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Castles of scotland


Castles of Scotland

I can't believe it's been 2 years since we moved to Bonnie Scotland, and it's high time to celebrate that with a second Scotland map. It has taken a lot of willpower to work on other maps in the interim.


The maps started as a way to find interesting areas to get out and see, and this does just that for me; hopefully, it will for you too. I am certainly at the age where my idea of a good day out is loading the family into the car and heading off to see a castle, picking up a magnet from the gift shop, and preferably eating something tasty (dadbods require maintenance, you think ALL THIS just happens, no no no, darling, this requires effort). Look, I'm nearly 40, and notions of being a rockstar have long since dissipated into healthier and more realistic goals; if I get to look at some cool old stuff and eat some chippies, I'm a pretty happy camper.


So let's have a look at some of the wonderful castles of Scotland. As usual, I will state that the following are simply little nuggets of information I find interesting. Writing the entire history of a castle as part of a blog is folly (unintentional castle pun?) and not the goal. If you want to know more about any of the castles, I am sure you can find a whole wide world of literature both online and in analogue.


If you would like to pick up a copy of this map or any of the others we have made they are available by clicking the button below. As always a massive thank you to everyone who supports the project.






Without further ado, the castles:



Ardvreck

Fairly little remains of Ardvreck, and due to its history, it is surprising that any does. It is a castle that swirls with rumors of treachery, bitter rivalries, and deals with the devil. It was both besieged and struck by lightning before health and safety officials weighed in and said, 'Yeah, this place isn't up to code.' Once the area around the castle contained mills, barns, and gardens, but all that remains today is a small part of the L-shaped tower.


The area around Ardvreck is said to be beautiful and atmospheric though, more sinisterly, it is also said to be haunted by a crying woman who wanders the loch's edge. The story goes that one of the chieftain's daughters offered to marry the devil to save the castle from destruction before drowning in the loch. In other versions, she was bartered to the devil by her father in exchange for his help to construct the castle. Realizing who her betrothed was, she threw herself into the loch and drowned. A watery end either way


Balmoral

It has to be one of the most famous castles in Scotland, where the Royals would take up their summer residence and get away from it all. I think it's telling that people with the means to be anywhere in the world would choose to spend the majority of their summers here. There's something special about Scotland in the summer; you want to be outdoors all the time. To throw out a tired cliche : "there's something special about the light". It lightens the heart, maybe because we've endured the brutal winter and are just getting over the disappointment of how spring didn't do much to ease the situation.


Balmoral Castle started life as a hunting lodge before having a tower house built by the Gordons. What we see today is more of a country manor, but it is a wonderful-looking thing, with gorgeous baronial architecture replete with towers and turrets galore.


Blair

Obligatory mentioning that Blair Castle is super important and all that, but really, my gosh, isn't it pretty! Blair Castle is stunning. Its surroundings are stunning. Its interior is stunning. Its collections are stunning. The 9-acre walled gardens are stunning. It is just simply... well, stunning. I think that would be most people's impression of Blair Castle; it is the castle equivalent of 'dressed to the nines.' It is also the only place in Europe with its own private army, which is mainly (wholly, I'd hope) ceremonial these days.


Brodrick

The Isle of Arran has a varied history, from the Gaels to Vikings, as well as being an important chapter in Robert the Bruce's story. There have been fortifications on the Brodrick (Broad Bay) site since the 5th century, but the castle you see today was largely extended and redesigned in 1844 in the Scottish Baronial style. It is the only island country park in Britain and was also featured on the Scottish £20 note.


Caerlaverock

“Mighty was Caerlaverock Castle. Siege it feared not.”


It probably should have though, to be fair. In its history, it was besieged several times and, during its siege by old Longshanks, we have one of the best documents of a siege - known as 'the Roll of Caerlaverock.' The document describes the two-day siege where 60 men tried to hold the castle against an army of over 3000, siege weaponry, and 80-100 knights (I've read varied amounts, still a lot of heraldry flapping around in the wind). Eventually, they were forced to submit.


The Roll claims, 'life and limb the good king spared, and gave each a garment new,' however, other sources claim the men were hung from the side of the castle. Knowing Edward's general MO of brutality and being an all-around massive horror show of a man, I know which I believe to be most likely. I don't think a man known as the 'Hammer of the Scots' was likely to say, 'good job lads, here's some new gear.'


