Castles are one of Scotland’s riches, from ruins to those which are still inhabited. The Scottish Highlands has many castles, some in remote areas. The castles below are some of the jewels in the Highlands crown...
Castle of Mey. In Caithness, Scotland’s far north, a few miles from John o’Groats, lies a castle that caught the heartstrings of Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, widow of King George IV. She bought and restored the castle and surrounding gardens (the original sixteenth century building was enlarged by later owners). The Queen Mother used the Castle of Mey as a regular summer residence until her death in 2002. The Castle of Mey is open to visitors during the summer months.
Cawdor Castle. Cawdor Castle, ten miles from Inverness, is set amongst magnificent gardens. The original fortress castle was built in the fourteenth century and enlarged to by later generations of Cawdors. Features include a drawbridge, a tower and a holly tree around which the castle is said to have been constructed. In Shakespeare’s play Macbeth murders Duncan at Inverness, not Cawdor – the action of the play takes place several centuries before Cawdor Castle was built. The Cawdor family still live at Cawdor Castle, which is open to visitors during the summer.
Dunrobin Castle. Dunrobin has been the seat of the Earl of Sutherland since the thirteenth century. Located on the north-east coast near Golspie, Dunrobin was redesigned in the mid-nineteenth century. The architecture is unlike anything else in the Highlands – a huge building with towers and turrets with a dreamy, fairytale quality. The house overlooks colourful, highly manicured and tended gardens which are a delight to explore. This hidden gem, so at odds with the countryside surrounding it, open during the summer months, is well worth a visit.
Eilean Donan Castle. A castle situated on an island at the juncture of three sea lochs, Eilean Donan Castle is surrounded by some of the most spectacular scenery in Scotland. The original castle, built in the thirteenth century, was ruined during the eighteenth century Jacobite rebellion. Eilean Donan Castle was restored in the early twentieth century by Lieutenant Colonel John MacRae Gilstrap who purchased the island in 1911. The castle is open to visitors from February to December.
Urquhart Castle. Clinging to the shores of Loch Ness, Urquhart Castle can be reached by road or water. The castle changed hands frequently between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries, claimed by Scots and by English, by Grants and MacDonalds. Covenanters invaded the castle in the seventeenth century, destroying parts of the castle to ensure others did not take possession. Urquhart Castle is now managed by Historic Scotland and is open to visitors most of the year.
If you are planning to visit one of Scotland’s castles, do check practicalities such as opening times and admission costs.