Slains Castle Home of Dracula
In 1893, Bram Stoker stayed in the Kilmarnock Arms Hotel for the first time.
In his novel “The Mystery of the Sea” his hero Archie Hunter has a vision of a grisly procession of wraiths from the wrecks on the treacherous Scaurs coming ashore at Cruden Bay.
“When there is a full moon at the Lammas Tide (August 1st) and if you have the “sight” – he wrote- you can see the blanched bodies of the folk, who have been savaged by the reef during the past twelve months, come out of the sea and make their way to St Olaves Well so that they can join their spirits in heaven or hell”
In the summer of 1894 he wrote “The Watter’s Mou”. The Watter’s Mou being a rocky inlet near Slains Castle at the mouth of the Black Burn where the water was diverted to make a safe anchorage at Port Erroll harbour.
In 1895, THE book was written. As Bram Stoker sat near Slains Castle, his creature Count Dracula began to appear in his mind’s eye:
I saw the whole man slowly emerge from the window and begun to crawl down the castle wall over the dreadful abyss, face down, with his cloak spreading around him like great wings ….
In 1897 the book was published.
In 1910 two years before he died, he paid his last visit to Cruden Bay.
The Hays of Erroll
The first Slains Castle built in the 15th century lay a few miles south of Cruden Bay It was razed to the ground by James VI after the Earl Francis Hay 9th Earl of Erroll rebelled against him.
After his return from exile in 1597, Earl Francis built a new castle on the site of the present ruin. Gilbert the 11th Earl made so many additions to the castle in 1664 as to have acquired the credit of being its founder.
Charles the 13th Earl was the last male of the line. He was succeeded by his sister who also died without issue. She was succeeded as 15th Earl by her great nephew James Lord Boyd who took the name Hay. His father Lord Kilmarnock was beheaded at Tower Hill after the Jacobite rebellion in 1745. The coat of arms of Lord Kilmarnock is outside the Kilmarnock Arms Hotel in the village.
William Hay, the 17th Earl, was appointed Knight Marischal of Scotland in 1805. It was he and the next two generations who lost the inheritance through mismanagement. In less than 20 years he disposed of 12 estates. Errollston Road in the village is named after him.
The 18th Earl, William George Hay, was created Baron Lord Kilmarnock in 1831 and sworn a Privy Councillor.
He already held the hereditary office of High Constable of Scotland and in 1838 was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Aberdeen for his lifetime. He decided to rebuild Slains Castle on the site of the second castle.
He and the Countess founded the Erroll School (situated on the road out of the village) in 1834/35 and helped rebuild the Episcopal Church of St James the Less on the hill above Cruden Bay in 1843.
Upon his death in 1846 he was succeeded by his son William Harry Hay who held the title for 45 years much longer than any of his predecessors.
Earl Harry’s philanthropic ways, although of great benefit to the village, set the seal on the demise of the fortune of the House of Erroll..
In 1875, he gave the Ward its much needed harbour and in his honour the village changed its name to Port Erroll.
Harry died in 1891 and was succeeded by Charles Gore Hay as 20th Earl. He was a professional soldier and Lord in Waiting to King Edward VII. A considerable amount of land was sold during his time including 19acres to the Great North of Scotland railway upon which the great Cruden Bay Hotel and leisure complex was built. Today this land is owned by Cruden Bay Golf Club.
Charles and his wife were the last of the Earls of Erroll to live at Slains. He sold most of the family possessions including thelibrary which was sold to the Mitchell Library in Glasgow. Also sold were letters from Kings, charters from Bruce and portraits by artists such as Vandyke, Gainsborough and Sir Joshua Reynolds. Slains Castle itself was sold to the shipping magnate Sir John Ellerman in 1916 however it was again offered for sale in 1922 together with 7200 acres of land..
Then selling agent described it thus: seven main Reception rooms, and fourteen principal bed and dressing rooms, ample domestic offices, the garden and grounds, sporting facilities and several farms.
At one time there was an architectural carriage court, and croquet and tennis lawns.The old walled garden was listed as being of historic interest until 1975 when the listing was removed. Little now remains for us to imagine how it might have looked.
The castle was unroofed in 1925 to gain exemption from property taxation and money was made on the sale of lead but the substantial exterior resisted attempts to tear it down and remained as it is today.
In front of the entrance was a flight of 14 steps leading into the entrance hall which in turn led into an octagonal hall from which the main rooms opened.
One of the bow fronted windows at the back on the seaward side may have been the library and billiard room with the other the drawing room with the bow fronted window facing the sea. This may have been the room in which Samuel Johnson and his biographer James Boswell were entertained to tea. Johnson wrote:….Slains Castle, built upon the margin of the sea, so that the walls of one of the towers seemed only a continuation of a perpendicular rock, the foot of which is beaten by the waves. From the windows the eye wanders over the sea that separates Scotland from Norway, and when the winds beat with violence one must enjoy all the terrific grandeur of the tempestuous ocean.
Boswell wrote: I had a most elegant room; but there was a fire in it which blazed and the sea to which my windows looked, roared.
The stables were built around a courtyard and the series of small spaces and doorways we see today would have been the staff rooms, kitchen, larders, cellars and other store rooms.
At one time a 12 foot wall surrounded the garden and also divided the vegetable garden on one side and a lawn and flower beds on the other. Guests from the castle could walk down the burn side through an arch under the road and rest on seats placed in alcoves in the north wall facing the flower beds.