By Chris Hammond
Here we bring you more of Scotland’s less famous, but still fascinating forts and castles.
Dunnotar Castle (Aberdeenshire)
Perhaps origionally used as a rallying point for Scottish forces under threat from Viking raiders, Dunnotar appears to be almost impregnable due to its strong walls and isolated coastal position. Despite its rugged and intimidating look it actually switched hands between the Scots and English on numerous occasions during the Wars of Independence. Still it maintained its reputation as a solid fortress and was the last place to hold Charles II as the rightful King of Scotland. Attacked by Parliamentary forces under Cromwell’s control, the guards still managed to sneak out the Scottish Crown Jewels.
Dunstaffnage Castle (Argyll)
Dunstaffnage is one of Scotland’s oldest castles and has seen more than its fair share of intrigues and incidents over the centuries. Once home to the MacDougalls of Lorne, the family unwisely backed the rivals to Robert the Bruce. As part of his ‘Harrowing of the North’ campaign the future King took it upon himself to defeat the family and claim their castles and lands. In future years it acted as a base to wage war against the Lord of the Isles. Quirkily, the title of Captain of Dunstaffnage still remains and each year whoever holds the post must spend three nights of the under the gatehouse roof.
Hermitage Castle (The Borders)
Located on bleak moorland, this box-like castle has a reputation for dark deeds which surpass most of Scotland’s other structures. Legends abound of corrupt rulers being burned in molten lead, prisoners being starved to death, child abductions and murders plus the sighting of Lord Soulis’ screaming spirit. Myths aside, it has certainly played a part in the history of the region, with Sir William Douglas’ (the ‘Flower of Chivalry’) capture of Hermitage from Englsih hands being perhaps the best memorable incident.
Kilchurn Castle (Argyll)
Once home of the powerful Campbells the fact Kilchurn is in ruins shouldn’t deter you from making the trip. Still a handsome stronghold, Kilchurn is made all the most impressive thanks to its surroundings. It sits on the banks of Loch Awe with mountains visible around it. In recent years it has become a real tourist favourite thanks to the photo opportunities it offers. If you visit try approaching it by boat for maximum enjoyment, sailing up to the walls you’ll understand why the government were so keen to occupy it following the end of the Jacobite Rebellion.
Kisimul Castle (Outer Hebrides)
A grey granite stronghold situated on a small islet off Barra, Kisimul might not look like a fairytale castle but there’s something uniquely pleasing about its austere isolation. Built in medieval times it was once an important administrative and military outpost for the MacNeill Clan, surviving numerous raids from rivals over the centuries. Archaeological digs on the site also confirm that the island had been used by people many hundreds of years before the current structure was built, proving that it has long been a place of power for the islanders of Barra.
Neidpath Castle (The Borders)
There has been a castle of sorts on this spot for almost 800 years. Passing between numerous families, it is perhaps most famous for housing Mary Queen of Scots in the late 1600s. Sadly not open inside to the public you can still view its imposing structure from various points close to Peebles. Alternatively, read Sir Walter Scott’s (the Borders most famous adopted son) “The Maid of Neidpath”. It’s an ode to Jean Douglas said to haunt the halls of the castle after wasting away waiting for the return of a lover.
Smailholm Tower (The Borders)
Located a short distance from the River Tweed, Smailholm largely served as a watchtower and safe haven against English raids. Tall and solid it sits on craggy ground overlooking a wide swath of borderland. Purchased by Sir William Scott in the 1600s, Smailholm acted as an inspiration for his grandson Sir Walter Scott.
Stalker Castle (Argyll)
Sitting on a small island in the middle of Loch Laich surrounded by mountains and moors Stalker is one of the most striking Scottish castles. It was built in the 1400s by the Stewarts and is believed to have been used as a buffer against the power of the Lord of the Isles. In later years it passed to the Campbells after a boozy bet. If you go, don’t forget your camera . . . and a rowing boat. As picturesque as Stalker is, it’s hardly the most accessible fortification.
This feature is part of our Scotland Uncovered Supplement. For more articles like this check out the February Edition of Scotcampus or check back online with us over the course of the next four weeks.