10 of the Best: Lesser-Known Castles

There are hundreds of castles to explore in Scotland, from towering fortresses to atmospheric cliff-side ruins.   Aberdeenshire alone has over 300 castles and stately homes (little wonder if it is referred to as ‘Scotland’s Castle Country’) and there is even a dedicated trail around 19 of the area’s castles.  And why stop at simply visiting castles when you can make a Scottish castle your home-from-home – we have accommodation in castles and cottages in castle grounds.

As well as ticking the likes of Edinburgh/Stirling/Eilean Donan/Dunnottar off your list take time to discover some of the country’s more hidden gems.  We asked EmbraceScotland fans and followers which lesser-known castles they love and here are 10 of their suggestions.

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Delgatie Castle, Aberdeenshire

Delgatie Castle dates from 1030 and was rebuilt in the 16th century.  Located three miles from Turriff this 4 star visitor attraction is open to the public all year round (and is included in Aberdeenshire’s Castle Trail).  Delgatie was taken from the Earl of Buchan after the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 and has been home to the Hay family for the last 650 years.

Highlights of the castle include magnificent 16th century painted ceilings (said to be amongst the finest in Scotland), the widest turnpike stair in Britain (measuring over 5 feet across) and the bed chamber of Mary Queen of Scots (who stayed at the castle for three days in 1562).

As well as touring the castle you can also enjoy home baking or a light lunch in the ‘Laird’s Kitchen’ – everything on the menu is made from local produce on the premises.

Edzell Castle, Angus

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Tucked behind the Angus town of Edzell and in the care of Historic Scotland, Edzell Castle is a lovely place to explore.  With its red sandstone walls and stunning walled garden, it is an ideal setting for little imaginations to run wild.  Built in the 1500s by the Lindsay family, it was sold in 1715 due to debts.  The new owner, the Earl of Panmure, had little time to enjoy it before losing the castle along with all his lands the same year because of his involvement in the Jacobite Rising.

The garden was added to the castle by the 9th Earl’s son, David, Lord Edzell, in 1604 but the present layout was created in the 1930s.  One of the most unusual features of the garden are the carved panels on the original garden walls.  Mary Queen of Scots also stayed here in 1562 and it was visited by her son, King James VI again in 1580 and 1589.  The castle is also said to be haunted by the ghost of a White Lady…

Kellie Castle, Fife

The oldest part of Kellie Castle dates to 1360, the same year that the estate was inherited by Walter Oliphant.  The castle was home to the Oliphants for the next 250 years until it was sold in 1613, looking much as it does today.

What makes an ancient building really fascinating is the tapestry of stories woven into it.   One of our favourites about Kellie Castle is that that the 5th Earl of Kellie hid in an old beech tree in the garden for the summer of 1746 after fighting for the Jacobites at the Battle of Culloden, and his butler brought him food in secret.  The castle was also once home to the youngest daughter of Robert the Bruce.

Take time to admire the beautiful plaster ceilings and painted panelling, and enjoy the lovely grounds, with its acres of woodland walks.  The castle is near Pittenweem in the scenic East Neuk of Fife and in the care of the National Trust of Scotland.

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe, Caithness

This remote castle is the only one in Scotland to be listed in the World Monuments Fund.  Located around 5 miles north of Wick on a long peninsula jutting out into Sinclair Bay and the North Sea, Castle Sinclair Girnigoe is described as the most dramatic ruin in the North of Scotland.

The castle has been shrouded in myth and mystery for much of its history as there is no written reference of it until after 1700, by which time it was already in a state of ruin.  Until 2002 it was thought that there were two castles on this site and the separate ruins were referred to as Castle Sinclair and Castle Girnigoe (Girnigoe was thought to be built in the 15th century, and Sinclair believed to be a newer addition in the 17th century).  It is now known that this spectacular stronghold was built in the 14th century as one castle and altered and rebuilt until it was abandoned in the 17th century (again there has been debate about whether it was destroyed by cannon or not).

Built using Caithness slate and red sandstone facings, the castle’s atmospheric, and precarious,  cliff-side setting makes it a sight to behold.

