1630 Skew-Putt incorporated in house at Mains of Portlethen.
1683 Skew-Putt incorporated in house at Mains of Portlethen.
More evidence of castle remnants in house at Mains of Portlethen.
Could these gate pillars in front of the Baillies house at Mains of Portlethen been part of Portlethen Castle?
Was this cave at Peel Slough a smugglers cave, and did it at one time, lead to Portlethen Castle?
I’ll set the scene for this tale by going over the legend of Muchalls Castle, its link to a smugglers cave and a mourning ghost. There are portions of this story that are very similar to a part of Portlethen’s distant past.
Muchalls Castle, which was built in 1619, is said to be haunted by the ghost of a girl dressed in green, although some reports say this ghost is wearing yellow. This ghost is known locally as the Green Lady.
The story of the haunting concerns an underground passageway that leads eastwards from the castle to a cave on the “Gin Shore”, a distance of just over half a mile. The Gin Shore was so named as a reminder of the days when smuggling was a frequent occurrence along the coast. In olden days the cave, the underground passage and the link to Muchalls Castle was frequently used by smugglers.
The daughter of the house (Muchalls Castle) had a lover that was a smuggler who sailed the continent in pursuit of illegal contraband. One day, having sighted her lover’s vessel out at sea, she rushed to the underground passageway to be at the cave entrance to meet him when he rowed ashore. However on her way she stumbled, fell into the water, and was washed out to sea on the strong tide. Her lover discovered her body the next day near to the entrance of the cave.
Since that time some guests staying at Muchalls Castle have caught a glimpse of a young girl dressed in a yellowish frock, brushing her hair in front of a mirror. It would appear that this is the ghost of the girl re-enacting her final preparations before rushing down to the underground passageway to meet her returning boyfriend many years before.
Other myths abound about the castle and the cave. One legend, told in the Aberdeen Free Press in 1896, has it that a piper once entered the passageway whilst playing his bagpipes and had never returned. Occasionally, and without explanation, the sound of the pipes has been heard in the vicinity of Muchalls. Another vague theory stated that a further two men had entered the cave to explore it, and like the piper, they too never returned.
One report states that Lord Robertson, Lord Justice General of Scotland, who was tenant at Muchalls Castle at the end of the 19th century, took a dim view of smuggling on his doorstep and ordered that the tunnel should be “sealed up”.
Today, there is still a cave at the place that used to be known as the Gin Shore however soon after entering it the way is blocked by fallen boulders and there is no sign of any underground passage.
That is the legend of Muchalls Castle, its famous ghost and its underground passageway and cave but what has any of this to do with Portlethen?
In the 17th century, there was also a baronial castle in Portlethen which was very similar to the one at Muchalls in terms of style and size. This castle was constructed by Robert Buchan, the laird of these lands in this century, and was located on the site of the farm, Mains of Portlethen. This castle was possibly better known locally as the “House of Portlethen”.
Sadly, the castle no longer exists and there is very little in the way of evidence now to suggest that a castle was ever sited there however there are a few pointers that prove that this part of the story is fact and not fiction. If you’ve looked at the earliest Ordnance Survey maps from the 1860’s that relate to the parish of Banchory Devenick you will clearly see the location of “Site of Portlethen Castle” marked.
Other pieces of evidence that suggest the presence of a castle here is the initialled skew-putt bearing the date 1630 which is incorporated in the main farmhouse building, which suggests that this may be the date that the castle was built (Skews are gable parapet copes and skew-putts are the ones at the eaves.) A second skew-putt dated 1683 suggests a modification may have been made to the castle at that time.
As well as these skew-putts there are two baronial stone blocks incorporated in the gateway wall at the smaller farmhouse, one hundred yards west of the main house. These too, would have been part of the original castle.
Similarly to Muchalls Castle, the House of Portlethen was located just over half a mile from the sea and would have had good views over the local sea coast from its upper reaches.
Eerily the similarity doesn’t just end with the style and size of the two castles and their distances to the coast. There is also a sea cave on the coast, at a point near Black Slough, one hundred yards south of the pebble beach known locally as Broadhaven Bay (or Muckle Shore) and there could be an underground tunnel that linked the old castle to this cave in the same manner as the castle and cave at Muchalls. We know that there is some sort of underground tunnel (or hole) within the grounds of Mains of Portlethen farm because the current owners, the Shand family, spent a considerable amount of time and effort filling and blocking this particular cavern not long after they bought the farm.
Apparently, the cave on the coast was said to have been another smugglers cave and it was handily placed near to the haven of Broadhaven Bay that vessels could land there easily in good weather. The other advantage that this place had was that although the cave was situated closely to a convenient natural harbour to allow easy access for vessels, the cave itself was hidden from sight and could only be accessed by an experienced and knowledgeable rock climber.
Nowadays this particular cave, like the one at Muchalls, is blocked by fallen boulders just inside the entrance, and although it’s possible to shine a torch beyond these boulders, there is no gap big enough for a person to squeeze through. We also know that the cave does go inland a bit because it’s possible to hear sea water splashing against the rocks beyond the fallen boulders at the entrance.
The difference between our smugglers cave, castle and underground cavern and the ones at Muchalls is that there are no ghost stories associated with them.
So is this a myth, mystery or another made up tale? Once again you can make up your own minds although the elements I have used to paint this picture are all basically true.