the Broad Walk, an avenue of sycamore trees acted as a direction and welcome to the courtyard. However, things were different during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, when the centuries-old community system of joint farming on open fields was once replaced by a profit-driven, agriculturally 'improved' estate. It is the designed landscape of this period today.

Many of these changes were carried out by Elyza Fraser, the Laird of Castle Fraser between 1792 and 1814, carried out. She invited a student of the famous English landscape designer Capability Brown, Thomas White, to design those improvements to the landscape. It was unusual at the time for a woman to play such an active and prominent role in estate management. The stables were built (to an existing design by John Paterson); a serpentine lake, decorated with two swans and a rowing boat, was dug to the south-east of the castle; and the walled garden was built in 1795.

There is a tall cistern and pumphouse of a mechanical water pump on the Alton Brae . And it had an important role of providing a water supply to the castle and estate. It was installed in the early 1900s, and powered by a modern electrical pump now.

There is a natural spring here that served as part of Miss Bristow’s landscaping scheme. It is a re-used triangular stone from above a dormer window, almost certainly from the castle, and dates from the 1630s. The carved initials -LAF- stand for Lord Andrew Fraser. The Moses Well House is more mysterious. The beautiful stone panels form part of one large panel depicting the Old Testament prophet Moses, surrounded by scenes from his life. They were carved in the mid-1600s, possibly in the Netherlands, and probably for an important church. The answer of how or when they came to Castle Fraser is yet under expectation.

There are lots of plants in Miss Bristow's Wood besides just trees. Wildflowers can be seen throughout Miss Bristow’s Wood. Small white flowers of wood sorrel, wood anemones and bluebells appear in spring, with tall spires of foxgloves and pink rosebay willowherb emerging in the summer.

Inside the wood stands the monument for Mary Bristow, which was set by Elyza Fraser The inscription on it is: Farewell! Alas how much less is the society of others than the memory of thee.

There are two main trails to get straightly to the castle. One is in the north and the other is in the west. The earliest estate map to show the lay-out of the policies could be dated back as early as 1788, and probably it keeps a record of an arrangement from the the late seventeenth century. The map shows that the Castle stands at the junction of four great avenues of sycamores. The main visual axis is the avenue to the North - the Broad Avenue - which is the widest one as the name suggests, but the most important access must have been from the West Avenue, since it led to the Aberdeen road at Broomdyke

It is the Broad Walk of sycamores that acts as an main approach to the castle itself. The Broad Walk through Alton Brae once connected the castle with the old Aberdeen. The trees here were planted more than 200 years ago.

A team of oxen once pulled a big and heavy plough, and then those long linear ridges in the Alton Brea came into existence as remains of medieval cultivation rigs. Cereals were grown on top of them.

The Alton Brea trail begins in the fields and shelterbelts with agricultural use, and then passes the Alton Brae woods, inside which a large range of birds exist, treecreepers, longtailed tits and coal tits and so on. And the destination of the Alton Brea trail isthe flight Pond. This flight pond is not a outstanding place for wildlife, since it was created at start to attract animals for shooting. In the late seventeenth century, this area around this beautiful pond was divided into places for the laird to feed their beasts and then send them to the market. This mosaic of habitats at Castle Fraser encourages a large range of species to come.

All in all, The estate’s design achieves practical functionality as well as amazing vistas.

Mary Bristow was the designer of this woodland, known as Miss Bristow’s Wood, as a pleasure ground full of winding paths, pleasant glades and distant views. Elyza Fraser and Mary Bristow developed these woods from agricultural land. They spent more than £9,600 (over £500,000 today) between 1797 and 1800 to fulfill this task.Miss Bristow’s Trail(1.25 miles) is named after Mary Bristow. The trail also passes interesting archaeological features including the Moses Well.

Just to the north of Castle Fraser, there is a traditional walled garden of trees, shrubs and herbaceous plantings, a medicinal and culinary border and organically grown fruit and vegetables. The rectangular walled garden contains 17th-century sundial with complex lectern dial in freestone.

The garden depicted on the 1788/9 plan is likely to have been first designed and laid out soon after the east wing of the castle was completed in 1633/4 (Fraser 2010) and by the time it was dismantled in 1796 the garden had been in existence for over 160 years. The Walled Garden on this site was built in this location to replace the walled enclosures to the east and south of the Castle, as expressed in the 1788 map. It is possible that there has been changes after that, not only the replacement and removal of plants and trees, but also probably changes in the construction of the garden, such as the paths and walls

The way that Walled Garden looks now could dates from about 1977-78, and it is designed by Eric Robson, the former NTS Head of Gardens.

The walled garden provided the castle with fruit, vegetables and flowers, and contained a vinery and two peach houses. The west part of the garden is for vegetables. The east part is of mixed borders and lawn. Both of them are separated by purple beech hedges from the central of the garden. An avenue of tree rows stand on the axis of the garden. A pump has been installed inside the garden. One small glasshouse remains on the north wall with the bothy building on the outside of the wall. This is part 2-storey, part 1-storey, in rough squared granite blocks with some snecking: in use as public toilets and a gardener's room.

Worth to mention that in 1959, the south border of the garden replied to one of the design of James Russell in Sunningdale Nurseries. The are mixed shrubs and herbaceous plants, with some roses and lilies. By 1978 most of the original plants died. so the border was replanted and redesigned by Eric Robson.

The north wall was heated. However, there is only part of this system remains low in the wall of the brick arches. It was the ovens' job to punch the air through flues inside the walls. They have to make a lot of work to return the gardens to what they used to be in eighteenth century. The gardens also feature the ‘Woodland Secrets’ adventure playground and trails. Two way marked walks offer magnificent views of the local hills.

Since 1976, the National Trust for Scotland has further developed the gardens. The main regeneration work is between 2003 and 2005. The Woodland Secrets play area was specially designed for amuze the children.

The site known today as the Castle Frazer stone circle is situated about 800 m to the West

of the castle in the parish of Cluny. The circle is approximately 20.4m of diameter and it comprises the visible remains of the stone circle - seven independent standing stones, in which two of which have now fallen down.

The circle once was consisted of eleven stones, only nine remains now. The Altar “(the recumbent slab)” measures 6’ 9” in length and is 4’ 6” in height. The stone at its East end is 6’ 7” high and 4’ 6” wide at the base. About 200 paces eastwards are two stones a few paces distant from each other and about 7’ high’.

The circle is to some extent irregular in shape. The 'Altarstone' is nearly due south from the Centre. There is a small concentric circle, 13 feet in diameter, within the larger one, but only defined at the North and South sides, as shewn in the ground-plan, - by stones sunk in the ground down to the sub-soil and showing themselves a few inches above ground. They touch each other, and show generally a flat side turned to the centre of the circle.

The whole area of the Circle was found to be paved closely and firmly with small boulders, lying about 6 inches below the surface.