Dunrobin Castle, Sutherland

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So far they’ve been ruined, haunted and fascinating but now for something more fairytale.  There seems no better word to describe Dunrobin Castle, with its picturesque turrets and spires, and formal gardens.  Dating back to the early 1300s, it is one of the UK’s oldest continuously inhabited houses (and the largest in the Northern Highlands, with a mere 189 rooms), home to the Earls and Dukes of Sutherland.  This grand castle, described as ‘French chateau’ in style, looks as if it has been conjured out of childhood imaginations.

Just north of Golspie and Dornoch, Dunrobin Castle enjoys an idyllic setting in the Northern Highlands.  The beautiful gardens, and the Victorian extension to the castle, were designed by Sir Charles Barry, the architect who designed the Houses of Parliament.

As well as touring the castle you can also watch falconry demonstrations, with daily shows featuring golden eagles and peregrine falcons (11.30am and 2.00pm on the castle lawn).

Crookston Castle, Glasgow

We loved this suggestion for lesser-known castles, with the explanation that it is ‘an unexpected attraction’.  Crookston Castle is the only surviving medieval castle in Glasgow, built in the 1400s.  The four square corner towers (only one of which remains) indicate that it was planned, and  the layout of the castle is almost unique in Scotland.  The remaining tower was used as a watch tower in World War II during the Clydesdale blitz.  As well as learning more about is history you can enjoy views of south-east Glasgow from the castle’s hilltop position.

Kildrummy Castle, Aberdeenshire

Also part of the Aberdeenshire Castle Trail, Kildrummy Castle is described as the noblest of northern castles.  The seat of the earls of Mar, Kildrummy was built in the mid 1200s and offers lovely views of the surrounding landscape.  The castle’s position on the main route into Moray from the south meant that it was often involved in political goings-on.  In 1435 King James I took ownership of Kildrummy and the earls of Mar regained control in 1626 but, like Edzell Castle, its days as a noble residence came to an end due to the Jacobite Rising of 1715.

Auchindoun Castle, Moray

A 40 minute drive from Kildrummy into Moray leads to the hilltop ruins of Auchindoun, just outside Dufftown.  It is worth the short walk to the ruins, which sit in a scenic, if rather solitary, position overlooking the River Fiddich and the rolling Speyside hills.  Built in the 1400s, Auchindoun has a rather grim history – sold to Sir Adam Gordon in 1567, the Gordons murdered all the occupants of nearby Corgarff Castle in 1571 because of a feud.  Auchindoun was then destroyed in an act of revenge by William Mackintosh (who was then beheaded by the Countess of Huntly’s cook).  With nothing but hills surrounding these lonely ruins it is very atmospheric.

Castle Stalker, Argyll

old overgrown jetty for medieval castle stalker on small island in loch linnhe argyll in the scottish highlands

Sitting prettily on its own island in a tidal islet off Loch Linnhe Castle Stalker just begs to be photographed.  Built in its present form in the 15th century, on the site of a fortified building circa 1320, this picturesque tower house belonged to the Stewarts of Appin for much of its history.  It was used as a base by King James IV, a cousin of the Stewarts, for his hunting trips in the area at the end of the 15th century.  Castle Stalker passed to the Campbells in 1620 as the result of drunken episode when it was exchanged for a boat!  It was regained again by the Stewarts of Appin in 1689 but then later passed back into the hands of the Campbells, who lived in it until around 1800.  It eventually returned to the Stewart family when it was bought in 1908 by Charles Stewart, and restored and rebuilt in the 1960s/70s by Lt. Col. Stewart Allward.  As the castle is privately owned tours are by appointment only.

Bothwell Castle, Lanarkshire

Fought over during the Wars of Independence, Bothwell Castle is one of Scotland’s most impressive medieval ruins.  Built in the 1200s by Walter of Moray as a display of power, Bothwell passed to the Black Douglases after the Wars of Independence and was then taken by the Crown following the downfall of the Black Douglases in 1455.  The castle endured a major siege 1301 when King Edward I of England attacked the castle with 6,800 soldiers.  The main residential tower built by the Morays is said to be one of the greatest stone monuments of medieval Scotland.  Enjoy the castle’s river-side setting and admire the 14th century chapel, added by the Black Douglases.

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