Fairburn Tower

Muir of Ord, Ross-shire

Overview

Fairburn Tower is a rare survival from the Scottish Renaissance. Situated in beautiful Highland landscape, half an hour’s drive north-west of Inverness, Fairburn Tower was built around 1545 for Murdo Mackenzie, a favourite at the rich court of King James V and Mary of Guise.

Free public Open Days: 7-8 September 2024

  • Electric Car Charging PointElectric Car Charging Point
  • CotCot
  • Mobile signalMobile signal
  • Fire or StoveFire or Stove
  • Parking AvailableParking Available
  • BathBath
  • MicrowaveMicrowave
  • RemoteRemote
  • ShowerShower

Beds 1 Twin, 1 Double

Sleeps
4
3 nights
£1068 equivalent to £89.00 per person, per night
Two single beds with white bed sheets and blue blankets
A double bed with white sheets and a blu e blanket

Flowering of the Scottish Renaissance

The romance of Fairburn’s history matches its setting, amid wide and beautiful views in the Muir of Ord, some 20 miles west of Inverness. The mid-16th century saw the flowering of the Scottish Renaissance under the Stuarts. In 1542, James V granted Murdo Mackenzie land to build upon on this strategic spot between the Rivers Conon and Orrin. The tower Murdo built was both fit for a civilised existence and defensible against other marauding clans.

‘A grasier is all I pretend to be’

The tower was enlarged in the early 17th century and a fine stair turret added, but the fortunes of the Mackenzies of Fairburn suffered when they remained loyal to the Stuart line in the Jacobite rebellion of 1715. When Bonnie Prince Charlie rose again in 1745, the then Laird Alexander Mackenzie declined to fight for King George because ‘a Grasier or Farmer is all I pretend to.’

Here is history to revel in, in a place that captures all of Scotland’s romantic and tumultuous past, set in the beauty of its Highland landscape.

Floor Plan

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Map & local info

Fairburn Tower is situated on the Fairburn Estate, 30 minutes’ drive north east of Inverness and close to Muir of Ord. Expanding over 1000 hectares, the Estate is known for fishing, hill sport and its rich history. With plenty of opportunities for walking on the doorstep, tree enthusiasts may be particularly delighted - the alder, birch and willow trees which have been growing naturally in the Estate’s woodlands for many hundreds of years form an example of an alluvial forest system which is now rarely seen in Europe. The riverbank can be walked for much of its course along the river Conon, although care should be taken during the shooting season.

Inverness itself has several places worth visiting. These include Eden Court - an arts centre with a theatre, cinema and bar. Eden Court also hosts Under Canvas, an outdoor festival in July and August each year. The Ness Islands are scenic tree-filled natural islands that sit in the middle of the River Ness, connected from the river banks by 19th century pedestrian suspension bridges. Horticultural enthusiasts may enjoy the Inverness Botanic Gardens, the UK’s most northerly Botanic Gardens. In each new season the gardens are an explosion of colour and texture, with borders planted to demonstrate a wide variety of plants and growing conditions. 

Clear directions

The Inverness Museum and Art Gallery has permanent galleries, celebrating Highland life and heritage, and changing temporary exhibitions. There is also a small shop and café. Close by, the Inverness Print Studio sells a small and changing range of artworks from local printmakers as well as offering printmaking classes and workshops. Leakey’s Bookshop is the largest second-hand bookshop in Scotland, set over two floors with a fireplace in the middle. 

At RSPB Corrimony in Beauly you can see black grouse and Scottish crossbills. Three miles east of Inverness is Culloden Battlefield and Visitor Centre, where the last hand-to-hand battle on British soil was fought, changing the way of life of the Highlands and Islands forever. 

Essential info
What you need to know about this building
  • No.
  • The property is accessed through a working farm via a single track lane.
  • Inverness railway station is 19 miles from Fairburn Tower here you can get a connection to Garve railway station, 10 miles north west of Fairburn Tower, or Muir of Ord railway station which is 6 miles south east of Fairburn Tower.
  • Yes, there are two spaces by to the wooden out-house next to the tower.
  • The property is heated by electric radiators and a stove.
  • Details will be sent with your booking confirmation.
  • The kitchen is fully equipped with all plates, cutlery, fridge with freezer compartment and microwave.
  • There is one bathroom and one shower room.  These are on the third and fourth floors along with the bedrooms.
  • Yes, there are steep spiral stairs.
  • Yes, although the ceilings are high, the doorways throughout the property have low headroom.
  • Yes.
  • To check up-to-date mobile network coverage in the area, visit signalchecker.co.uk.* Due to the location and structure of our buildings, signal strength may differ to those indicated by signalchecker.co.uk.