Brutal history aside, Caerlaverock is an awe-inspiring castle. It has a uniquely triangular design, although there is another one in Pisa, Italy. The gatehouse is truly impressive, and it also has a moat and some wonderful stone carving on the interior. It is amazingly intact for a 13th-century castle that has endured such a violent history.


Due to its bloody history, it is said to have its own resident Red-cap. For those who don't follow our mythical beasts, a Red-cap is a type of murderous goblin found in border lore, known for soaking its hat in the blood of its victims. Gory history aside, or maybe because of it, Caerlaverock is a great place to visit and one of my favorite Scottish castles. They have many great events in the summer months.


Cawdor

"All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, Thane of Glamis!"

"All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor!"

"All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter!"


Cawdor Castle is linked to one of Shakespeare's most famous plays, 'Macbeth.' The only problem lies in the fact that the castle didn't exist for another four centuries after the eponymous king of the Scots, Macbethad mac Findláech.


Fortunately, a real Thane of Cawdor, William Calder, who built the castle, comes with a fun legend himself. It is said Cawdor Castle's location was chosen not for any logical strategic reason or its resources; this would be far too simple. No, this decision came from where all the most reliable and sensible ideas originate: a dream.


The Thane had a dream that told him to load a donkey with the gold required to build the new castle, and wherever it lay down to rest, that is where he should build it. Apparently, this is what happens when you have 14th-century 'screw you money'; you are wealthy enough to just strap gold to a beast of burden and say 'meh, let's see how this plays out.' I will not be selecting any real estate by slapping a bank card on a Chihuahua and developing wherever it lays down to lick its butt.


Fortunately, the donkey didn't just keel over at the end of the street or choose to call it a day in some boggy ditch somewhere, but rested in a nice place next to a holly tree. The castle was built around the holly tree, and though long dead, you can still see the remains of the tree within the castle.


Culzean

Though what we see of Culzean these days is largely an 18th century mansion, it was developed around an earlier 14th-century tower. It is one of Scotland's most visted castles and is eye catching in its bold design by famous architect Robert Adam. The castle was given to the National Trust with the exception of an apartment on the top floor which was to be gifted to Dwight Eisenhower, who stayed there 4 times, once whilst president of the USA.

Today Culzean is a vast estate, with gorgeous surroundings, collections and possibly the best playground I have ever seen.


Culzean castle has a couple of wonderful bits of folklore surrounding it too which makes it particularly interesting to us.


The first is a very common phantom piper motif. Culzean castle is built atop a cave network and one day, in a quest to find out where they lead, a piper was sent to wander them. As usual in these tales, the sound abruptly stops and now the site is haunted by a phantom piper, which I imagine is one of the more invasive types of haunting when you're trying to kick back and watch some telly.


The second tale tells of some fairy lore at Culzean. The laird was walking the grounds when a young boy appeared with an empty wooden mug requesting some ale to help his sick mother. Being a kind chap he sent him to find his chief servant to fill his cup from his private reserve. The young lad found the servant, who begrudgingly obliged his laird's wishes.


As the ale flowed, the cup never seemed to fill, the keg ran empty and still the cup remained dry. The servant said he would not pour another drop, he recognised Fairy magic when he saw it. The laird turned up and said a promise is a promise, a single drop from the freshly tapped keg was all it took for the cup to fill.


Years later, the Laird was away fighting a war when he was captured and tied up in a dungeon awaiting execution. Who should turn up but the young lad, not aged a day. He ordered the laird to climb on his back, and flew him home to Culzean castle. Confused, the laird asked why he had done this, the lad said simply that one good turn deserves another.


Oh, and I should mention, Culzean was also used as the home of Lord Summerisle in the seminal film "The Wicker Man" - one of our favourites and celebrating its 50th birthday this year.


Dean

Okay, so I'm going to get pretty soppy here for Dean Castle. I visited it this summer, and it blew my mind.


The castle has been massively restored and looks amazing. It really is a sight to behold. Standing in the courtyard, looking at the beautiful intact walkways, and up at the impressive tower, it felt so "real". Seeing such old features made new, as it would have looked, was a rare treat. The castle interior is also beautiful. Seeing the halls hung with banners, walking onto the bard's mezzanine, and hearing music of the time being played made the place come alive.


