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Issue 57 - 10 Best Castles to Visit

Scotland Magazine Issue 57
June 2011

 

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10 Best Castles to Visit

Keith Fergus gives us the low down on some of the greatest castles to visit

1Caerlaverock Castle
near Dumfries, Galloway
Caerlaverock Castle, sitting on the Solway coast around seven miles from Dumfries, is in remarkably good shape considering the armies that have besieged it in the past. Caerlaverock’s location near to the Scottish/English Border made it an appealing focus for the likes of Edward I and it survived various attacks until the Union of the Crowns in 1603 promised more peaceful times, albeit short-lived. Today Caerlaverock is cared for by Historic Scotland but its history extends back to 1220 when Sir John De Macusswell built a castle on the banks of the Solway Firth. Surrounded by a substantial mote much of the castle remains in the same condition as was left by marauding Covenanters in 1640 and its beautiful red sandstone walls and its variety of rooms, stairwells and stonework make for an interesting tour.

2Brodick Castle
Isle of Arran, Ayrshire
Brodick Castle, which is positioned above the shore on the outskirts of Brodick, has the added bonus of magnificent gardens and both are very much worth a visit. A regular bus service leaves from Brodick Ferry Terminal and drops you right at the door of the castle, which is owned by the National Trust. It was previously a seat of the Dukes if Hamilton, the most notorious being Alexander Douglas Hamilton, the 10th Duke who instigated the Clearances of Arran in the 19th Century. The site has had defended fort here since Viking times and since then Brodick Castle has had a turbulent history passing through many hands over the centuries (including the English during the Wars of Independence).

3Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh, Lothian
Rising, almost imperceptibly from the 260 feet of volcanic rock it sits upon, the site has had a castle since 900BC and was occupied by the Votadini people around AD100 who named the fort Din Eidyn, a name that remained until AD638 when the Angles renamed it Edinburgh. It has had an incredible history which can only truly be appreciated by visiting and Mary, Queen of Scots, Edward I (him again) and Oliver Cromwell are all entwined in the fabric of Edinburgh Castle’s story. It is now the centerpiece of the World Heritage Site of Edinburgh’s Old and New Town and a tour of Edinburgh Castle includes the National War Museum of Scotland, St Margaret’s Chapel (the oldest building in Edinburgh) and The One O’clock Gun.

4Culzean Castle
Maybole, Ayrshire
The castle had inauspicious beginnings being no more than a stone tower house in the 12th century. The expansion, culminating in the sumptuous building we see today, only began in 1776 and was designed by the great architect Robert Adam at the behest of the 10th Earl of Cassillis. When the Kennedy’s donated Culzean to the National Trust of Scotland in 1945 they asked that General Eisenhower was given an apartment within Culzean Castle in recognition of his role during the Second World War as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe. Eisenhower visited Culzean Castle on four occasions (once when President) and today visitors can experience the Eisenhower apartment, as it is available for accommodation.

5Stirling Castle
Stirling
Stirling Castle shares many similarities with Edinburgh Castle (including huge visitor numbers) especially their remarkable defensive positions, which rely heavily on the volcanic crags they sit on. Stirling Castle rests on top of Castle Hill dominating the city of Stirling and overlooking the River Forth, which snakes its way through the surrounding landscape. Since it was established as a Royal Centre in the early 12th century, Stirling Castle has seen several Scottish Kings and Queens being crowned although it has been attacked on several occasions, the last being in 1745 when Bonnie Prince Charlie was unsuccessful in his attempt to seize the castle. The magnificent statue of Robert the Bruce stands on the esplanade from where an amazing panorama, including the Wallace Monument and The Ochil Hills, can be enjoyed while the breathtaking Great Hall has recently been restored.

6Duart Castle
Isle of Mull, Argyll & Bute
As you approach Mull by ferry from Oban the first building you pass en route is the wonderful Duart Castle which rests on the shores of Loch Don. Indeed, Duart Castle’s positioning at the crossroads of the Sound of Mull, Loch Linnhe and the Firth of Lorne means the castle has kept a watchful eye over much of Scotland’s west coast for many years. Duart Castle is the ancestral home of Clan Maclean who were named after the fantastically monikered 13th century warrior Gillean of the Battle-Axe and since the 14th century they have been inextricably linked with Duart Castle throughout its absorbing history. Much can be learned by visiting this charming castle and, as regular buses leave from Craignure, it has become a must see.

7St Andrews Castle
St Andrews, Fife
The Fife town of St Andrews has become synonymous as the home of golf but St Andrews Castle remains a dramatic and popular visitor attraction and a very interesting distraction from the obsession with the wee white ball. The origins of St Andrews Castle date back to the 1100’s and from around the 12th century it was the main residence of the bishops and archbishops of St Andrews and in turn became the primary administrative centre of the Scottish church. St Andrews Castle was destroyed during the Wars of Independence and rebuilt on several occasions and, similarly to many other Scottish castles, it changed hands between the Scots and the English on numerous occasions. A visit to the castle today provides a wonderful impression of what it must have looked like in its heyday and its imposing position on cliffs above the Fife coastline affords a glorious vantage point.

8Inveraray Castle
Inveraray, Argyll & Bute
The renowned ancestral home of the Duke of Argyll, Chief of the Clan Campbell, Inveraray Castle stands proudly above beautiful Loch Shira (an offshoot of Loch Fyne) among attractive gardens and it is a wonderful place to wile away a few hours. Sometime during the 1400’s Sir Duncan Campbell moved the family seat from Loch Awe to Inveraray. The original castle sat near to the present day site, the foundation stone of which was laid in 1746. Forty-three years later, from designs by Robert Morris and William Adam and mixing a variety of styles including Gothic and Baroque, this magnificent castle we see today was completed although further additions were made after a fire destroyed part of the castle in 1877.

9Urquhart Castle
Drumnadrochit, Inverness-shire
Urquhart Castle may lie in ruin but its distinctive and impressive profile, combined with the anticipation of a sighting (however fleeting) of a certain monster in the choppy, cold waters of Loch Ness, continue to draw visitors from around the world to the charms of little Drumnadrochit and the delights of Urquhart Castle. An excellent new visitor centre was opened in 2002 detailing the rich, fascinating history of the castle, which dates back to around the 6th century when a Pictish fort stood here. Since then a multitude of clans and kings have tried (some successfully, others not so) to claim Urquhart Castle for themselves and these assaults have taken their toll on its walls. However, it is still an imposing structure, particularly the Tower House.

10Eilean Donan Castle
Dornie, Kyle of Lochalsh
It is said that Eilean Donan Castle is the most photographed building in Scotland. Sitting on top of its eponymous island and rising from the waters of Loch Duich, few could argue that Eilean Donan Castle holds a wonderfully picturesque and dramatic position. Eilean Donan was named after St Donan around 580AD and it is believed he set up a small cell or community on the island. The castle did not appear until much later, around the 13th century, and was built as a means of defending the surrounding lands from the pillaging Vikings who controlled much of the Scottish West Coast at this time. Its location also meant it played a considerable role in the Jacobite uprising of 1719, which ironically brought about the castles destruction. It then lay derelict for some 200 years until Lt Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap bought the island in 1911 and dedicated the next 20 years of his life to restoring the castle to its former glory. The fascinating history and breathtaking landscape means Eilean Donan Castle keeps on attracting visitors (and photographer’s) to this beautiful part of Scotland.