Spynie Palace, Elgin, Scotland.

I have to admit, Spynie Palace isn’t my idea of a palace – if you prefer your palaces more Buckingham or Versailles, this will seriously confuse and possibly disappoint you. If I tell you that this obviously once fortified building was actually the seat of bishops, rather than kings or knights, you might wonder why. But it is true. Spynie Palace was the fortified seat of the bishops of Moray throughout the middle ages.

According to Wiki, Spynie is also known as a castle and this makes much more sense to me, because just look at it – castle for sure…


This is David’s Tower, the largest surviving part of the building. As with so many Scottish castles, it presents a gaunt, austere face. But according to the information boards, it may once have looked like this…


We visited Spynie a couple of weeks ago, on the only grey day of our Scottish holiday, but it felt like the right sort of weather to explore this ancient monument.

I was intrigued to discover that the sea loch once came right up to the walls of the palace (which you can see in the artists visualisation). Today the remains of the loch can be seen in the distance if you climb to the top of David’s Tower. The views all around illustrate how good the defensible position was.

That body of water in the distance once came right up to the walls of the palace

That body of water in the distance once came right up to the walls of the palace

Today, long-established trees screen the palace, but in its day, it must have been an impressive sight.

IMAG2703 IMAG2702 IMAG2683

A number of significant characters from Scottish history made their way here over the years, including Mary Queen of Scots and her son James VI. Mary’s husband Bothwell is said to have stayed here before fleeing to Orkney and exile.

You might wonder why a bishop would need a fortified house, but I suspect that our bishops today have little in common with their clerical ancestors. Spynie was besieged on a number of occasions. It saw a lot of action during what we English rather patronisingly call the English Civil Wars. As you can see from the machicolations, these bishops weren’t afraid to pour the popular medieval boiling oil cocktail on the heads of their enemies.


Even today, you almost expect something to hurtle down through these holes.

Even today, you almost expect something to hurtle down through these holes.

By the end of the C17th, Spynie was in decline. It wasn’t until more than two hundred years later that measures were taken to prevent stone from being removed from the castle for local buildings.

Still, enough remains to give the visitor an atmospheric experience, and I for one am very happy to believe that it hosts a collection of fine Scottish ghosts.

IMAG2696 IMAG2678 IMAG2723IMAG2695Don’t you always love to see a fireplace hanging in the wall – I could give that one a very good home if it wasn’t a couple of floors up (oh and I suppose four hundred miles away, oh yes, and illegal…)

Spynie makes me question how I think about the role religious figures played in our history. But if I’m totally honest, the one thing that most captivated me at Spynie was this…


It’s the roof below the spiral staircase. It made my neck ache, but I could have stared at that construction for hours.




For more information

This is the official Historic Scotland site for Spynie Castle – do check out the details if you’re planning a visit.

I like this review from Undiscovered Scotland

And this one – about the ghosts…  from Mysterious Britain & Ireland.


6 thoughts on “Spynie Palace, Elgin, Scotland.

  1. Valkrye Brumby says:

    Hello, This was a fascinating post and although as you said , it may not fit some people’s idea of a palace , I find it far more interesting and think if one were the owner of this when first constructed , you would feel every inch the proud owner of a ‘palace’. Thank you for sharing this ~ wonderful, detailed and evocative photos!

    • Anny says:

      Oh yes, I think you’d have felt pretty important to own a place like that. Although if I had to live in one, I’d probably go for Versailles – at least it has a roof. Thank you for stopping by.

  2. mysearchformagic says:

    I remember discovering Spynie Palace as a teenager, if I remember correctly it was having work done on it to consolidate the stonework and stop it decaying. It certainly has quite an atmosphere, as your photos show.

    • Anny says:

      I think you may very well be right, there were a lot of sections of consolidated stonework and metal access stairs. Apparently it once had windows and a plastic roof, but they were removed – just goes to show what a movable feast conservation is.

  3. blosslyn says:

    Its a shame the Loch is still not lapping the castle (sorry it looks like a castle to me) walls, the same as Harlech Castle the water came right up to the castle there, but no longer. I love hanging fireplaces as well, theres just something about them. Lovely post about a very interesting building 🙂

    • Anny says:

      Yes, you’re right, it even has a Water Gate just like Harlech. (Harlech is in my top 5 favourite castles, I always get a little thrill when I see it).

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