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Fochabers, Elginshire

Historical Description

FOCHABERS, a burgh of barony, in the parish of Bellie, county of Elgin, 7 miles (E. S. E.) from Elgin; containing 1135 inhabitants. This place is situated in the vicinity of Gordon Castle, on rising ground near the confluence of a small rivulet with the Spey, over which latter is a fine bridge, originally of four arches, having a water-way of 340 feet: the two arches on the west side were swept away by the flood of August 1829, and have been replaced by one spacious wooden arch. Fochabers is a neat village, built on a regular plan, with a square in the centre, ornamented on each side with trees, and entered by streets at right angles. It is governed by a baron-bailie, appointed by the superior. A village of the same name formerly stood about a mile northward of the present, and still nearer to Gordon Castle; but the site of the village was changed by Alexander, fourth Duke of Gordon. Among the most conspicuous buildings are the parochial church, and a highly-ornamented episcopal chapel on the north side of the village, recently built and endowed by the Duchess of Gordon, and consisting of two stories, surmounted with two spires; the upper story is used for public worship, and the ground-floor is occupied as an infant school, and contains apartments for the teacher. There are also a Roman Catholic chapel, and a subscription library. The great road from Edinburgh to Inverness passes through the village; and annual markets are held, partly for the sale of horses, but especially for black-cattle, on the third Wednesday in January, the fourth in March and May, the second in August, and the fourth in October and December. In the neighbourhood is a spacious mansion for the lessees of a salmon-fishery on the Spey. with a range of apartments in an extensive court, conveniently fitted up, and supplying every facility for the operations connected with this important branch of traffic: the produce, valued at several thousand pounds a year, is sent to London packed in ice, and employs regularly, during the season, eight smacks in the conveyance.

Gordon Castle, until lately the seat of the Dukes of Gordon, whose title has become extinct, and now a possession of their heir of entail and representative, the Duke of Richmond, is considered the most magnificent and princely mansion north of the Firth of Forth. This edifice was originally a gloomy tower, situated in the centre of a morass called the Bog of Gight, and accessible only by a narrow causeway, and a drawbridge. It is now a vast structure, of which the exterior measures 570 feet in length, and the building consists of four lofty stories, with spacious two-storied wings, and connecting galleries or arcades of similar height. From behind the centre rises a ponderous square tower of the eleventh century, nearly ninety feet high, overlooking the stately pile, which is faced on all sides with freestone, and encircled by an embattled coping. The castle is approached by an imposing gateway at the north end of the village, and entered by a grand vestibule embellished with copies of the Apollo Belvidere and the Venus de Medeci, a bust of Homer, busts of Aurelius and Faustina, of Cæsar and Caracalla, one of a vestal virgin, and one of William Pitt, each raised on a handsome pedestal of Sienna marble. At the bottom of the great staircase are busts of Seneca and Cicero, and of a grand-duke of Tuscany, a relative of the Gordon family; while on the first landing-place is a gigantic wooden head of some ancient divinity of the sea, with other objects of striking interest. The state apartments are numerous and splendid, and superbly furnished: the great dining-room is of the most just proportions, and contains many fine paintings and portraits, as do most of the other rooms, including the library, where are several thousand volumes, various ancient and valuable MSS., geographical and astronomical instruments, and antique curiosities. There are also a small theatre and a music-room. Among the finest pictures may be mentioned those of Abraham turning off Hagar and her son; Joseph resisting Potiphar's wife; St. Peter and St. Paul; Dido and St. Cecilia; Ulysses and Calypso; Bacchus and Ariadne; Venus and Adonis: a portrait of the last Duke of Gordon; and one of the second Countess of Huntly, daughter of James I., and the lady through whom Lord Byron boasted of having a share of the royal blood of Scotland in his veins.

The park in which the castle stands is of great extent, and presents every variety of surface, walks, drives, meandering streamlets, groves, arbours, and broad-spreading meadows; while an almost interminable forest extends over the mountain side in the distance. Among the trees are majestic rows of elm and beech, and many of large dimensions, particularly the limes, planes, the walnut, and horse-chesnut; and there are fine plantations of birch, larch, Scotch fir, and other growing timber in a flourishing state. Before the castle is a richly verdant sward, fringed with sweetly-scented shrubs; and the gardens around it occupy a space of twelve acres, and are ornamented by rare plants, and enlivened by a beautiful lake. To the north of the mansion is a military station, called the "Roman camp".

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland, 1851 by Samuel Lewis