Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Invermark Castle

Carpe Diem is never more applicable than during rare good weather in the Angus Glens, so today's sunshine and warmth put a trip to Invermark Castle on the cards. This is the single remaining castle in the Angus Glens that I have yet to visit, or rather more accurately this is the last unvisited out of the six shown on the Angus Glens' web pageI have visited the other castles in the following order:

  1. Balintore Castle
  2. Forter Castle
  3. Cortachy Castle
  4. Edzell Castle
  5. Inverquharity Castle
My friend Andrew and his father were up for the visit, so we all made a day of it. Invermark is located well up Glen Esk, so although it is not far from Balintore Castle as the crow flies, I was surprised at how long the journey felt after entering the eastern end of Glen Esk. So much so, that we decided to stop off at the Glenesk Retreat for coffee and cake even before we started sightseeing. The proved to be the correct decision as the road to Invermark Castle was subsequently blocked by sheep being herded, and had we not had refreshments beforehand we would have been gnawing fingers off. The Glenesk Retreat is more than just a cafe/restaurant: it contains a small folk museum and resources for the glen community. The staff are amazingly friendly and chatty, and we were made so welcome that I would go back again and again.

Invermark Castle turned out to the perfect Scottish tower house: massively solid and vertiginous with the walls still resolutely intact up to the wall head. There have been two building phases: the first three storeys in the early 16th century and then the fourth storey in the early 17th century.

Invermark Castle: north and west elevations
Invermark Castle: south and east elevations
Invermark Castle: south elevation - at last some fenestration!
I was struck by the almost total absence of windows on three of the elevations: there were some slits in the stonework but that was about it apart from the later openings at the top level. I was relieved when I did find a few modest windows at the south of the building that you cannot see from the path which runs adjacent. This is a serious defensive structure and consequently would have always been extremely dark inside. Andrew's father said he was pleased he lived in an age when one did not have to hide behind high defensive walls. I pointed out that living behind high defensive walls was a huge improvement compared to not doing so! :-)

Invermark Lodge

old parish church by Loch Lee

Given the good weather we were tempted further along the road to look at Invermark Lodge (1852), and further yet to the quaint ruined late 17th century old parish church on the banks of Loch Lee. I climbed up the inside wall of the church yard to look over to check how close the loch was. The loch was lapping right against the walls! I wondered whether this has always been the case, perhaps the level of the loch was raised when it became the water supply for Brechin. In any case, few churches can have such a spectacular setting.

Invermark Lodge (1852) is one of the premier shooting lodges in Scotland and it nestles perfectly in the contours of Glen Esk. It is built of Aberdeenshire granite - just a few miles north of Balintore the geology switches from lowland sandstone to highland granite.

One can more than understand the attractions of the surroundings of the lodge on a day like today, even given that Glen Esk has one of the highest concentrations of Adders in the UK. Winter must be a different story altogether, as the region is even more remote and even higher-up than Balintore. It is likely that Invermark Lodge is cut-off a number of times each winter. I am grateful to Andrew's Dad, who worked in forestry, for teaching me the difference between a Silver Birch and a Downy Birch today. I had previously thought they were the same species.

current (19th century) parish church Interior

On the walk back, we explored the current parish church. The interior is
a time capsule of devout but dour 19th century Scottish Christianity: beautifully fitted out in wood; still equipped with a foot-pump organ and a gas light for the raised pulpit. I am fascinated by the phenomenon where remote places often transport you back in time as well.

A delicious late lunch, during a second visit to the Glenesk Retreat, confirmed how great a place this is and before departing and driving home we explored the attached museum. A number of rooms were set-up in the Victorian period, and given I am trying to do this at Balintore, I was enthralled and on high alert as to what worked well and what was less successful.

I absolutely loved Invermark Castle, and given free rein on which building to restore I might have gone for this. The interior has totally gone, so a restoration is a simple and relatively inexpensive matter of replacing the roof and the floors, unimpeded by existing structures.  The level of resources so far expended on Balintore Castle would have completed the restoration of Invermark several times over. I had originally intended to restore a tower house, knowing that this was a more tractable though still considerable exercise.

Given the architectural and historic significance of Invermark, only a highly authentic restoration would be permitted, if at all, and of course it belongs to the Dalhousie Estates rather than me! My own personal take is that most historic ruins should be sensitively restored: buildings only fully make sense when in use. At the very least floors and roofs should be put back, if nothing else, so we can explore the structures in indoor comfort.


  1. You comment on the level of the Loch, which would have been 3-5 meters lower in the 18th Century. If you remember our discussion about trees in the hills, in the 18th Century the church would have looked on to a more wooded landscape. Romantic and wild though the view at Loch Lee is a long way from being natural.

    1. Thanks Neil for the definitive information on the historic level of the loch - it confirms the hunch! Queen Victoria wrote of Loch Lee in her diary.