Sunday, 30 September 2012
Above the roadside hedgerow had appeared the top of a tall single crowstep gable which adjoined an almost-complete four-storey wall. A tree was growing in the space which had obviously been occupied by whatever had been between this wall and gable and its now absent counterparts. In the prevailing light of that evening, the sight was spectacular. I asked my companion what this building had been, and exposed a gap in her hitherto comprehensive knowledge of the area. I was determined that, on my return to Shetland, I would find out what I could about this magnificent ruin.
The OS map of the area revealed it to be Conzie Castle. Further online investigation led me to the fact that it had also been known as Bognie House, and it had been built, around 1670, by one George Morison, who had acquired much of the land in this area, through forfeiture, from Viscount Frendraught, who had taken the losing Royalist side, alongside the Marquis of Montrose, in the Scottish episodes of the Civil war of the mid-17th century. According to the Canmore site record, the building is "a tall four storey rectangular un-vaulted palatial structure, with crowstep gables and the remains of corner turrets". An ambitious project, then, but now it's a ruin, standing in a field, without even a footpath leading to it, as far as I can see.
Why Morison built Conzie/Bognie Castle is unclear, but it seems that it was never lived in. There had been an earlier, equally imposing building (Pennyburn) to the east of Conzie, as a map of 1776 shows two mansions on the Bognie estate. The ruins of a "dookit" also stand quite near to the east of Conzie, although no trace remains of Pennyburn, apart from the stream which gave the building its name.
Later that summer, I returned to Banff, where I had been staying when I discovered Conzie, to take down my paintings exhibition at Duff House. The setting up of this display had earlier led me to this car journey down the A97. My brother was helping me with the transport of the pictures, and he agreed to my suggestion of a run down to Huntly for our lunch, so that I could get another look at Conzie. On this occasion, however, the weather was not so kind. It had rained for about 24 hours (and most of the intervening summer apparently!), and this had just cleared when we reached the castle ruin. It was difficult to find a place to stop on this fast section of roadway, and, when we did, I got a few photographs of the grey sodden-looking scene, in which the rosebay willowherb seemed to be the only thing thriving in the conditions. Everything else looked defeated and depressed somehow.
So what you see above is my attempt to re-create a moment in time, a fleeting glimpse of a spectacular ruin on a June evening more than three years ago. It has taken me four months of intermittent effort to get close to that, and this is all that we poor artists can do. This is the third of the must-paint scenes which stem from the journey of that magical evening, the others being Fordyce and Boyndie Bay. Enjoy!