By Chris Hammond
From the ancient clan strongholds in the Highlands to the fortified manors of Moray and Aberdeenshire right the way down to the watchtowers of the Borders, Scotland truly is a kingdom of castles. When we think of these structures most of us will conjure up images of Edinburgh and Stirling’s grand forts, the romantic Eilean Donan or Balmoral; the Royal’s favourite Scottish residence. While each of these are worth a visit the glens, moors and fields of old Alba are awash with a whole host of unusual fortifications worth your attention.
Ardvreck Castle (Sutherland)
Jutting from the rugged Highland countryside like an outstretched arm, the wrecked Ardvreck Castle is one of the most impressive northern landmarks. Built back in 1490 by the Macleods, the castle gained something of a sinister reputation after its occupants imprisoned the rebel Marquis of Montrose. Montrose, initially a guest of the castellan, ended up arrested and was later executed in the capital. The castle fell into ruin shortly after it was captured and burnt by the Mackenzies in 1737.
Brodie Castle (Moray)
Now famed for the fantastic flora of its grounds, the castle was until recently the seat of the once powerful Brodie family. Renovated and updated in the 19th century, it’s a classic example of the Scots baronial style. Staying out of the Jacobite rebellions, the Brodies prospered on their estate as can be seen inside the castle, where various valuable artworks are on display.
Caerlaverock Castle (Dumfriesshire)
Caerlaverock is one of Scotland’s most impressive old castles. Once owned by the Maxwell family, this solid keep is surrounded by a deep moat. Its strengths and defences were tested on numerous occasions over the years; it was notably besieged by Edward I of England who was embarrassed by the garrison of 60 for much longer than his army should have been. A popular wedding spot now, visitors are more likely to see bouquets rather than boulders being tossed through the air.
Cawdor Castle (Nairnshire)
Cawdor has been synonymous with Macbeth ever since Shakespeare’s play was previewed by audiences back in 1611. The link isn’t an accurate one, the Cawdor castle that can be seen today was never home to the Scottish King. It has been home to the Clader clan though, and what a home it is. Turrets, drawbridge, lush gardens, opulent rooms and even a small dungeon are all in the mix. Ghosts are also alleged to reside inside and fans of the unusual will want to see the Holly tree on which the keep was built around,
Crathes Castle (Aberdeenshire)
The first thing you’ll notice about Crathes Castle is that it’s pink. The second thing you’ll notice is that it looks almost exactly how a fairytale castle ought to look. Built in 1596 Crathes Castle escaped most of the conflict and strife of earlier years. However myths involving murder, poisoning and a certain reoccurring green spectre give the picturesque and polished nature of Crathes a slightly more sinister tone.
Dirleton Castle (East Lothian)
Dirleton has taken a kicking or two over the years. Its location so close to the English borders meant it was a constant stop off point for invading armies. It last saw action when Oliver Cromwell besieged the castle in an attempt to flush out a particularly unsavoury band of Mosstroopers (deserters from the Scottish army turned bandit). Still a daunting looking structure, it’s easy to imagine how difficult it would be to capture.
Drum Castle (Aberdeenshire)
A mish mash of architectural styles, Drum Castle combines ancient architecture with more modern additions and as such is a memorable and unique stronghold. The extensive lands were granted to the Irvine Clan by Robert the Bruce and despite losing the castle to enemies on a handful of occasions, remained their till about 30 years ago. Inside you’ll find an impressive library, dining room and courtyard as well as fine artworks while the grounds are also somewhat idyllic. A popular choice for weddings, it’s difficult to think of this site as having once been built for military purposes almost 800 years ago.
Duffus Castle (Moray)
Situated on perfectly flat ground this motte and bailey castle has a great view over the surrounding farmland. The first castle here is thought to have originally been held by a Flemish mercenary but gradually it became the property of the Murray family and then the Sutherlands. Abandoned in the early 18th century, large parts of the walls have since sunk into the soft earth mound. Despite it’s lopsided entrance Duffus is still the best preserved castle of its style in Scotland.
This feature is part of our Scotland Uncovered Supplement. For more articles like this check out the February Edition of Scotcampus or click the link below for the second part.