While looking for something to do one damp April weekend my wife and I stumbled across a little known but fascinating Victorian tower in the Aberdeenshire countryside, the Prop of Ysthie.
The tower is located about 3 kilometres west of Ellon, next to the village of Tarves. I believe it is part of the nearby Haddo Estate.
It was built in 1861/1862 to commemorate the life of the 4th Earl of Aberdeen, George Hamilton Gordon who had died the year previously. In a long and distinguished career as a diplomat and politician, he worked from the time of the Napoleonic War through to the 1850's. Among other accomplishments he negotiated important border treaties with the United States. The Earl was Prime Minister between 1852 and 1855 and reluctantly led Britain into the Crimean War against Russia during his time in office.
As a member of the nobility, the earl had substantial land holdings throughout Aberdeenshire and many tenants. It was the tenants who paid for the Prop of Ysthie by subscription after his death. The plaque above the door reads-
"TO GEORGE HAMILTON GORDON FOURTH EARL OF ABERDEEN BY HIS ATTACHED AND GRATEFUL TENANTRY HE WAS BORN AT EDINBURGH 28 JAN 1784 AND DIED AT LONDON 14 DEC 1860"
Some have wondered how voluntary the payments actually were and by inference whether the tenants were being exploited. As I found when investigating the Victorian Leslie family of Lickleyhead however, it might not be the case that many of the Earl's tenants were themselves poor crofter farmers. A large number of them were likely members of the gentry who in turn sub-let the land or employed the rural poor to work for them. Although there may have been some peer pressure therefore in stumping up the funds for the monument, it's equally possible that the tenants were showing their largesse in donating generously in the hope of favourable treatment from the new Earl in the years to come.
The walk up to the Prop of Ysthie is a decent hike, it's a good place to stretch your legs. You can park just off the road. Don't follow the sat nav too religiously at this point! There is a sign post that mentions parking on the B999 but the actual car park doesn't have a sign telling you that's what it is. From there the path winds slightly before starting up the hill. As you approach the tower you get a sense of its scale. As you can see in the photo the tower is square and imposing.
You can walk straight into the tower which I think is left permanently open and unattended. The interior of the tower is dark and cold, especially near the bottom. We didn't need to use a torch but others might prefer to bring one. Some people have complained about bird droppings inside, though I didn't find it too bad and it is unsurprising given the door is open. As quite a tall building you need strong legs to climb the steps and reach the top!
The view from the top of the tower is a good one and you can see much of the surrounding countryside. The village of Tarves and Haddo House are visible. We didn't choose the most pleasant of days to visit, but I'm sure if it were sunny it would be much nicer up there! Those worried about safety needn't worry too much. The walls are very thick and reasonably high, so little ones are in no danger of falling as long as you are sensible.
All in all I think the Prop of Ysthie is worth a visit, especially as it's free to enter. It's a good place for a walk that has nice views at the end.
See a 360 degree photo taken at the top of the Prop of Ysthie