Clan Leslie itinerary

The Leslie clan has a long and noble history. Bartholomew (or Bartolf), a Hungarian nobleman, came to Scotland in 1067 and was the founder of this great Scottish family. They became the Earls of Rothes and Leven and created baronies of Ballinbreich in Fife and Balquhain in Aberdeenshire. They held high positions in the government of Scotland and later played important roles in the battlegrounds of both Scotland and Europe.

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  • The ruins of Arbroath Abbey
    Arbroath Abbey
  • The woodlands of the Blair Atholl estate
    The woodlands of the Blair Atholl estate
  • Edinburgh Castle
    Edinburgh Castle
  • A view from within the walls of Stirling Castle, palace of Mary Queen of Scots, Stirling
    Stirling Castle

This itinerary takes you from the royal castles of Edinburgh and Stirling to the ancestral lands in Fife and north into the Scottish Highlands to the ancestral lands in Aberdeenshire. It will highlight just a few of the stories and places where Clan Leslie chiefs and their descendants have left their mark.

A magnificent mansion was built by the Leslie family in Leslie, Fife, based on the style and grandeur of Holyrood, but unfortunately the Palace of Leslie burnt down on Christmas day in 1763. You can still visit the Palace of Holyroodhouse at the end of Edinburgh's historic Royal Mile to get an idea of what the Leslie palace may have looked like.

At the other end of the Royal Mile is Edinburgh Castle. Bartholomew, a Hungarian nobleman, was appointed Governor of Edinburgh Castle by King Malcolm Canmore III with whom he had found great favour. In 1070 he was married to the King's sister Beatrix, and it was their descendants who founded the Leslie clan.

Travel north west to the historic city of Stirling. The impressive Stirling Castle towers above the river and medieval bridge. In the early 18th century the ninth Earl of Rothes was Vice Admiral of Scotland and also Governor of Stirling Castle.

Whilst in Stirling take the opportunity to visit the very poignant site of the Battle of Bannockburn which took place in 1314. Robert the Bruce declared himself King of Scotland in 1306 and began a long and arduous campaign to secure his title, finally achieving success at this battle. Sir Norman Leslie sat in Robert the Bruce's parliament in 1314.

King Malcolm Canmore III granted estates in Fife and Angus to his favoured Bartholomew. Make your way north east to Leslie. Originally called Fythkill, these lands were acquired by Bartholomew's great-grandson, Sir Norman Lesley, and later in 1396 the Barony of Fythkill was granted to Sir George Leslie for an annual rent of a pair of gloves.

At some point the name Fythkill was changed to Leslie. Here you will find the remains of the Palace of Leslie. The least damaged wing from the fire in 1763 was rebuilt in 1767 and this building, Leslie House, was the seat of the Earls of Rothes until 1919. It now belongs to the Church of Scotland and is a retirement home.

Further east is Balgonie Castle, now privately owned, which was built by Sir Thomas Sibbald of Balgonie, Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, in the 14th century. It is one of the finest tower houses in Scotland with crenulated battlement and corbie stepped gables. Sir Alexander Leslie purchased the castle in 1635 and in 1641 he was created Earl of Leven and Lord Balgonie. He was also Field Marshall to the Swedish Crown, serving for the first 20 years of the Thirty Years War. On his return to Scotland, Leslie was appointed Lord General of the Scottish Army of the Covenant during the English Civil War.

Travel north to Abernethy, where you’ll find the baronial lands of Ballinbreich. Ruins of the castle can be seen on the shore of the Firth of Tay on private land. George Leslie, a Lord of Parliament, Lord Leslie of Leven in 1445, united all his lands into the barony of Ballinbreich.

On your way you can visit the seat of the Dukes and Earls of Atholl, Blair Castle. It is set in majestic grounds in the heart of highland Perthshire. It has extensive collections of arms and armour, pictures, furniture, porcelain, embroidery and family memorabilia and although a private home is open to the public. In the early 17th century George Leslie of Balgonie was Captain of Blair Castle. Many of the Leslie clan became soldiers serving in many European countries in this period.

Make your way to Arbroath. In 1320 at Arbroath Abbey the Abbot drafted a formal document to Pope John XXII asking him to pressurise Edward II to recognise Robert as King of Scotland. The Declaration was signed by 39 Scots lords including Sir Norman's son, Sir Andrew Leslie. Arbroath Abbey has a visitor centre where you can find out more about the most famous document in Scottish history.

Travel along the scenic coastal road to Aberdeenshire. Bartholomew first established himself in the Garioch district of Aberdeenshire and his descendants settled in many of the villages and hamlets in the area. Head towards Inverurie, and Kemnay where you will find Fetternear House. The area to the north is Balquhain, and the Leslie family here became the Barons of Balquhain. The Bishop of Aberdeen leased this house and other properties to the 8th Baron, John Leslie. Later in 1556 the buildings and lands were given to John's son William. William was the Sheriff of Aberdeen and had protected Aberdeen cathedral from the "Reformers" attacks. Then the house became the chief residence of the Lords of Balquhain. Unfortunately it was destroyed in a fire in the 1920s but is now the subject of an archaeological investigation and may be restored.

A few miles to the north is Chapel of Garioch. Nearby is a megalithic stone circle and half a mile south-east of the parish church lie the ruins of Balquhain Castle. The Leslies occupied the castle from 1340. It was visited by Queen Mary in 1562 but was burned down by the Duke of Cumberland in 1746.

Just north is Pitcaple, where the Leslies lived in Pitcaple Castle for 300 years until 1757. It is set in park and woodland and is privately owned, but welcomes guests wishing to experience life in an ancient Scottish castle.

West from here is Insch, the site of Leslie Castle. A great castle stronghold was built here by the Leslies who lived there until 1620. It was then rebuilt in the mid 1600s. Recently it has been restored and is in private use. The village of Leslie is 2 miles to the south west. Originally the place was known as Lesselyn and this evolved into Lesley, giving the clan its name.

Now make your way to Rothes, 10 miles south of Elgin. Only a high stone wall remains of the castle built here in the 14th century by the Leslie family. The Earls of Rothes lived here until the 1700s when they moved to Fife.