CASTLES OF SCOTLAND
There are an abundance of castles in Scotland – some restored some not – all with history emanating from the walls along with some ghost stories and legends that no one should miss when traveling here. Here are a few we saw:
Okay Shakespeare fans, remember the “Thane of Cawdor” from Macbeth? This castle was fictionalized by the old bard in his play. In reality, this castle was built more than 400 years after Macbeth was trodding about. Today, it is well preserved and has beautiful gardens. The dowager countess of this particular establishment is a very attractive woman to whom the years have been kind. Many of the male tourists definitely took note. But, I just couldn’t get “Out damn spot, out” – well – out of my mind. Ah, Lady Macbeth, thou doth haunt me. A special treat while leisurely strolling the garden ground was a roving piper that added a special flare to the ambience.
Loch Ness is beautifully situated along steeply rising cliffs, upon one of which clings old Urquhart Castle near the village of Drumnadrochit. Urquhart was once a Highland stronghold but now stands in ruins, standing guard over the loch and beckoning visitors to imagine her in her full glory. The visitor’s center has great information and scrambling atop the walls and walk ways yields great views of the loch and allows you to conjure up visions of the past. Maybe you can even get a siting of the famed Lochness Monster while there.
It’s an adventurous drive through the “Black Isle” but near the town of Tain, we bring you to one of the most majestic fairy tale castles in Scotland, for sure. This castle is not typical Scots but rather is heavily influenced by the French and English styles of the 18th Century though the castle has been home to the Dukes of Sutherland since the 13th Century. As you can see from the picture, magnificent gardens grace the grounds and from the balcony high above, there is a killer view of the ocean. Inside is just as lavish as can be imagined.
And, the the crème de la crème of Dunrobin, is a terrific ghost story. In times past one of the Dukes took a fancy to a beautiful lassie from a neighboring clan. Unable to woo her by conventional means, he kidnapped her and pressed his case for marriage. She rejected the offer in no uncertain terms which earned her confinement in the castle. But this lass was no shrinking violet – this was a Scottish woman. She tied bed sheets together, tossed them out the window and began her decent to freedom. Alas, the Duke was altered to her scheme and he unsheathed his sword, severed the linens and dropped her to her death. She walks the castle halls to this day. Don’t miss this site if you can fit it into your schedule, you won’t be disappointed.
Like many medieval castles, Castle Drum started out as, more or less, a square, fortified tower built specifically for defensive purposes. As clan and other wars decreased from the 17th century on, lairds added to these towers transforming them to fashionable country estates. The 18th (Age of Enlightenment) and 19th (Victorian Era) centuries saw considerable wealth invested in ostentatious displays of success as the British Empire ruled much of the world. Therefore, often what one see in these castles are these late occurring improvements and Drum has its share. However, the old tower is very much in tact and has survived the ages. This wonderfully maintained property is owned now by the National Trust for Scotland.
It also has a great story. After the Battle of Culloden, Alexander, the 17th Laird, escaped from British troops and hid inside the castle walls for three years. Only recently were the secret passages through the walls discovered. Alexander eventually managed to flee to France, where he spent several years until things cooled down when he eventually returned home. It’s amazing no one ever “ratted” him out! Loyalty is a prime Scottish virtue! Also a virtue is the best panini sandwiches ever right there in the castle’s wee restaurant.
A beautiful princess lay her head down to sleep in the Green Room – never to wake again. Brutally murdered and drug down the stone stairs, the blood stain could ne’er be removed. Cover the evidence with wood to hide the hideous deed, they did, but the princess still stalks the halls at night perhaps murmuring the name of her dastardly assassin. Well, that’s the way legend has it anyway. Perhaps closer to reality is that these stairs were used by servants in the 19th century and the wood made it easier for them to climb as they went about their daily duties.
Castle Fraser, which was begun in 1575, is a trip through time with parts dating to the middle ages and other parts to the modernization of the castle up to and including work done in the 1950’s. The National Trust for Scotland also owns and manages Castle Fraser. There are plenty of interesting secret staircases, trap doors and even a spy hole not to mention elegantly furnished and sumptuously decorated rooms. The castle sits on over 300 acres and there are beautiful gardens and woodlands to explore – a great place for kids to romp and reduce some of that excess energy!
Not only are Scottish castles full of charm and mystery but they’re often a great way to easily digest a slice of history. The most photographed castle in Scotland is said to be Eilean Donan, meaning the Island of Donan, named for an early Irish missionary sent to Christianize the Scots. The castle itself is partially restored with wonderful docents primed to tell you stories of yore – like where the phrase “the walls have ears” originated. You reach the castle via a picturesque bridge and you’ll soon see why it is so photographed.
On the Isle of Skye, these castle ruins are host to some of the most marvelous gardens and a museum that does justice to the history of the local area. From the ruins, there is a gorgeous view of the coastline and the on-site restaurant has some delectable local fare. Expect showers near the coast and come equipped with rain gear.
This castle Is jam packed with artifacts, stories and legends. For example, at Dunvegan we learned about the fairy flag. Legend has it that the fairy flag’s magic can only be used 3 times. We know of two times it was allegedly used by the clan – once it was raised to win a battle amongst the clans and once it was used to swaddle a baby – an heir – to keep it safe. Guess they better use their last wish from their “Jeanie in a bottle” wisely.
And how about truly taking one for the team? A dispute over ownership of the now UNESCO World Heritage site of St. Kilda between the MacDonald and MacCleod clans festered. In order to settle the dispute, the clans chose a boat race from the mainland and whichever clan placed a hand on St. Kilda first would be the undisputed owner of St. Kilda. The MacDonald clan was decidedly ahead in the race. But not so fast. A MacCleod clansman allegedly cut off his hand and threw it from the boat onto St. Kilda and that’s how the MacCleod clan came into possession of the island. Now I got to “hand” it to the MacCleods…what a “handy” way to win a race. I know…ugh.
Learn about the real Rob Roy at this magnificent Scottish Castle which was one of my favorites. You will want to spend hours here looking inside the castle, reading about the history of Scotland and walking the grounds with your camera clamoring for the best shot. Afterwards stop by the courthouse and jail in the town to see what types of cases were heard way back when and what kinds of punishments were wielded.
Imagine viewing this picturesque castle surrounded by water which is located 25 miles north of Oban on the west coast of Scotland. I learned that while this castle is privately owned, there are a limited number of tours each year which can be arranged by prior appointment. The name “Stalker” comes from the Gaelic Stalcaire, meaning “hunter” or “falconer”. This is considered one of the best-preserved medieval tower-houses to survive in western Scotland. It became famous when it appeared in a Monty Python film – Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Perhaps you will be lucky and get to go inside. We just saw it out of the corner of our eye and just had to stop and take photos.
There are many more incredible castles in Scotland – some we saw and some we didn’t. But here is just a little taste to wet your palette.
Below is a little video to give you an even better idea about what Scotland is like. Enjoy!
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