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Scottish Castles

From magnificent city landmarks to mysterious ruins, Scotland is renowned for its iconic castles. Whether you are looking to explore the largest in the country, follow a regional trail or seek out those hidden gems, there is plenty of history to uncover as each castle has a fascinating tale to tell.

Castles arrived in Scotland with the introduction of feudalism in the twelfth century. Initially these were wooden motte-and-bailey constructions, but many were replaced by stone castles with a high curtain wall. During the Wars of Independence, Robert the Bruce pursued a policy of castle slighting. In the late Middle Ages new castles were built, some on a grander scale as "livery and maintenance" castles that could support a large garrison. Gunpowder weaponry led to the use of gun ports, platforms to mount guns and walls adapted to resist bombardment.

Many of the late Medieval castles built in the borders were in the form of tower houses, smaller pele towers or simpler bastle houses. From the fifteenth century there was a phase of Renaissance palace building, which restructured them as castle-type palaces, beginning at Linlithgow. Elements of Medieval castles, royal palaces and tower houses were used in the construction of Scots baronial estate houses, which were built largely for comfort, but with a castle-like appearance. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the military significance of castles declined, but they increasingly became tourist attractions. Elements of the Scots Baronial style would be revived from the late eighteenth century and the trend would be confirmed in popularity by the rebuilding of Balmoral Castle in the nineteenth century and its adoption as a retreat by Queen Victoria. In the twentieth century there were only isolated examples of new castle-influenced houses. Many tower houses were renovated, and many castles were taken over by the National Trust for Scotland or Historic Scotland and are open to the public.

Eilean Donan Castle, by the picturesque village of Dornie on the main route to Skye, is one of the most admired castles in Scotland. Ruined in a Jacobite rising, it has now been restored and is the base of Clan McRae. Many of Scotland’s castles still belong to the clans, including Eilean Donan and Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye. Dunvegan has been home of the chiefs of Clan MacLeod for 800 years and is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland.

Edinburgh Castle
Perched high above the capital, this is Scotland's most important and famous castle. There has been a castle here since the 11th century and today’s castle is a mix of military barracks, palace, fortress and war memorial.

Stirling Castle
Perched high on volcanic rock, Stirling provides spectacular views over two of Scotland's most historic battlefields - Stirling Bridge and Bannockburn. Much of today's castle dates from the 15th - 18th centuries.

Eilean Donan Castle
Eilean Donan is for many people, the archetypal Scottish castle and is certainly one of the most photographed. Ruined in the early 18th century, it was restored to all its glory some two centuries later and is now the headquarters of the Clan McRae.

Caerlaverock Castle
Caerlaverock is one of the finest medieval structures in Scotland. Although it is quite ruined inside, some fine carved stone panels, windows and fireplaces indicate the original grandeur of this unique triangular castle.

Glamis Castle
Glamis is the ancient seat of the Earls of Strathmore, the childhood home of HM Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, the birthplace of HRH The Princess Margaret and the legendary setting for Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

Blair Castle
Blair Castle is the ancient seat of the Dukes of Atholl and home to the Atholl Highlanders, the last remaining private army in Europe. Many of its fascinating historical artefacts including antique furniture, art, arms and armour are on public display.

Craigievar Castle 
With its fairytale appearance, Craigievar is a fine example of the Scots baronial style of architecture. Seven storeys high, its sheer walls are topped by turrets, crow-stepped gables and conical roofs which give it its distinctive character.

Culzean Castle
Culzean Castle is the jewel in the crown of the National Trust for Scotland. This grand cliff-top country house was remodelled in the late 18th century by the renowned architect Robert Adam in his trademark neo-classical Georgian style.

Dunvegan Castle
Built on a rocky outcrop, Dunvegan Castle is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland and has been the ancestral home of the Chiefs of Clan MacLeod for 800 years.

Fyvie Castle
Begun as a simple castle in the 13th century, Fyvie passed through the hands of five powerful families, each of whom added significantly to it. Inside, the magnificent sweeping staircase is the most dramatic feature while many treasures are on display.

Duart Castle
Duart Castle, seat of the Clan Maclean for over 700 years, stands on a rocky outcrop offering excellent natural defences as well as fantastic views. Ruined in the late 18th century, it was restored in 1911 by the then clan chief, Sir Fitzroy Maclean.

Inveraray Castle
Inveraray Castle dates from the 18th century and is home to the Duke of Argyll, Chief of the Clan Campbell, whose family have lived in Inveraray for over five centuries.

Cawdor Castle
Cawdor Castle dates from the mid 15th century but was greatly enlarged in later centuries to give its current structure. In addition to its Shakespearean connection, Cawdor is also famed for its magnificent gardens, parts of which are over 300 years old.