The Thanes of Calder
Before the modern era, in which the development and management of the Estate became a team activity, the history of Cawdor was essentially the tale of the ‘Thanes of Cawdor’.
The title ‘Thane of Calder’ (as they were previously called) dates back beyond the 11th Century. The real Macbeth was Thane of Calder before defeating King Duncan in 1040 and assuming the crown of Alba. The title was then passed to his brother, from whom the later Calders were all descended.
During the 12th Century the Thanes of Cawdor were important Celtic lords with jurisdiction over the county of Nairnshire (now part of Inverness-shire). They began construction of Cawdor Castle in 1375 and its great central keep was completed around 1396. Further fortifications were added in the following century, with additions from the 17th Century built in the classic Scottish baronial style. The Cawdor Castle one sees today looks much as it did in the 1800s.
Much of this construction work was carried out under the tutelage of the powerful Clan Campbell, who assumed control of Calder in the 15th Century when the Earl of Argyll had the child heiress, Muriella Calder, kidnapped and married to his son, Sir John Campbell.
The Campbells continued to use the title ‘Thane of Calder’ until the 18th century, when it became ‘Lord Calder’ and then, in 1829, ‘Earl of Calder’. In the early 19th Century the then Earl, residing in England at the time, changed the name of the castle, village and clan overnight, in order to match the Shakespearean designation of ‘Cawdor’, as referred to in Macbeth. Thus were born the real 'Thanes of Cawdor', half a millennium behind their dramatic counterparts.
Cawdor Estate offers a gateway to over three thousand years of Highland history.
Nearby are the stones and Cairns of Clava, which date from 1500 BC. Traces of the first Pictish settlers can be found in the standing stones and cairn-circles at Auldearn, Balinrait and Wester Urchany. Above the city of Inverness lies Craig Phadrig, once the stronghold of Pictish kings, whilst at Forres stands Sueno’s Stone, one of the best-preserved Pictish relics in the Scottish Highlands.
Two famous battles took place nearby: The 'Covenanters Revolt' of 1645 was ended by the Earl of Montrose's Royalist forces at the Battle of Auldearn. Suffering a similar fate, the Jacobite Rebellion under Bonnie Prince Charlie was finally subdued in April 1745 at the Battle of Culloden; the last pitched battle to be fought on British soil.
The ecclesiastical history of the Highlands is well represented, too; Inverness, Nairn and Forres all have well-preserved examples of churches dating from both before and after the Scottish Reformation of the 1680s.
Evidence of the Highland’s agricultural and industrial heritage is all around us. A fine example of an 'Icehouse', of the type once common across the coastlines of Scotland and Scandinavia, can be found at Findhorn, along with a Heritage Centre which explains its importance in preserving the catches of the local salmon trade. The long history of the whisky industry, for which Speyside is rightly famous, is almost unavoidable. Many of the well-known distilleries, such as Glenfiddich, Cardhu and Macallan, have visitors’ centres where one can discover how distilling methods of the past have informed modern-day practices. They also offer tours where one can take ‘a nosing’ and sample the unique flavours and aromas of their individual malts.
Last but not least, two heritage railway lines run through this part of the Highlands. The Strathspey Railway, with its beautifully-preserved steam locomotives, runs nine-and-a-half miles of the old Highland Railway route from Aviemore to Inverness. The Keith and Dufftown Railway, also known as ‘The Whisky Line’, covers eleven miles of the former Great North of Scotland's circuitous route from Keith to Elgin.