Monday, 11 July 2011

Ruthven Barracks, Kingussie

As you head along the A9 through Badenoch you see some pretty spectacular scenery. If you look east just as it sweeps past Kingussie there is a prominent feature which stands out in the flat flood plain of the River Spey.

Sitting on top of a motte partly formed by glaciers in the ice age and improved over the years by human hands, are two roofless stone buildings. This is all that remains of Ruthven Barracks.

In 1719 the government planned four barracks across the Highlands to help them police the straths and glens. The steep hill outside Kingussie was an obvious choice for one of the barracks. Nature had already provided a strong defensive position overlooking a ford across the River Spey, and local chieftains across the centuries had built their castles on it. The Wolf of Badenoch, Alexander Stewart, was occupying it in 1370s but a castle had been recorded there as early as 1229. In 1459 another castle replaced one destroyed in 1451. This in turn was destroyed in the seventeenth century as the civil wars and the first Jacobite rebellion passed this strategic position.

Thirty years later British Army engineers improved what nature and the Badenoch lairds had given them. They cleared the old castles away, flattened the top, and built Ruthven Barracks on top of steep escarpments.
This wasn't a fort with ramparts and ditches; it was a barracks with thick walls. It was built to house the soldiers used to patrol the Highlands. It was there to keep the peace after the Jacobite risings of 1715 and 1719. The barracks weren't designed to hold out against a regular army in the field with artillery and siege weapons; this was a building designed to hold off armed gangs of well armed highlanders. It did it rather well too. In September 1745 Sergeant Malloy and eleven men of Guise's 6th Foot held off 200 Jacobites. Sergeant Malloy was so successful he only lost one man who was stupid enough to raise his head above the parapet before the Jacobites gave up and marched south.

The Barracks were not so lucky five months later. This time the Jacobites returned with artillery. The defenders of Ruthven Barracks now led by the newly promoted Lieutenant Malloy were no fools and surrendered their now undefendable position.

The Jacobites replaced the redcoats as a garrison and patrolled the glens south of Kingussie to stop Government troops at Perth marching north. In the two days after the Battle of Culloden a large number of the Highland Army which had retreated south through Daviot and Moy assembled at Ruthven with the men defending it. On 18th April 1746 the Highland Army disbanded and in a final act of defiance they burnt the barracks.

After the Jacobite defeat and pacification there was no need to rebuild Ruthven Barracks. There was no need to demolish them either so the ruins still stand overlooking Strathspey

The Barracks are now in the hands of Historic Scotland. They are open for free, and on a sunny Sunday afternoon in July it's a very nice place to visit. I don't think the men who garrisoned in winter may have enjoyed it as much though!

There are two buildings; the barracks built in 1719 - 1721 to house up to 120 men, and the stables built in 1734. The stables were built for the mounted dragoons who patrolled along three military roads built by General Wade  in the 1720s and 1730s which converged at Ruthven. Even the stables were fortified and there are loop holes all around the walls.

When leaving the barracks from the postern gate to look at the stables, it is worth going to the edge to see just how steep the escarpments are.

When I visited recently there was renovation work being done on one of the barrack blocks. The whole site is in very good condition for a 260 year old shell, and there are two useful information boards. One in the barracks and one at the car park.

There are more photographs on our facebook page. If you can't visit it in person you'll hopefully be able to get a feel for the place from the album.

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