Duffus Castle – proud on the Moray plain

A view towards the keep at Duffus taken from the bailey

In Moray on the marshy plain,     the mound of Duffus lies

Above its bailey broad and round     bewitching in the fields

And testament to worlds I knew     when riding with great lords.

What stridency those stout walls had     once standing by the Laich,

Their calm command and cold contempt     for those who sought its capture!

Some say it once was made of wood;     such works I never knew

For in my time its stones stood tall,     of stance both proud and powerful.

A day or so to ride the roads     from Inverness not far,

Was worth the weary way and woes     to wonder at its welcome:

For lonely is the lifeless track     while winds blast life and limb

But then to see that towered mass –      such treasure to behold!

Well I recall the warming stones,     while coastal winds roared on;

Lord Duffus laid all dainties there,     delightful by the fire,

And candles, tapers, tapestries     conspired to tempt the mind!

Yet if all was wonder deep within,     more wonderment outside:

For from its wind-blown battlements,     wild lands inspired the soul.

To ride the hunt, to hail halloo,     to hear the huntsman’s horn;

Lord Duffus knew how well to keep     his guests so rich rewarded,

And then with wine and warming ale,     to sooth those saddle-worn.

But now, fair Duffus,  dank and dim,     where now lie all your dreams?     

I weep to see your cracked old keep,     collapsed in fields of corn;

That cobbled pathway empty now     to horses passing by;

No lords and ladies gather there     to hail their travelling friends

with smiles.

I see Sad Duffus and its walls

From windswept distant miles;

But though its shattered shell appalls,

Its memory still beguiles.

About Duffus Castle

Duffus Castle makes a dramatic statement in the flat Laich of Moray some forty miles west of Inverness as the land dips towards the Moray Firth.  The site’s distinctive earthworks form what is now called a motte (mound) and bailey (courtyard) castle, typical of many such castles built in decades following the Norman Conquest.

So far north, the use of a motte and bailey construction is intriguing. The castle was built following the victory of David I, King of Scots, over Oengus, the last native king of Moray, at the battle of Stracathro (Inchbare) in 1130; its construction may reflect David’s exposure to Norman castle-building styles from his own estates in England and in Normandy.

A timber castle is thought to preceed what now remains; the stone keep and bailey dates most likely to the mid-fourteenth century with some of the buildings in the bailey coming later. What immediately impresses is the huge size of the earthworks, which can be seen from many miles away; these add a particular grandeur to the site.

Yet even the greatest of mottes often struggle to bear the weight of later towers, as can be seen at Clifford’s Tower in York. Here at Duffus, the keep bears witness to its own fragility; a signficant chunk of the building has fallen away, rendering this main section of the castle uninhabitable and causing other residential quarters to be established in the bailey itself.

From c. 1350, the castle was held by the Sutherland Lords of Duffus before finally being abandoned for nearby Duffus House in the late 1600s. During this time it was ravaged by Douglas, Earl of Moray in the mid fifteenth century as well as by the Royalists in the ’45.

Today its haunting ruins, visible for miles across fields of corn, attract visitors from far and wide as, circling high above, RAF Typhoon from nearby Lossiemouth jets shatter the calm with a different form of warlike thunder, the roar of Rolls-Royce engines.

The castle today is managed by Historic Environment Scotland; details here

Details of the Canmore listing for Duffus castle can be found here


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