A bit of disclosure, I previously worked as an 'audience and community engagement officer' for the Heritage Lottery Fund, where we would look at how heritage buildings could work with the communities they butted up against and become a valuable community asset. And, well, Dean Castle smashes it. I would hold it up as an example when other people are looking for comparator visits, etc. It is situated just next to a large residential area, and is owned by the council. As a result, it is FREE, it is free to visit the castle, country park, and farm. It also has a very affordable cafe, which is to be commended. I'm unsure of their community outreach program, but I did notice some posters up for events, and I dare say, based on how well they are doing everything else, that they're probably smashing this too.


I write this while drinking from a Dean Castle enamel mug.


Duart

Duart is a picturesque and atmospheric castle, currently entering a new stage of renovation. Its maintenance has been a struggle, but thankfully funds have been gathered to secure the work needed to preserve this gem on the Isle of Mull.


The castle is the home of Clan MacLean, and possibly one of the most famous stories of Duart Castle is of Lachlan Cattanach MacLean and his wife Catherine Campbell.


Tiring of his wife, Lachlan rows her out to a tidal rock (now known as Lady's Rock) to leave her to her demise. Fortunately, some fishermen find Catherine, who informs them she is the sister to the powerful Archibald Campbell of Argyll. Lachlan writes to his brother-in-law to let him know of the 'terrible accident.' Archibald, being a bit clever, writes back, "Oh, I know, isn't it terrible? Funnily enough, we recovered the body. Why don't you come over and say your goodbyes, bring a coffin."


Lachlan arrives with a coffin where he is greeted by his not-so-dead wife. Somehow, he is allowed to leave - presumably, Catherine and Archibald are satisfied in the knowledge that '"we've got yer number, pal". Let him sweat it out for a bit. His reprieve doesn't last long as another Campbell brother catches up with him in Edinburgh and stabs him to death while he sleeps. Revenge is a dish best served cold, I guess.


Bizarrely enough, this isn't the only tale of marooning people to die in Duart/Maclean history (see Ian the Toothless). Now, I don't want to use this blog as a way to besmirch the - I'm sure - otherwise outstanding name of the Macleans. I'm sure they're a grand old bunch of people...but I may not be getting in any boats with them


Dunbeath

A gorgeous castle overlooking the Moray Firth up in the far Highlands, and at the time of writing this it is up for sale for a cool £25 million, I'll take 2 please and thank you.


It has a history dating back to circa the 15th century, though has been extensively remodelled throughout its history. It is a stunning example of a baronial E-plan tower house. And, I'm going to stop writing about it as I feel I'm just starting to do the estate agents job, and well, they are unlikely to cut me in. Nor is the new resident likely to let oiks like me come for a nosey around so, sod it, I refuse to write anymore.


Dunnottar

One of the most famous Scottish castles, which has witnessed many interesting moments in its long history. There are accounts of Pictish forts in the area dating back to the 3rd century. St. Ninian is reputed to have built a chapel there in the 5th century. King Donald II was killed there by Vikings. William Wallace takes the castle and burns the remaining forces to death who are hiding in the chapel. Witches are burned on the grounds, prisoners are tortured, crown jewels are hidden, and it is repeatedly torched. It also played a role in the Jacobite uprising.


Yeah, this is a prime example of there's only so much it's worth me getting into here; it's had a lot happen, and I bet it is haunted as heck. I had the pleasure to visit it, and my takeaway was the vastness of it; it must have been quite the structure in its heyday. The approach to it was fun - a long, long walk up and down windy cliffs, so many steps but, for me, it only added to the adventure of it. Though, obviously, this makes it plainly inaccessible for many people.


Dunrobin

What do you do when you are Dunrobin? Use the money to build a castle. Boom. Puns, puns, terrible puns, that was what was going on inside my head looking at all the castles with the prefix 'Dun'. I drove myself a bit mad with my own internal Scottish castle-based dad jokes. I will let you fill in your own for Dunvegan, Dunmore, and the rest of them, if, and this is a big if, I can stop myself from kicking the dad joke open goals. So anyway, I had to look at what 'Dun' meant, and it is simply the Gaelic word for 'fort', which makes total and perfect sense.


