Kings of the Castles: Scotland’s finest strongholds, ruins, châteaus, tower houses and fortresses

dirleton castle

By Richard Jones

Over the past few months, millions of us have been gripped by Claudia Winkleman’s BBC reality show The Traitors, and the American version, hosted by Scottish actor Alan Cumming.

As well as the treachery, tactics and Tartan, the spectacular setting for the show has also got viewers talking. The Traitors was filmed at Ardross Castle, 25 miles north of Inverness, on the banks of the River Alness.

Unfortunately, if you want to have a look around the grand 19th-century property, set within beautiful formal gardens, and surrounded by more than 100 acres of parkland, you’re out of luck. Ardross is available for hire, but only for parties and corporate team-building events, not for individual visits.

Nevertheless, Scotland is home to more than 1,000 castles, so there are plenty of alternatives, from wonderfully preserved medieval strongholds and romantic clifftop ruins, to turreted fairy-tale châteaus to haunted tower houses.

If you want to sample one or more of Scotland’s enchanting fairy tale castles and fortresses, many of which are steeped in legend and architectural grandeur, here are 10 suggestions.

blackness castle

Blackness Castle

The mighty fortress near Linlithgow in West Lothian was built in the 15th century by one of Scotland’s most powerful families, the Crichtons. Its unusual nautical shape has earned it the nickname of ‘the ship that never sailed’, and from the castle you can enjoy breath-taking views of the Firth of Forth and Fife.

Caerlaverock Castle

Imagine a story-book castle in the shape of a triangle, with imposing sandstone walls and a tower or two at each corner. Caerlaverock atmospheric green moat and setting within a nature reserve, make the spellbinding medieval fortress near Glencaple in Dumfries & Galloway among the most powerful-looking castles in the world.

castle fraser

Castle Fraser

Movie buffs might recognise Castle Fraser from The Queen (2006), starring Helen Mirren, but this baronial five-storey tower house in Inverurie, Aberdeenshire, is one of the grandest, most romantic-looking castles in the country. Legend has it that a princess was murdered in the Green Room, and she still walks the castle at night.

Dirleton Castle

Many of Scotland’s castles impress because of their gloomy grandeur and violent history, but the charming and romantic 12th-century Dirleton Castle (top image), set on a natural rocky outcrop near North Berwick in East Lothian, is best known for its splendid gardens. The herbaceous border has been authenticated by the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s longest.

duart castle

Duart Castle

Perched upon a hill on the Isle of Mull, Duart Castle passed to a Scottish chief as part of the dowry his bride brought to the marriage back in the mid 14th century. For the last 400 years it has been considered the ancestral home of the Maclean clan. Ruined in the late 18th century, it was restored in 1911. You can walk through the dungeons and admire the castle’s strategic position overlooking the Sound of Mull.

Dunrobin Castle

The most northerly of Scotland’s great houses, Dunrobin is the largest castle in the northern Highlands with 189 rooms, and architecture lovers will marvel at its stunning French design. It dates back to the early 1300s, and is home to the Earls, later known as the Dukes, of Sutherland. Its interiors were designed by Sir Robert Lorimer, while its architecture and fairytale spires were added by Sir Charles Barry.

floors castle

Floors Castle

Situated in the heart of the Scottish Borders and overlooking the River Tweed and Cheviot Hills, Floors Castle is home to the Duke and Duchess of Roxburgh and their family. Filled to the brim with fine works of art, including timeless tapestries and priceless antiques, it boasts a truly splendid interior. In its imposing grounds you can see the holly tree that is said to mark the spot where King James II was killed in a siege in 1460.

Kelburn Castle and Country Centre

Loved by all those who see it, Kelburn Castle near Largs in Ayrshire has exterior walls that feature a mural depicting interwoven cartoons. It’s been named as one of the best examples of urban art in the world. The inside of Kelburn Castle is in stark contrast to its exterior – lush and sophisticated – and in its grounds you’ll find a secret forest with a Chinese garden, waterfalls and a gingerbread house.

Kilchurn castle

Kilchurn Castle

There are few more scenic castles in Scotland than Kilchurn near Dalmally in Argyll. Built on a small, rocky isthmus joined to the shore at the tip of Loch Awe, it’s one of numerous castles erected by the powerful Campbell clan. Make sure not to miss the view from the top – stand on the tower house’s battlements and gaze out over Loch Awe, with the peak of Ben Cruachan in the backdrop.

Stirling Castle

One of Scotland’s greatest stone castles, the sumptuous Stirling Castle peaked in importance in the 1500s, but its volcanic crag has been fortified since ancient times. You can stand in the Great Hall, step into the Chapel Royal, elaborately redecorated for the coronation visit of Charles I in 1633, visit the newly refurbished Argyll and Sutherland Highlander Regimental Museum.

For more details these and other castles in Scotland, go to
‘The Traitors’ and ‘The Traitors US’ are both available to view as box sets on the BBC iPlayer.


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