Craigievar Castle’s new face unveiled

by Lexa Pennington /
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Oct 12, 2009 / 0 comments

Craigievar Castle’s new face unveiled


Visitors to the National Trust for Scotland’s iconic Craigievar Castle in Aberdeenshire can now see the building as it is likely to have appeared in earlier times.


For the conservation charity has just completed a two-year project to replace a concrete-based harling applied during the castle’s last facelift in the 1970s with a traditional lime-based alternative.


And the replacement harl, which is made with lime mortar tined by natural earth pigments, has now returned the 17th Century castle to what experts think would have been its original shade of eye-catching pink.


“It would be fair to say that visitors to the castle will notice a change,”
said project manager Ian Davidson. “While the previous harl gave the building a reddish-orange appearance, the new lime coat means the castle is now noticeably pinker than before.  We believe this is a close copy of the colour used on the castle in the past.


“Another benefit of the new lime mortar, as well as protecting the castle for many years to come, is that it will enable the castle to breathe. We now know that covering the building with a cement-based coating trapped water inside the walls and increased dampness and humidity inside.”


The £500,000 project to reharl Craigievar began in November 2007.  The building has been closed to the public and completely encased in scaffolding since that time.


Craigievar Castle


Cement harl was removed by hammer and chisel as vibrations from mechanical tools may have damaged the delicate plaster ceilings inside. Several thin layers of lime harl were then applied to the walls, which were draped in tarpaulins and hessian to prevent them drying out too quickly.


In addition to the reharling, the Trust took advantage of the scaffolding to carry out additional repair work. Missing decorative stonework was replaced, while other repairs were made to the roof and the windows. Internally, the castle’s collection was stored, photographed and assessed.


Archaeologists, meanwhile, used the scaffolding to undertake a detailed survey of the property.


This work confirmed an intriguing fact – that Craigievar, built in the 17th Century, was constructed over the top of a 16th Century castle.


Originally built by the Catholic Mortimer family, Craigievar took on its modern shape when bought by staunch Calvinist William Forbes in 1610. Forbes carried out radical changes to the building, demolishing the castle chapel and building an extra story covered in water spouts, decorative cannons and sculpted heads.


The main contractor for the project was Laing Traditional Masonry, based at Castle Fraser, whose work was managed on site by Stephen Harper. Several Consultants were used throughout the project, including  McCall Surveying (Lead Consultant), MacTaggart and Dallas (Quantity Surveyor and CPD co-ordinator), Addison Design and Conservation (engineer) and Tom Addyman (archaeology and architectural history). Scottish Lime Centre advised Craigievar on technical matters regarding lime. 


Project manager Ian Davidson said:


“I am tremendously proud of what the team has accomplished, which represents the latest in a long line of investments and improvements at Craigievar. In the last 25 years, we have pioneered the reintroduction of lime on the Barmkin Wall in the early 1980s, stopped three of our ceilings from collapse in 1990, bought Craigievar Hill with the help of many supporters in 2004 and reacquired many significant pieces that had been lost to our collection. We are always looking at ways to maximise the enjoyment of our visitors without putting the fabric of the building at risk.”


Daphne Rose, property manager at Craigievar, said:


“It’s been a privilege to have been here throughout the reharling project- I’ve found it a fascinating and rewarding experience. I believe a project such as this represents the essence of conservation, at once preserving the building and restoring its harl to what would historically have been used. While little appears to have changed to the untrained eye, the work makes it more likely that future generations will be able to respect and enjoy Craigievar-more or less exactly as it looks today.”


Craigievar Castle will reopen to the public for the season in Spring 2010. The garden and grounds, which have been open throughout the project, continue to remain open throughout the Winter.



Craigievar Castle

Craigievar after completion of restoration work with the scaffolding down.




The National Trust for Scotland
is one of Scotland’s leading conservation charities, which relies on the financial support of its members to fund its important work of caring for the natural and cultural heritage of Scotland for everyone to enjoy.


You can join the National Trust for Scotland for as little as £5 per month for a family. To become a member, visit


All information contained herein provided by the National Trust for Scotland.