Fairburn Tower

This castle is in the Highland Council and the Urray Parish.
Listed Building record on the Portal.


Fairburn Tower is a mid-16th century tower-house, standing virtualy complete to the wall-head, high on a long ridge situated between the Rivers Conon and Orrin.

The tower is of two main phases. As originally built it was a tall, oblong tower of four stories and a garret. It was finished with crow-steps to the gables, with corbelled-out turrets on the north-east and south west angles which would have been conically roofed. Rather unusually for a tower of this date, the entrance was at first floor level, and the corbels which would have supported a timber fore-stair can still be identified.

At a later period, probably during the 17th-century, a small square projecting tower was added to the south side. This contained a broad circular stair providing more convenient access to the first-floor hall and second-floor chamber, with smaller chambers on its upper floors. The vaulted basement of the tower was not initially accessible from the exterior and was reached from a straight stair within the north wall. It has three deeply-splayed and prominent shot-holes in each wall.

The first-floor contained the hall and has several mural closets. A small circular stair in the north-east corner was the original access to the upper floors before the later stair tower was added. Each of the upper floors consists of one room of the same size as the hall, again with a number of wall-chambers. Attached to the east wall are the remains of a two-roomed cottage, which is shown as thatched in a photograph dating to 1879. The cottage contains a large arched fireplace with an oven, and appears to have been adapted from an earlier kitchen wing associated with the tower.


The tower dates to around the mid-sixteenth century, and was probably built for Murdo Mackenzie, after he had received a charter for the lands with the understanding that he build a house there. The famous Highland mystic, Kenneth Mackenzie, known as 'The Brahan Seer', prophesied about the Mackenzies of Fairburn and their tower 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.' The prophecy is said to have been fulfilled in 1851.


The tower is largely complete to the wall head and in reasonable condition, although there are some cracks in the stair tower.

Conservation Options

Due to its structurally complete condition, and taking account of the fact that it shares a number of characteristics with other towers, it would be possible to restore it without detracting from its significance. However, it should be noted that the tower is essentially little more than 5 chambers stacked upon each other, with a first floor entrance, and this might be regarded as rather inflexible for modern occupation. The attached cottage provides further scope for accommodation, although it should be noted that the cottage does not have direct access to the interior of the tower.


J Gifford, The Buildings of Scotland, Highlands and Islands, London, 1992 p 412

D. MacGibbon and T. Ross, The castellated and domestic architecture of Scotland, Edinburgh, vol. 3, 1887, pp 462-465

G Stell, 'Architecture and society in Easter Ross before 1707', in Firthlands of Ross and Sutherland, Edinburgh, 1986 pp 116-18 

N. Tranter, The fortified house in Scotland: South West Scotland, Edinburgh, vol. 5, 1970, pp 156-7