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Castles and Stately Homes in Scotland

Early castle sites in Scotland take the form of ‘mottes’ - grass mounds once topped by wooden fortresses, now long gone. A small rectangular stone tower on the island of Wyre, Orkney, Cubbie Row’s Castle, as it is known today, is probably the earliest surviving stone fortress in Scotland, c. 1145. The much bigger Castle Sween, south-west of Lochgilphead in Argyll, is the oldest mainland stone castle.

Scotland’s early castles, battered by siege-engines and cannon, have been greatly altered and rebuilt over the centuries. A good example of this evolution is Urquhart Castle with its ruined fortifications overlooking Loch Ness. Other examples of variations in design of these early fortresses include Kildrummy Castle in Grampian, which resembles early works in France, and Caerlaverock Castle in Galloway, with its unique triangular outline.

Some castles, partly because of their strategic importance, have evolved and been continuously occupied for centuries – in this category are Edinburgh and Stirling Castles, both at the centre of Scotland’s story.

Other castles are worth visiting for their setting and atmosphere – Tantallon Castle in East Lothian, with its massive curtain-wall enclosing a sea-girt headland; likewise Dunnottar Castle, south of Stonehaven, occupying another spectacular sea-edge site protected by cliffs; also St Andrews with its gruesome bottle-dungeon and unique 16th-century mine and counter-mine.

As warfare and the need for defence gradually became less important in 17th-century Scotland, simple tower-houses and castles evolved into grand homes. The evolution can easily be seen in Grampian, with Craigievar Castle as a notable example of Baronial architecture unaltered since the masons completed it. Next, a whole series of grand mansions subsequently arose where exhibiting status and wealth was the only consideration, with such magnificent stately homes such as Floors, Hopetoun and Mellerstain in this category. The Queen's Balmoral Castle on Royal Deeside is another such example.

Sheer variety is the key to Scottish castles: from uncompromising square keeps and tower-houses in the Scottish Borders, such as Smailholm Tower, to romantic restored Highland fortresses, like the iconic Eilean Donan Castle or impressive Duart Castle on Mull.


Shetland Orkney Northern Highlands Western Isles Skye & Lochalsh Inverness, Loch Ness & Nairn Aberdeen & Grampian Highlands Aviemore and the Cairngorms Fort William & Lochaber Argyll & Bute Perthshire, Angus & Dundee Loch Lomond, Stirling & the Trossachs Ayrshire, Arran & Clyde Valley Glasgow Dumfries & Galloway Kingdom of Fife Lothians & Borders Edinburgh


Eilean Donan Castle

Castles & Stately Homes in Scotland »

Ancient strongholds, royal palaces, grand tower houses and great mansions all have played a part in Scotland's story.

Historic Buildings in Scotland »

Thatched blackhouses, buried ice houses, dovecots, mort houses and waterworks – modest buildings with a fascinating past.

Historic Sites & Monuments »

Great stone circles, elaborate burial cairns, rock faces carved with abstract designs and Pictish symbol stones - a permanent reminder of Scotland's past.

Scottish Abbeys, Churches & Cathedrals »

From simple Norman chapels to splendid abbeys and handsome parish churches with fascinating graveyards - Scotland's Christian heritage covers over a thousand years.