    *Links to other sites are provided for information purposes only. We do not endorse any such website and we are not responsible for the information, material, products or services contained on or accessible through those websites. Your access and use of such websites remains solely at your own risk. For further information, visit out website terms of use
  • No. At the moment, we have decided not to implement Wi-Fi in our buildings following a consultation with our customers. Many said that they would find it useful, but many also felt that it would somehow damage the experience of staying in a Landmark. As the responses were so split, and as we have so many other initiatives requiring funding, we have decided to put this on hold for the time being.
    Except at Llwyn Celyn Bunk House where a password is available in the property when you arrive.
  • Fairburn Tower sits next to a working farm.
  • There is a pay as you go Type 2 Electric Vehicle charge point, delivering a 7.2kW charge, at the property.  This is managed with a QR code though the Monta app that is available through your app store.
Booking and Payment
  • If the weather is bad, please contact our booking office who will be able to tell you whether the Landmark is accessible. If the housekeeper can safely get to the building to prepare it then we consider that it is open and available for guests. However if we cannot undertake a changeover then we will do our utmost to transfer your stay to another Landmark, depending on what we have available. It may not be of a similar size or in the same part of the country as your original booking. If the building is accessible but the customer cannot travel due to poor weather in his/her local area then please be aware that Landmark will not provide a refund. However the customer may be able to claim on his/her own travel insurance. We recommend that all guests take out travel insurance when they first secure a booking.
  • We accept Maestro (if issued in the UK), Visa, MasterCard, direct transfer and sterling cheques drawn on a UK bank. Cheques should be made payable to the Landmark Trust except for Lundy stays and boat/helicopter tickets which should be payable to The Lundy Company Ltd. All payments must be in sterling.
  • The key arrangements will be included in the Further Infomation document which will be sent to you prior to your stay.
  • If your stay starts more than two months from the date you make the booking, you are required to pay a deposit of one third of the cost of your stay (or £100 per booking, if greater) at the time of booking. Camping on Lundy and The Bunk House at Llwyn Celyn must be paid for in full at the time of booking.
  • If you wish to cancel or change your booking, please contact our Booking Office on 01628 825925
  • At the moment we only accept payment in sterling.
  • Our housekeeper will leave the key in a suitable place, the details of which will be sent to you prior to your stay.
  • It depends. Some of our most popular Landmarks are booked up a long time in advance, but many can be booked at short notice. We will always have Landmarks free for the coming weekend so it’s always worth checking our availability list.
  • No, Landmarks are available to be booked for anyone.
  • No, all the information you need can be found on our website, although we’d like you to buy one anyway as it will be a pleasure to own!
Staying at a Landmark
  • Some of our Landmarks are suitable for people with disabilities or limited mobility. However, many Landmarks have steep or narrow staircases, uneven floors and thresholds, changes of level, low ceilings or beams, as well as indistinct colours on steps and in corridors. We recommend that you call Booking Enquiries on 01628 825925 if you would like to find out the suitability of a particular Landmark for anyone with a specific disability.  Further information on access when visiting Lundy can also be found here.
  • Yes, Landmarks are only available as self-catering accommodation. We do not offer bed and breakfast.
  • Landmark does not provide catering, but we can recommend Greycoat Lumleys who can arrange for expert and well-trained staff to cater for one evening or for your entire holiday. Their cooks and chefs are able to work with you to meet your specific requirements
  • You may bring up to two dogs to properties where dogs are allowed (please see specific property details for exemptions however dogs are not permitted on Lundy except assistance dogs). They must be kept off the furniture and under proper control. A charge of £20 per stay is made for each dog. Please contact booking enquiries if a registered assistance dog is supporting one of the guests, for which there is no charge.
  • Apart from two dogs (see above) no other pets are permitted.
  • Arrival is from 4pm and departure is by 10am.
  • We do not carry insurance for breakages. However we appreciate that accidents do sometimes happen. If you have a breakage during your stay, please let the housekeeper know and if appropriate we reserve the right to invoice you accordingly.
  • Yes, most of our Landmarks are perfect for children, with gardens to play in and secret places to discover. Our furniture is surprisingly robust and we positively encourage families to stay. However, some of our buildings may not be suitable for small children; for example, some of them have steep or uneven spiral staircases. We recommend that you call the Booking Enquiries team if you would like to find out the suitability of any of our Landmarks for young children.
  • Unfortunately, most of our Landmarks are not licensed for weddings. However, you may get married on Lundy.
  • All our larger Landmarks are perfect for gatherings of family or friends. You may invite an additional two guests to visit you during your stay, however they must not stay overnight. This is very important because our fire regulations specifically note the maximum number of people in any one building. In addition our properties are prepared, furnished and equipped for the number of people specified and greater numbers cause damage and excessive wear and tear to vulnerable buildings. Should this condition be ignored we shall make a retrospective charge per person per day (whether or not they stay overnight) for each guest over the permitted limit, the charge being pro-rated on the total cost of your booking.
  • We deliberately do not provide televisions and find that most people appreciate this.
  • One of the challenges of restoring unloved buildings is gaining access to them. We frequently have to negotiate rights with our neighbours and share tracks with them. In many cases tracks do not belong to us and we have no right to maintain them. Wherever possible we work with our neighbours to provide you with a good quality surface, but where this is a problem then you will be warned at the time of booking.
  • Yes, we have standard electricity sockets for UK appliances. If you are coming from outside the UK, you will need to bring your own adaptor plug(s). If you are visiting one of our European properties we have standard European electricity sockets. If you are visiting from the UK, you will need to bring your own adapter plug (s).
  • Landmark’s electrical systems have not been designed to provide continuous power from one socket over several hours.  If an ordinary socket is used to charge an electric vehicle, there is significant risk of an electrical fire and consequent danger to life.  Therefore, we are unable to allow electric vehicle charging from most of our Landmarks at present.

