Scottish castles are a photographer’s dream. There is something eerily beautiful about a medieval fortress that is sitting isolated high on a bluff or an island standing guard over a loch, river or sea that just begs to be photographed. Whatever the weather or time of day, these fortresses stand proud of their historic past, just waiting for a click to capture their glorious past.
There is something quietly peaceful and beautiful about castles found in woodlands. Many of Scotland’s castles were not built as defense mechanisms, but rather as family homes where the same family has lived for centuries. They sit surrounded by the vibrant greens of forests and formal gardens, with rooms filled with antique furnishings.
Castles in Scotland are filled with history, especially battles among clans and with the English who periodically invaded. Many castles were destroyed and rebuilt. Most housed Scottish royalty, from Robert the Bruce to Mary, Queen of Scots over the centuries. Each castle has its own story to tell, each waiting for travelers to tell this story through photographs.
Dunnottar Castle has a high wow factor, sitting as it does atop a cliff overlooking the northeast coast of Scotland. This medieval fortress is now in ruins, but has a rich history connected to Scottish persona such as William Wallace, Mary Queen of Scots and Charles II before he became king.
It is perhaps most famous as the site where a small garrison held out for eight months against Cromwell’s army, thus saving the Scottish crown jewels. Couch potatoes may want to avoid this castle, as getting there involves a steep walk with many steps.
Duart Castle, located on the Isle of Mull, started out as a rectangular stone wall surrounding a courtyard. The castle passed to a Scottish chief as part of the dowry his bride brought to the marriage back in the mid 14th century. It fell into ruins over the centuries; for the last 400 years it has been considered the ancestral home of the Maclean clan.
Visitors to the castle today will see a stone castle perched upon a hill overlooking the Sound of Mull. The Macleans have been restoring the castle for the last two decades, but visitors can still walk through the dungeons and admire the castle’s strategic position at the end of a peninsula.
Urquhart Castle was once considered one of Scotland’s largest castles, but today pretty much only the tower house remains of this medieval fortress. Oh, and the stunning views overlooking Loch Ness. Its history is anything but peaceful since it changed hands between England and Scotland as well as between clans.
The last invaders blew it up in 1692 so it could never be used as a military stronghold again. Today its claim to fame lies in its medieval artifacts and that more people claim to have seen the Loch Ness Monster from this location than any other on the loch.
Balmoral Castle is more like a huge estate mansion than a castle. Located in Crathie, the castle started out as a hunting lodge for King Robert II in the 14th century. Various royal residents have added to it over the years and now contains a wide variety of landscapes.
Though the present building is called a castle it is considered an estate in the Baronial architectural style. It is most known today as the holiday home for British royalty. The grounds and many rooms are open to the public, though some rooms are considered the queen’s private rooms. In 2014, the castle will only be open for public viewing April through July.
Inveraray Castle is considered a must-see on Scotland’s west coast. Home to the Dukes of Argyll for centuries; it took 43 years to build and then was partially destroyed by a fire in 1877. Castle rooms tell the story of the Campbell Clan, once the most powerful clan in Scotland.
The castle has formal gardens and an extensive collection of weaponry, which parents say fascinated their children. The castle, open only between April and October, features a tea room that offers traditional Scottish fare.
Stirling Castle was considered the arts center of Scotland in the 16th century, but it also was important historically and strategically as home to many of the country’s kings. Stirling Castle is huge, giving visitors many opportunities to see how Scottish royalty lived, including the royal palace and chapel where Mary Queen of Scots was crowned in 1534. The castle is also famous as the site where Robert Burns wrote many of his poems.
Edinburgh Castle is a magnificent example of Scotland’s architecture, ideology, political tact and military importance. High up on the summit of a dormant volcano lurks this dominating structure. Its presence is visible for miles in every direction.
Intimidating all who would challenge them, the Scottish utilized Edinburgh Castle for all of their major battles and military strategizing. A strong standing symbol of their perseverance and struggle for independence, Edinburgh Castle is one of Scotland’s top attractions.
Culzean Castle is considered one of Scotland’s most popular attractions. The castle originally belonged to the Kennedy clan, which is descended from Robert the Bruce, but it wasn’t until the late 18th century the present, stunning castle was built.
After World War II, the castle’s top floor was converted for use by then-General Dwight Eisenhower in appreciation of American support during the war; these rooms are now a hotel. The castle now displays 18th century upper-class furnishings and one of the world’s largest collections of swords and pistols, all surrounded by a 600-acre park.
Glamis Castle has ties to royalty, since Queen Elizabeth II grew up here as did her mother, the Queen Mum, and Princess Margaret was born here. Located in a prehistoric village, Shakespeare’s Macbeth was once the thane of Glamis. Even earlier, the Scottish King Malcolm was murdered here.
Today, it is considered one of the most beautiful castles in Scotland, set amid green trees and grass. Home to the earls of Strathmore for 600-plus years, visitors today can enjoy a walk in the formal gardens or take a guided tour of the historic rooms.
