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Cairnborrow

Cairnborrow today is a name given to a group of properties on either side of the A920 west of Huntly, which was originally centred on the Mains of Cairnborrow, today a farm which is on a site of strategic value, but not strongly defensive.

In the traditional genealogies the earliest known Gordon of Cairnborrow was James Gordon, a son of one of the first two Gordons of Auchleuchries, both called John, but accounts differ as to which one. The second laird of Cairnborrow was James' son George who died at Pinkie in 1547. The third laird was his son John, who married Elizabeth Gordon of Buckie. The fourth laird was his son John, who married (i) Elizabeth Bannerman, and (ii) Helen Carnegie in 1590 or thereabouts. Both John and his father fought at Glenlivet for the Earl of Huntly. The fifth laird was his son William, who bore as his primary designation Gordon of Rothiemay, and was killed in January 1630. The sixth laird was his son John of Rothiemay who was burned at Frendraught in October 1630. The seventh laird was John’s younger brother James. The eighth laird was James' son John. The ninth laird was John's son Peter, who was considered to be feeble minded and had no children. At the death of Peter in 1685 or thereabouts, Cairnborrow reverted to John Gordon, 3rd of Park, descended from Adam of Park, the younger son of the fourth laird of Cairnborrow. Thereafter Cairnborrow passed to James and William Gordon of Park; William rose in the '45 and died in France attainted. The estate then passed to the Duff Earl of Fife.

However, this traditional account has some holes in it. To begin with there is a reference to the excommunicate Alexander Gordon of Cairnborrow and his wife Jean/Helen Coutts in 1643, but there is no mention of any Alexander Gordon in the genealogy we know of. William Gordon of Rothiemay had a sister who married into the Coutts family, and it could be that Cairnborrow was granted to her as dowry, and that an Alexander Gordon of another line married a daughter of that marriage - but we do not know for certain. In the 1685 ratfication of John Gordon, 3rd of Park's estates, Cairnborrow is not mentioned, which confirms that in fact the Park branch never held the estate. Having said that, an Alexander Gordon would have been the uncle of John Gordon, 3rd of Park, so maybe he is the mysterious Alexander. If so, it is not clear what happened to Cairnborrow when he died; maybe it went to another junior branch, Gordon of Innermarkie & Edinglassie.

In Shaw's History of the Province of Moray is the following note "In the east end of the parish, and north side of the Deveron, east from the Church a mile, lies the ruinous House of Cairnborrow, formerly belonging to the Gordons of Cairnborrow." This would suggest that the House of Cairnborrow, possibly a tower house, was burned out in the aftermath of the '45 Jacobite Rising. It is certainly very likely that a single line of the "Scurdargue" Gordons, from whom sprang the very wealthy houses of Rothiemay and Park, who occupied a strategic estate along the Deveron so close to their chief at Huntly would have had a tower on their land. The 4th laird was in fact the builder of Glenbuchat Castle in Strathdon, so we could expect the tower house to have been a property of some distinction.

There are no remains of any castle or tower at Mains of Cairnborrow today, and the majority of the site is covered with prefab farm buildings. There is a small farm cottage but it is clearly modern.

Simon Forder, The Castle Guy

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