    We are working to provide Type 2 Electric Vehicle charge points at our properties where there is private parking.  Where this is available, please request this facility when booking the property to ensure the outlet is enabled on your arrival.  There is a small charge to cover the cost of electricity provided.  Please book this facility in advance.
  • No, we do not allow smoking in any Landmark.
Facilities
  • Sometimes our kitchens and bathrooms have to be imaginatively fitted into the available space in buildings where before there were none, but they are all planned and equipped to a high and modern standard.
  • Yes, Landmarks are fully equipped with sheets and towels. All the beds are fully made up for your arrival. Except for the Llwyn Celyn Bunkhouse.
  • Yes, our kitchens are well equipped with cookers and fridges. There are freezers and dishwashers (in larger buildings) and, where space allows, microwaves as well as a wide and standard range of utensils. A full equipment list is available at time of booking.
  • Logs are provided at many of our Landmarks for an additional cost.
  • Mobile coverage varies. Some Landmarks have an excellent signal, but others have none at all. If you are concerned, you can check with the housekeeper before your arrival.
  • No. At the moment, we have decided not to implement Wi-Fi in our buildings following a consultation with our customers. Many said that they would find it useful, but many also felt that it would somehow damage the experience of staying in a Landmark. As the responses were so split, and as we have so many other initiatives requiring funding, we have decided to put this on hold for the time being.
    Except at Llwyn Celyn Bunk House where a password is available in the property when you arrive.
  • A welcome tray with tea and sugar awaits your arrival and you will find a pint of milk in the fridge. We also provide toilet rolls and a bar of soap per basin, but no other toiletries. Hairdryers are provided.
History

A rich history

James V inherited the Scottish throne as a baby in 1513; as an adult he married two glamorous French princesses, Madeleine de Valois and Mary of Guise. Under their influence, and as we see at Stirling Castle, the Renaissance came to the Scottish Highlands.

Yet the times were still lawless, and the pleasures of civilisation had to be combined with robust defence. Fairburn Tower was built by Murdo Mackenzie one of James’s favourites, ‘a graceful Youth’ chosen as one of his Gentlemen of the Bedchamber. Murdo received a crown grant of lands at ‘Mydefairbrune’ in 1542, on condition that he build a house with suitable orchards and gardens.

Built for defence

As first built, the tower had just four floors. The lawlessness of clan rivalries meant the external door was at first floor level, with internal stairs to a vaulted basement with gun ports. More gunholes were peppered across the stairs and upper floors. A turnpike stair within the width of the walls led to the upper floors. Archaeology has revealed that there was a cobbled courtyard around the tower, with the footings of bothies and byres, probably built against a surrounding wall.

The family prospered and in the early 17th-century, a fine stair tower was added and a usable extra storey behind the roof parapet. The two characterful bartizans (round roof turrets) may date from this or the earlier period.