Eilean Donan Castle was built on land that was inhabited as early as the 6th century, although the first fortified castle was built for another 700 years. The castle was partially destroyed in an uprising in early 1719, and then fell into ruins for a couple of hundred years.
Now fully restored, the castle sits on an island connected to the mainland by a stone footbridge. It is named for a Celtic saint who was martyred here in 617. Located in the Highlands, Eilean Donan is considered one of the country’s most romantic castles. It has appeared in several films including Highlander and The World Is Not Enough.
Located in the Scottish Highlands overlooking the River Dee, Braemar Castle was built as a hunting lodge in the 17th century. It was destroyed in 1689 during the first Jacobite uprising to restore Catholicism to Scotland. Since rebuilt, it is owned by the Clan Farquharson. Holdings include a piece of tartan worn by Bonnie Prince Charlie. Ghosts are reported to haunt the castle, making themselves known through sight and sound.
With its iconic towers with cone-shaped roofs, Craigievar Castle is a fairy tale castle that was built as a family home in 1628. Unlike other castles in Scotland, it was never intended for defensive purposes. Considered a prime example of Scottish Baronial architecture, the castle is noted for its original plaster ceilings. One of Scotland’s most loved castles, it is filled with family portraits and furnishings collected over the centuries.
Aerial photos of Crathes Castle show this tower house sitting in a stunning setting of forests, walkways and formal gardens that make it one of the finest gardens in Scotland. The Aberdeenshire castle started out as a fortress built on an island in the middle of a bog. It is notable for painted Scottish Renaissance ceilings and the Green Lady’s Room, which is said to be haunted.
One legend about the stately Fyvie Castle in Aberdeenshire has it that each of the five clans that owned it added a tower. A second legend is that the castle is haunted by the ghosts of two women and a phantom trumpeter, with one woman’s ghost dating back to the 13th century. Besides ghosts, visitors to the castle can see lavishly furnished rooms, paintings by Rubens, and a collection or armor.
Castle Stalker is best known from its role in the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The current castle was built by Sir John Stewart sometime around 1446. The name ‘Stalker’ loosely translates from the Gaelic as Hunter, or Falconer.
From the start the castle was wrapped in violence and intrigue. In 1463 Lord Stewart was murdered at his wedding while his sun Dugald killed his father’s murderer 5 years later. Another murder followed in 1520, when Sir Alexander Stewart of Invernahyle was killed while fishing just off the islet next to the castle.
The sumptious Highlands home of the Earls of Sutherland, this French style turreted castle has its origins in the Middle Ages. The earliest parts of the current building date to the 1320s, during the rule of William the 3rd. In 1401 a stone keep was added to the earlier fortifications. Most of the medieval defensive features are hidden today behind the astonishing French-style chateau created by Sir Charles Barry beginning in 1845.
Dating back to the 15th century, Kilchurn Castle doesn’t seem as large as other Scottish castles, but its setting is just as impressive, sitting with Loch Awe on one side and mountains on the other, making it one of the most photographed castles in Scotland. The original five-story tower house is essentially complete today, overshadowing the rest of the castle complex, with other structures added later.
Caerlaverock Castle is unique among Scotland’s castles, since it is triangular rather than square or rectangular. It also is surrounded by a moat, also shaped like a triangle. This 13th century, undefeatable stone structure is considered the quintessential medieval fortress. The castle is in ruins today but worth visiting to see the countryside with wooded pathways as well as the Renaissance-style courtyard residences.
Dunvegan Castle, on the Isle of Skye, has been the home of the Clan Macleod chiefs for 800 years, making it the oldest continuously lived-in castle in Scotland. Visitors definitely will want to see the formal gardens as well as the Fairy Flag, a banner the clan carried into battle to make them undefeatable. The castle also contains oil paintings and priceless heirlooms that date back to medieval times.
Inverness Castle is another Scottish castle that claims to be associated with Shakespeare’s MacBeth, though the present castle was not around in the 11th century. The castle is located on the banks of the River Ness across from the Inverness cathedral. The castle was destroyed by invaders a couple of times. When it was rebuilt for the final time, it was as a town hall. Some remnants of earlier castles can be found on the site.
The ruins of Castle Tioram, which means “dry castle,” sit majestically on a tidal island in Loch Moidart in the Highlands, giving it control of surrounding waterways, including the River Shiel. It was the traditional home of the Clan MacDonald. Because Castle Tioram is falling apart, the castle is closed to visitors, but it is possible to visit the island at low tide.
Brodie Castle is the ancestral home of the Brodies, one of Scotland’s most ancient clans. The 16th century castle provides a glimpse of what life was like centuries ago. Located in Morayshire, it is filled with antiques, ceramics and paintings that were acquired by the Brodie clan over the years. The grounds feature formal gardens, a pond, walkways through the foods and a nature trail offering wildlife sightings.
Kisimul Castle is one travelers can’t walk to, even at low tide. Located on an island in the Outer Hebrides, this impregnable medieval castle can only be reached in good weather via a five-minute boat ride, which is included in the admission price. The fortress is mostly in ruins now, and in some places difficult to get around, so visitors need to walk cautiously.