Dunrobin is probably the most fairytale-looking castle in Scotland, and detracting nothing away from it, it is not really a castle but a stately home these days, though it does have castle pedigree. The estate is one of the oldest continuously inhabited 'homes' in Britain. There are a couple of legends of girls plummeting from towers while escaping, so it's obviously super haunted


Duns

Well, it sure is pretty, and I guess that helps if you're going to be a wedding venue. I won't go too much into Duns as it borders on advertising if they are privately owned, and for that, I would like a long weekend stay for the family, please and thank you. Parts of this attractive castle date back to the 14th century; it was originally a large Pele tower, but it has been added to over its long history and received a significant makeover in the 19th century. It isn't open to the public, but you can go stay here. Yes, please.


Dunskey

An older castle that was destroyed and rebuilt in the 16th century. Now ruinous again but a nice walk along the coast nonetheless, if you ignore the potential of encountering some ghosts or possibly the devil himself.


Dunvegan

What do you do when you feel you have Dunvegan? Eat meat. NO! No more terrible 'dun' jokes, brain, stop it. STOP. It's a sickness. Dunvegan Castle is a pretty satisfying castle to look at; it has a definite castley quality to it, like it could be made with old-school Lego, before they brought in all the jazzy bits. It's one of Scotland's oldest castles, with the tower dating back to the 14th century, but having a curtain wall on site from the 13th.


One of the things that interests me about Dunvegan, and the reason I had encountered it long before making the castle map, is that while researching the 'Mythical Beasts of Scotland' map, I came across a strange artifact held at Dunvegan Castle. Now, the Isle of Skye is ripe with fairy mythology, and may be one of the most famous areas on the planet for fairy lore, but here, to my knowledge, is something unique: The fairy flag.


There are a few stories relating to the origins of the mysterious flag still displayed at Dunvegan. They split into 2 camps:


1- It was acquired in the Crusades by an earlier member of the family, namely Harald Hardrada, who is an ancestor to Clan MacLeod. Though when this theory was explained to Reginald MacLeod while having the flag preserved at the V&A, he replied, 'Mr. Wace, you may believe that, but I know that it was given to my ancestor by the fairies.' Mr. Wace diplomatically and gentlemanly simply said, 'Sir Reginald, I bow to your superior knowledge,' and I just love that whole interaction.


2- Fairies gave them it. And if Mr. Wace wasn't going to argue it with the MacLeods, I - a person who has drawn the fairies of Skye - will not be arguing it either.


The first story tells of a chief's son who, when put to bed one night, kicked off his blankets; the fairies, not wanting him to get cold, placed the blanket over him. When he woke up and was brought into the room with his family, a fairy choir could be heard singing melodious songs.


The second fairy story tells us of a MacLeod chief who married a fairy. For a year and a day, they were together until she had to return to her land. She gifted him the fairy flag and told him that if he ever waved it in battle, no matter the odds, he would win, but be careful; you can only use it 3 times. The flag has only been waved twice until now, and it did deliver victory. A rumor has it that Dame Flora offered to wave it at the white cliffs of Dover to repel the German invasion. So rest easy, countrymen; no matter how bad it gets, we've always got 1 wave of the fairy flag left.


Dunyvaig

There isn't much to be seen of old Dunyvaig today, but there was space on the map for it, with nothing else really competing for the spot, so why not include it? Dunyvaig has been a stronghold since the 13th century, built to protect the sheltered naval yard of Lagavulin. Once the scene of a long-lasting feud between the MacDonalds and Macleans, now it is more known for the picturesque and famous Lagavulin distillery.


Edinburgh

Good lord, I don't even know where to start talking about Edinburgh Castle. It is possibly the most important Scottish castle, sitting atop a volcanic plug - it is as imposing as it is impressive. It has been a royal residence; a military fort; has been occupied by people since at least the Iron Age; and has been besieged no less than 26 times, making it one of the most attacked locations in the world.


It is famous for the Edinburgh Tattoo, which is viewed annually by over 100 million viewers. Another little fact is that time has been recorded since 1861 by the 1 o'clock gun, and by gun, they mean an artillery cannon. This sounds more than a little disruptive, and I'm sure newcomers to the city have a daily little fright while they acclimatize. What happened to a little jingly bell?


It is the most visited attraction in Scotland, and anything I would write here would just be some bullet points found in much of the literature about the historic place. Needless to say, if you want to know more, there is a whole metric ton of information out there about "the defender of a nation".