But the Mackenzies backed James Stuart, the Old Pretender, when he raised the standard of Jacobite rebellion in 1715. Disgrace followed defeat, and Roderick Mackenzie sued General Wade for royal pardon in 1724. The tower was repaired. In these years too, there were no doubt other buildings and structures around the tower, as well as an adjoining dining hall, added in the mid-18th century.

Laird Alexander Mackenzie was more cautious when Bonnie Prince Charlie invaded anew under the Jacobite flag in 1745, declining a captaincy for King George because 'a Grasier or Farmer is all I pretend to'. By now the estate was in decline. The dining hall became crofters cottages and the tower was eventually left deserted and falling into ruin. Left open to straying cattle, some say the prophecy of the legendary Brahan Seer came true, that 'The day will come when the Mackenzies of Fairburn shall lose their entire possessions; their castle will become uninhabited, and a cow shall give birth to a calf in the uppermost chamber of the tower'.

In the 19th century, the Fairburn estate passed through the hands of various absentee landlords. The cottages adjoining the tower were lived in until the 1950s, but by 1910 an Inland Revenue Survey reported simply: 'Old Tower ruinous and of no commercial value'. Cracks opened in its walls like gaping wounds and its floors fell in. Yet even in that state, it was still recognisable as a fine and relatively well-preserved and unaltered tower residence of the Scottish Renaissance, capturing the duality of that period in both its gun-ports and in the quality and detail of its accommodation.

As an expert in Scottish tower houses put it to us at the time, ruinous Fairburn Tower was a prime example of a little altered Renaissance tower, and 'just waiting to be asked to dance'. We stepped in just in time.

For a short history of Fairburn Tower please click here.

To read the full history album for Fairburn Tower please click here.

To download the children's Explorer pack for Fairburn Tower please click here.

Restoration

Scaffolding, cobbles and a global health pandemic

Work began on Fairburn Tower in January 2020. The first step was to scaffold the fragile tower, to prevent any further movement while plans were finalised. The scaffold took more than three months to erect, often in wintry conditions, to create a complex structure laced around the building. This held the crumbling historic masonry securely in place, especially important for the stair tower which was starting to detach.

While prospecting for scaffold footings, an extensive area of cobbles was discovered beneath the turf. This was uncovered and recorded by archaeologist Tom Addyman and his team, and the outline emerged of other lost structures, including the castle garth (or yard) and a possible gateway. An area of these cobbles now lies exposed, the others left in situ beneath the turf.

In late March 2020, just as the scaffolding neared completion, the Coronavirus pandemic hit and all construction stopped in Scotland. During these summer months, a barn owl and her chicks nested in the building, with equivalent implications for the project. All work at Fairburn had to stop for six months, resuming only in late October.

High-level archaeology and masonry

With the return to work – all aspects of the programme rescheduled, Covid-secure procedures in place – and with scaffolding complete, in autumn 2020 we were able to inspect and record the tower fully for the first time. This close inspection enabled detailed planning for masonry repairs, and our contractor’s skilled masons worked throughout the winter and spring of 2021 to secure and rebuild the tower. Algae was cleaned off stonework before the cracks were consolidated and repaired. New stone was introduced where necessary and a great deal of re-pointing with hot lime mortar was undertaken, protecting areas of progress with hessian during the harshest weather.

A new roof, staircase and windows

Through summer 2021, the joiners moved on site, introducing floors and roof timbers. Fairburn’s historic bartizans were reinstated, gutters fitted and slates laid. Through the second winter, specialist crafstmen used timber formwork and special concrete mixes to reintroduce a spiral staircase, created step by step in situ, stitching the historic stair tower back together. The result is a work of art in itself.

During 2022, traditional shutterboard windows were crafted and carefully installed. Harling and plastering was applied, electrics fixed and bathrooms and a kitchen introduced, the latter by Landmark’s own joinery team.

A Painted Ceiling

Although a defensive structure, it was clear even in dereliction that Fairburn had once been a high status building. There was a strong hierarchy to its storeys, and the openings and niches in the walls spoke of cupboards and strong rooms, perhaps even a private oratory on the fourth floor. This was an age when wealthy Scots decorated their ceilings with emblematic figures, symbols and texts. Given his career at court, it seems most likely that Murdo too would have commissioned a travelling painter and stainer to decorate his home, someone like John Melville, whose wonderful 1592 ceilings survive at Delgatie Castle in Aberdeenshire. In the third floor sitting room, we have commissioned our own painted ceiling from artist Paul Mowbray, based on The Rohaise Room at Delgatie. Its motifs are mostly 16th-century, but we added a few motifs of our own to represent the story of Landmark’s restoration.

