Fairburn Tower was built in 1545 for Murdo Mackenzie, the 1st of Fairburn. Murdo was ‘a graceful Youth‘ and a Gentleman of the Bedchamber for King James V. ‘ A Gentleman of the Bedchamber’ was a title in the Royal Household used from the 11th century. The duties consisted of assisting the Monarch with dressing, waiting on him when he ate, guarding access to his bedchamber and providing companionship. Murdo obtained a Charter for the Lands of Fairburn in 1542 on condition that he build a suitably defensible house with orchards and gardens. 

Initially, the tower had four floors with the external door at the first floor level. The Tower had an internal turnpike stairs from a vaulted basement with 12 gun-ports, leading all the way to the upper floors with further gun-ports built into the walls of the staircase.

In the early-17th century significant renovations were carried out to improve the Tower’s accommodation and functional amenity.  An added stair tower and the rebuilding of a parapet gave a full extra storey of usable space. 

It was most likely Alexander, the 8th of Fairburn, who added a dining room, from ‘two cupples of a Creel House’, which were strengthened with stone and lime walls. On 19th August 1762 Bishop Forbes dined at Fairburn.

By the time Alexander, the 10th and last Mackenzie of Fairburn, inherited the tower and the lands of Fairburn in 1793, the building was beginning to fall into disrepair. The roof, which was made with oak shingles, blew down in a gale in 1803 and the Tower was abandoned.

The Brahan Seer Prophecy – Fairburn Tower and the Mackenzie family were mentioned in the prophecies of the Brahan Seer, Kenneth Mackenzie or Coinneach Odhar (Dark Kenneth), who predicted the end of the Clan Mackenzie, the ruin of Fairburn Tower and the apparition of a cow upstairs. The Seer was executed for witchcraft at the Chanonry of Ross in 1578.

In 1851 a local farmer was using the tower to store hay. A cow followed a trail of hay into the tower and became stuck in the building. She gave birth to a calf inside the tower, fulfilling the prophecy made by the Brahan Seer in the 17th century.

The following plaque is placed on a memorial rock at Chanonry Point to mark the place where the Seer was burned alive in a barrel of hot tar.

The romance of Fairburn Tower’s history matches that of its setting. This beautiful Scottish Tower stands to the south of the River Conon on the edge of the mountains, set amongst wide and beautiful views over Strathconon and Glen Orrin. It stands 20 miles west of Inverness and is only 6 miles from Castle Leod, Seat of the Clan Mackenzie. Castle Leod is the Outlander book location for Castle Leoch (it is not the filming location).

In 2020 the Landmark Trust undertook an extensive project to save and restore this historic Tower House, one of the best in Scotland. Fairburn Tower is now a holiday rental in the Scottish Highlands, and it is not possible to visit the Tower unless you are renting it, or during one of their rare Open Days.

Fairburn Tower is also mentioned in one of our favourite fictional novels – ‘The Bookseller of Inverness‘ by local author S G MacLean. The story in the book revolves around many of our historic Highland landmarks and is set in our hometown of Inverness after the Battle of Culloden.

In September 2023 we were lucky enough to gain access to Fairburn Tower. In the video below you will see how the Tower looked during our visit in 2019 when it was derelict and on the verge of collapse, and compare it to our recent visit in 2023. The transformation is quite incredible and it was a very emotional experience to explore each room of this remarkable and historic building. The video is made up of photos taken by Andrew Nicholson in 2019 and 2023, and a video which takes you through each room and floor of the Tower, taken by Diane Nicholson in September 2023.

We hope you enjoy your journey around Fairburn Tower as much as we did.


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