Eilean Donan

Located in a very picturesque landscape where three lochs meet, and due to its striking nature, it is one of the most photographed sites in Scotland. Eilean Donan Castle had fortifications beginning on the island in the 13th century, and the castle continued to be developed throughout its history until its demise in 1719.


It once held a Jacobite garrison, and government frigates were ordered to sail up the loch and bombard the castle. Within two hours, the castle had been reduced to rubble. On finding cases of gunpowder in the castle, they used it to blow up whatever was left of the castle. I've seen photos of what was there before it was restored, and yes, they absolutely leveled it - complete overkill.


It remained a ruin for two centuries before being rebuilt in the 20th century. The accuracy of the rebuild has been questioned, or it has just flat-out received some sass. In my view, whether accurate or not, there is a good reason why Eilean Donan is so photographed; it is gorgeous and encapsulates the drama and romance of Highland castles, and well, it's a significant improvement on a pile of rubble.


Fairburn

"The day will come when the Mackenzies of Fairburn shall lose their entire possessions … Their castle shall become uninhabited, desolate, and forsaken, and a cow shall give birth to a calf in the uppermost chamber of Fairburn Tower.” - Brahan Seer.


Brahan Seer, Coinneach Odhar, Black Kenneth, or Kenneth Mackenzie on his library card, is Scotland's version of Mother Shipton or Nostradamus. His actual existence is questioned, with some saying he is a folklore invention. However, I am not leaving a juicy quote like that on the table, especially when, against all odds, it came true.


In 1851, the abandoned tower was being used by a farmer to store hay. A cow followed the trail up the stairs, got stuck, and birthed a calf up there. I mean, who saw that coming?


Potential fictional seers aside, Fairburn Tower is a gorgeous 16th-century tower house (and it is satisfyingly tower-like) set in the Highlands. It was roofless and abandoned until very recently when it was returned to its former glory by the Landmark Trust. I particularly love the sitting room ceiling they have painted with medieval motifs. Fairburn Tower is available as a holiday let these days, with occasional public openings.


Fyvie

Imposing and beautiful at the same time. It's an odd mix, the first time I saw Fyvie I thought it was gorgeous, the more I look at it, the more I sway towards an imposing, uncomfortable feeling. It turns out there may be a reason for this. Fyvie is haunted as heck, may well have skeletons in the wall and, for good measure, it's super cursed too. Bad times.


Possibly the most famous of the curses is the "weeping stones". It features our 2nd Scottish seer of the blog so far, this time "Thomas the Rhymer" and he predates the musical legend "Chance the Rapper" by a good 5 centuries. Unlike Chance the Rapper, Thomas the Rhymer wasn't anywhere near as positive and was renowned for his gloomy predictions and ill temper, so great craic at a feast no doubt.


Thomas wanted to see Fyvie castle. Great come in, we'll even open the big fancy doors so as to make it clear just how important and welcome you are. Problem is, Thomas took 7 years to get there. As if all the drafts that had been let in over the last 7 years gathered up their collective rage at the increase to winter fuel that having a big door open incurs........ a freak gust slammed the door shut in his face.


Thomas, being the ill-tempered chap he is, doesn't wait to see if there's been any reason or malice behind this, and simply assumes the worst and launches straight into angry cursing mode. We all get in our feels, we all have struggle days, but it is generally best not to go around laying actual curses on folk. That's probably the point where you should have taken several duvet days before you got to that breaking point. Thomas belts out quite a poetic wee curse.


"Fyvie, Fyvie thou'se never thrive,

lang's there's in thee stanes three:

There's ane intill the highest tower,

There's ane intill the ladye's bower,

There's ane aneath the water-yett,

And thir three stanes ye'se never get"


So you done it, you gone said it. You've wished eternal ruin on a house, you've stolen some stones from a church and sequestered them in 3 secret locations, and the curse is that they'll never fair well until they're reunited in the castle, but also they are cursed to never find them. Doesn't seem sporting mate. It also seems probably time to talk to someone. Scarily enough though, no eldest son has lived to succeed his father as the new owner of Fyvie. Which is statistically unlikely.


Only one of the stones was found. It gets its name from the strange property that is exudes moisture, even when kept in dry conditions. Some say it misses the other 2 stones, bless it. The stone is treated with the utmost request and fear even by people at the castle.