Read more about recreating a 16th-century painted ceiling as Landmark’s Historian, Caroline Stanford explains the creative process in her blog.

People behind the project

Many historic building experts helped in the restoration of Fairburn Tower. They include project architect Julie Barklie, Eleanor Egan and John Sanders, all of Simpson & Brown; archaeologists Tom Addyman, Liz Jones, and Kenny MacFadyen; quantity surveyor Angus Simpson of Ralph Ogg and Partners; structural engineers Steve Wood and Ross Livingstone of David Narro Associates; service engineers Stuart MacPherson and Finlay Ross of Irons Foulner Consulting Engineers. We’re particularly pleased that our contractors Laing Traditional Masonry (LTM) employed apprentices onsite, guided by site foreman Andy Taylor and all overseen by managing director Steven Laing.

2021 restoration update and 2022 completion

Halfway through the project, Senior Regional Surveyor, Linda Lockett provided an update on the work happening at Fairburn Tower and virtual tour. Following Fairburn Tower's magnificent restoration being completed at the end of 2022, read Landmark's Director, Dr Anna Keay's, blog as she reflects on the very first visit to a crumbling Fairburn in ruin.

 

With thanks

We are hugely grateful to the 1671 supporters who gave so generously to make the restoration of Fairburn Tower possible. 

Guardians of Fairburn Tower and other lead supporters:

Mr J Blaikie, Dr J and Mrs J Bull, Dr N and Mrs F Campbell, The Hon. Elizabeth Cayzer, Mrs E Colam, Mr B Foord, Mr C Giles, Mr R Grigson and Mr A Layng, the late Sir Angus Grossart CBE, Dame Pippa Harris and Mr R McBrien, Mr H and Mrs S Leishman, Mr J B Macintyre, Mr A Murray-Jones, Mr D Milles, Mr G Neame OBE DL, Dr A Pym, Mr M and Mrs C Seale, Mr B Sealey CBE and the late Mrs H Sealey, Lady Stirling, Mrs M Stirling, The Hon. Tobias Tennant, Sir Samuel Whitbread CBE and Lady Whitbread

Patrons and other generous individuals:

Mr S Ansell, Mr R Baker, Dr J Barney, Mr M Bennett, Ms M Chisholm, Mr P Corey, Miss S Curry, Mr A Baker and Ms S Darling, Mr J Darycott, Ms K Davies, Mr A Dean, Ms K Edwards, Mr A Fraser, Mr D Giles, Ms F Grimshaw, Mr D Holberton, Mr G and Mrs A Kingston, Mrs M Jones, Mr J and Mrs J Kinross, Mrs S Liquorish, Mrs S Lund, Mr J MacIntyre, John Mackenzie of Gairloch, Mr J Miller CBE, Mrs D Mitchard, Mr E Saunders, Dr P Strangeway, Mrs S Wiggert, Mrs S Wrangham 

Trusts and Foundations:

The Aall Foundation, H B Allen Charitable Trust, The Architectural Heritage Fund, Bartleet Family Fund, The Binks Trust, T B H Brunner Charitable Trust, The Leslie Mary Carter Charitable Trust, The Cinven Foundation, The Countess of Dunmore’s Charitable Trust, The George C Gibson Charitable Trust, The Gough Charitable Trust, Historic Environment Scotland, Michael Marks Charitable Trust, The John R Murray Charitable Trust, The Orrin Charitable Trust, Thomas Rawcliffe Charitable Trust, The Rockcliffe Charitable Trust, RV and RH Simons Charitable Trust, Tulip Charitable Trust, Viewforth Trust, Garfield Weston Foundation

Gifts in Wills and in memory:

The late Mr M Braine, the late Miss J Fry, the late Mr W Galleway, the late Mr I Glover, the late Reverend Grover, the late Mr D Lawrence, the late Mr J Owen and the late Mr A Peacock

A gift from the Will of the late Mr D Lawrence included provision for the folding footpath map and framed map of the area surrounding Fairburn Tower

Dr R and Mrs E Jurd made a donation towards the cost of the Landmark books

We thank everyone who supported the appeal, including those who have chosen to remain anonymous.

 

Michael Marks Charitable Trust

Availability & booking

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What's a changeover day? and Why can't I select other dates?Explain MoreQuestion

A changeover day is a particular day of the week when holidays start and end at our properties. These tend to be on a Friday or a Monday but can sometimes vary. All stays run from one changeover day until another changeover day.