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The ruined New Slains Castle that may have been the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Anastasia Kolomiets

From the clifftop not far from Cruden Bay in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, New Slains Castle looks over the North Sea. It is called the New because, before it, an Old castle with the same name existed just a few miles away near Collieston. The Old Slains Castle was built in the 13th century as a fortress, and it was the property of the Comyn Earls of Buchan.

After a conflict between the Earl of Erroll and King James VI in 1594, the old castle was blown up with cannons by the king and today only one wall remains standing. Three years later, the Earl returned from exile and finally made his peace with the King. He chose not to rebuild the castle but instead to construct a new tower house and courtyard. The building was later extended in 1664.

The complex originally was known as Bowness, and then it became known as New Slains. Two centuries later, in 1820, the 18th Earl of Erroll married the illegitimate daughter of King William IV, Lady Elizabeth FitzClarence. The Earl hired Aberdeen architect John Smith, famous for his significant contribution to the architecture of Aberdeen City, to redesign the castle.

The ruins of the New Slains Castle. Author: Ian Watson. CC BY-SA 2.0

The ruins of the New Slains Castle. Author: Ian Watson. CC BY-SA 2.0

In 1836 the castle was remodeled in a Scots Baronial style by the addition of additional wings and granite facings. Gardens created by the landscape architect T. H. Mawson were added some years later, which according to historians were the most beautiful in the area. After the whole property had been finished, it looked like something from a fairy tale, sitting gracefully on the cliff above the North Sea.

The castle on the hill. Author: Lyn Mcleod. CC BY-SA 2.0

The castle on the hill. Author: Lyn Mcleod. CC BY-SA 2.0

There is a local story, in which in 1895 the author Bram Stoker visited the castle and may have been a guest of the Earl. It is believed that he stayed at a cottage near Cruden Bay and used the magnificent structure as an inspiration for his story of Dracula.

It is believed that New Slains Castle was the inspiration for Bram Stalker’s Dracula. Author: Ulrich Hartmann. CC BY-SA 2.0

It is believed that New Slains Castle was the inspiration for Bram Stalker’s Dracula. Author: Ulrich Hartmann. CC BY-SA 2.0

It is said that stormy weather blew in during the authors visit with such violence that the whole scene looked very scary. The cold North Sea wind whipped up the sea and waves crashed high against the dangerous rocks below the castle. In his notes, Stoker explains how at that point he visioned his character standing over the abyss with his cloak spreading around him like great wings. It is not known for sure that he talks about the New Slains Castle, but his name can be found written in a hotel ledger from 1894 at the near by Kilmarnock Arms Hotel.

Part of the west exterior. Author: C Michael Hogan. CC BY-SA 2.0

Part of the west exterior. Author: C Michael Hogan. CC BY-SA 2.0

In 1913, the castle was sold by the 20th Earl of Erroll to the businessman Sir John Ellerman, owner of the Ellerman Lines shipping company. The building started to deteriorate after the roof was removed in 1925, reportedly as a tax dodge, and many stones from the walls have since been used for other buildings in the area.

Inside the ruins of the castle. Author: Karen Vemon. CC BY-SA 2.0

Inside the ruins of the castle. Author: Karen Vemon. CC BY-SA 2.0

Today, only a shell remains of the beautiful castle, and the gardens have been forgotten. The castle is different from the other castle ruins in the area which are maintained by the Historic Environment in Scotland. As many ruined places, New Slains has its own ghost stories, and it’s not one of the best attractions on the Aberdeenshire coastal trail which makes it even more spooky standing alone on the edge of the hill.

It is one of the scariest castles in Aberdeenshire. Author: Sarah Charlesworth. CC BY-SA 2.0

It is one of the scariest castles in Aberdeenshire. Author: Sarah Charlesworth. CC BY-SA 2.0

It is said that if a visitor goes alone to see the ruins and look from the hills into the sea, his imagination will start to work immediately and create many stories like Stoker. It can be found on Scotland’s list as one of 7 Creepy Abandoned Places. In 2004, there was a plan for the castle to be converted into holiday apartments. But due to an economic downturn, the Aberdeenshire Council put the plans on hold.