Glamis

Another castle with our eponymous friend Macbeth. Said to reside at Glamis, though like the previous look into Macbeth's titles in the bard's play, it has no connection to reality, and there is no connection between the actual Macbeth and Glamis. However, that is not to say there aren't other stories and legends attached to this behemoth.


Firstly, it did have a king die there; Malcolm II, who has plenty of Macbethian aspects to his story and - despite earning the just darling nickname "the destroyer" - managed to live to the ripe old age of 80 before meeting a violent end at Glamis. There are also tales of family curses, and that in every generation of the family, a vampire is born, resulting in their room being bricked up. There's a story that guests once set to hang a towel from every window of Glamis, and when going outside noticed several windows without a towel. Spooky.


Hermitage

Ooft, that's an oppressive slab of a building. There is something I really appreciate about Hermitage's brutal appearance; it is suited to its purpose as 'the guardhouse of the bloodiest valley in Britain.'


Built in the 13th century by the De Soulis Family, it was forfeited by them when William II de Soulis made himself incredibly unpopular by attempting regicide against Robert the Bruce and also found himself accused of witchcraft. He earned the title 'Wizard of the North' and was said to have a familiar called 'Robin Redcap,' who was known to be a rather evil wee git, bringing much harm and ruin to the area.


William II seems to have a lot of folklore surrounding him, which is not too surprising for someone accused of witchcraft at the time. One of the stories is that he defeated a giant (The Cout o' Keilder) who wore enchanted armor by knocking him into a river where he drowned. This seems out of character and far too helpful to the community to be the William II we've grown to know and hate; he had a reputation as a vile and cruel man, which culminated in him being burnt alive in lead by the locals. Except, he didn't; he died a prisoner at Dumbarton Castle.


Inverary

Well, I like it. Something that seems to be a theme when I read about Inveraray Castle is the sheer amount of trash talk, with "experts" calling it things such as drab, architecturally disappointing, oppressive, ugly, and grim. I'll go to bat for Inveraray; I think it looks epic.


Okay, fair enough, what we see today is an 18th-century gothic revival mansion, not the 16th-century baronial tower that once stood there, but to use such words against it seems joyless. I am capable of being as snooty about what is and isn't a castle as much as the next middle-aged Redditor, but come on, it's got to do a little something for you.


Those four magnificent cylindrical towers in the corners, the crenellations, and the larger tower rising centrally—if it wasn't for the large windows, it looks very much how we all drew castles as children. It looks quintessentially castle-like, the type that can spark the joy and imagination in the children who get to visit it. And it is unique, a break in the unrelenting Pele towers which I love but we likely have enough of them to go and see. You do you, Inveraray.


Kinnaird Head

Both a castle and a lighthouse, I think you'll find that is a middle-aged day out 2-for-1. The 15th-century tower was converted in the 18th century to be a lighthouse - the first mainland lighthouse built by The Northern Lighthouse Company. It also has its own ghost stories.


Isobel Fraser was said to have fallen in love with a wandering piper and planned to abscond. Her father heard of these plans, and disapproving of the match did the only reasonable thing a laird of the time could do: tie up the piper in the caves below the castle and let the tide come in and drown him. In her grief, Isobel threw herself from the tower.


The ground beneath the tower is painted red by the lighthouse keepers as a reminder of poor Isobel, and they say to this day you can still hear the sound of pipes being played from the caves. Of course, the story isn't true. Alexander Fraser had three daughters, none named Isobel. Which is simultaneously a shame, as it's a bit sad when a myth is busted, but good in the sense that no fictional Isobels were harmed in the making of this castle.


Kisimul

The castle in the sea. It is stunning to look at, rising out of the sea on a small rock. It was built by the MacNeils in the early 15th century, but there are accounts of much longer use of the tiny island, though it is hard to verify what and when. It is one of the most intact and historically significant buildings in the Outer Hebrides and - thanks to the more than generous sale to Historic Scotland by the chief of Clan MacNeil for the sum of £1 and a bottle of whiskey each year - it should remain in good upkeep for future generations. I'm hoping they are sending him the good stuff.


Lews

OK, so I admit here I am stretching the very nature of the term "castle". I'd mentioned on a previous map that I don't think you should call something a castle if it could be sieged by a brick thrown through a ground-floor window. But, well, there was nothing competing for space, so why not have something there?


There is a rumor of earlier fortifications on the site, potentially a tower house, but again we are pulling at threads. Even more disparaging was that the current Victorian "castle" was built from funds generated through the trade of opium, yikes. These days it is owned by the local council and, with the current trend of owning up to these larger historic properties' shady past, I'm sure they are working on healthier and more wholesome projects.


The "castle" is not without its links to warfare and did serve a role in WW2 when it was a base for a naval air squadron operating six Supermarine Walrus bi-planes.


Mey

A striking Z-plan tower house built by the Sinclair family in the 16th century. It is the most intact and impressive castle in quite a large radius of Northern mainland Scotland, and I'm guessing if you're up doing the NC500, it would be the one to visit.


It is in such a wonderful state as it became a royal residence when bought by the Queen Mother in the 50's. She had extensive work done to the castle to make it fit for living but changed little of the appearance. Visitors are often surprised by how plain, simple, and functional the interior is; apparently, she had the surprisingly down-to-earth view of 'if it's not broke, don't fix it.' I'm not particularly a royalist by any means, but she does strike me as someone who could have potentially been great craic. Young visitors to the castle were encouraged to present her with the tackiest gift they could find, as such, dotted around the castle, you will see various wonky Nessies and gonks. She worked hard to set up a trust to preserve the castle, and it is now open to the public year-round, with the exception of 10 days when King Charles visits.


Mingary

Another gorgeously situated castle, dating way back to the 13th century. It played host to the ongoing conflicts of the MacDonalds and Macleans; those lads could not stop fighting each other.


It was sieged, rather strangely, on one occasion by a ship from the Spanish Armada. Battered and bruised after their defeat, the Spanish ships were taking a "circular route" home, - which doesn't at all sound like a dad refusing to admit he's massively lost. "Spain's south, mate, just head out the channel and take a left". Anyway, needing to take on food and water, they stopped at Duart.


Not one to miss a chance to stick it to his old rivals, Maclean agreed to help if they could sail the ship up and attack Mingary. The Spanish, having little choice, agreed. I'm sure this isn't a proper authorized use of government property. Regardless, the attack didn't do too much damage. Maybe the Spanish knew this and were just like, 'Fine mate, you can have a go on the cannons.'


These days the castle has been massively restored and now operates as a hotel, so I won't plug it too much, but it does look pretty sweet.


Noltland

A unit of a castle, Noltland boasted 71 gun holes, which is the most of any castle built in Scotland. The castle seems to have had a dramatic life, with various tales of treachery, sieges, fires, and just general conflict.


It is also said to be home to the 'Boky hound'; the ghost of a dog killed by its owner, which has some parallels with Gelert from Wales. The owner flew into a murderous fit after the dog knocked his drink out of his hand and killed him, in what would seem a massive overreaction (because it was). The loyal hound had sniffed the poison that laced his owner's drink and tried to save him. I bet he wishes he'd not have bothered.


Noltland was also home to a brownie who was said to be loved and extremely helpful to all in the area though, when the castle fell into ruin, he left - probably to Australia or Canada, as it seems that's where most people go when it all turns to crap.


Scalloway

One of only 2 castles built on Shetland, Scalloway was an L-plan tower built by Patrick Stewart, who was known by the nickname 'Black Patie' for his nature of being a bit of a horror. He was indeed a much-hated tyrannical figure in Scalloway. He is said to have used forced labor to construct the castle, and the blood and hair of the workers were used in the mortar. I'm hoping that is a metaphor, but knowing Black Patie, there may be some truth to it. Scalloway Castle was also the scene of witch trials in Shetland. It sounds like no good would have come from being anywhere near Scalloway castle. Black Patie eventually 'got his' when he was beheaded in Edinburgh for treason and presumably a bunch of other stuff.


Stalker

Firstly, Castle Stalker is featured in one of my favourite films of all time, Monty Python's absolute masterpiece "The Holy Grail." It is used as Castle Aaargh at the end of the film where they yet again encounter those wonderful French knights. I was going to start this section with a quote, as I often do, but I fear I would have gotten carried away. Reading the transcripts again, I realized this would have also been hilarious delivered in a thick Scots accent, and perhaps had a bit of a historic edge to it too. Can we get a kind of Scottish Monty Python cover act, please?


It was also in Highlander, Black Mirror, and presumably a tonne of other stuff because it is just so gloriously moody and iconic. It was built by the MacDougalls and exchanged hands a couple of times, once due to a drunken bet with a king. Gutted.


ST Andrews

St. Andrews Castle has an incredibly old lineage, with a castle dating back to the 12th century on the site. However, most of what remains was constructed in the following couple of centuries. It was besieged and rebuilt several times in its history and is perhaps best known for its role during the Reformation. It was a bloody, brutal, and horrific time for the castle. Like many stories from this era, it's a case of someone killing someone, leading to retaliation, and the cycle of violence continuing. But hey! We've obviously learned since then.


Stirling

Stirling's history is so vast that it would be a pointless task for me to even try to cover it in a subsection of a blog post. Let's just say it is ridiculously important; royal residence; strategically key; an ancient history; sieged several times; ties to Arthurian legend; the battles of Bannockburn and Stirling Bridge happened within eyesight; and some of Scotland's most legendary figures are tied to it, such as your mans Robert the Bruce and William Wallace. SO yeah, Stirling castle is a LOT. So I'll just tell you a couple of tiny things I love about it.


The hunt of the unicorn. So, I believe we live in an age, beyond a certain level of toxic masculinity, where a chap can freely admit he has a favourite tapestry series. This is the society I want to live in. Well, I love this one the most. They are not only aesthetically outstandingly beautiful, but I think they operate like a silky Rorschach test. They are so elaborate, and all the details are so loaded with symbology, that you could sit and analyse them over and over drawing new conclusions and ideas. What's your second favourite tapestry series you ask? No? Well I'm going to say anyway. Grayson Perry's wonderful, 'The vanity of small differences.' And to be honest I go back and forth.


War-Wolf - Potentially one of the biggest jerk moves in history? (Title of a podcast I would 100% listen to). Edward the 1st - the man really liked castles; building castles, sieging castles, he was in for the whole castle game. During his siege of Stirling castle, he ordered the construction of the biggest-ever trebuchet; an absolute monster capable of throwing 300lb rocks 200 metres, smashing down entire sections of curtain-wall. He named this monster 'War-Wolf', and being the jerk he was, constructed it within eyeshot of the castle for psychological reasons. Seeing this huge beast being constructed, the inhabitants quite wisely decide to surrender. Here's where things take a turn to the petty. Edward really wanted to test his new toy so, being 100% not sound, he sent the peace ambassadors back inside while he did so. He tested his new toy, brought down a section of wall, and then accepted the surrender. What a jerk.


Threave

Threave Castle was the centre of power for one Archibald the Grim. Archibald earned his name not through horrific means, but by the English due to his great prowess at warfare. So I guess a bit horrific, but by the measure of the day, and some of the other characters we've encountered, it could be a lot worse. Some other accounts state his nickname is due to the expression he wore on his face whilst going into battle; I couldn't tell you which is true, they both sound plausible. Regardless, he was part of the famous "Black Douglases" who held control over most of Southern Scotland during key moments of history.


Threave Castle is made of an impressive 14th-century 5-story keep, which likely had auxiliary buildings, and a 15th-century artillery house. It was besieged and changed hands many times throughout its history but will forever be tied to the history of the Douglases.


Urquhart

Well, here's one to keep for us. Where else can you go see a castle and potentially catch a glimpse of the famous Nessie? Urquhart sits on the edge of the vast Loch Ness and has ties to an ancient Pictish Fort, Robert the Bruce, and Edward I, before ultimately being blown up in the Jacobite rising. It is still somewhat intact, and is one of Scotland's most visited castles, and why wouldn't it be?


Varrich

So, there isn't too much to say about Varrich as little remains, but we did have space, and following some updates in 2017, it has become more visited and enjoyed by those venturing to the top of mainland Scotland. It is in a striking location and certainly seems worthy of a leg stretch.


It appears to have a very long history, potentially being built on top of a Norse stronghold by the clan Mackay. An interesting thing to note is the lack of mortar used in its construction, and I appreciate that people who may find that interesting is niche. I imagine even myself being told that as a teen and being like, "Well done, that is the most dull thing I have ever heard." I have since made a drystone wall or two in my time, and would not remotely fancy my chances of building a two-story fort the same way.


Well done if you made it through all that and thank you for joining us on our journey through our latest map of the castles of Scotland. I hope you have enjoyed it.








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