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Charlotte Ballantyne May 13 2022

It’s no secret that Scotland is famous for its castles, with thousands of visitors flocking to the likes of Edinburgh, Stirling, Urquhart and Eilean Donan Castles every year.

But with estimates of over 2,000 castles scattered across the country, we’re betting there are a few that you won’t have heard of!

From small fortresses hidden on islands to crumbling ruins with ocean views to decadent stately homes in lesser-visited regions of the country, we’ve selected some of our favourite off-the-beaten-track castles for you to discover during your self-drive holiday to Scotland.

 

Gylen Castle, Isle of Kerrera

A lesser-known castle on a lesser-known island. Gylen Castle itself is a small 16th-century tower house, which was occupied for only a century before being destroyed, but these haunting ruins have a location to die for! The tiny Isle of Kerrera, with less than 100 residents on its shores, sits just off of Scotland’s West Coast from Oban and can be reached by ferry in just 5 minutes.

Gylen Castle is nestled away on the southern end of the island, and can’t be seen from Oban itself. The walk around the island to the castle makes for a lovely day out from the mainland, and as you approach the southern end, you will find Gylen Castle situated upon a rocky promontory, an amazingly dramatic view in this remote location. And don’t miss a visit to the Kerrera Tea Garden while you’re on the island too!

 

Caerlaverock Castle, Dumfries & Galloway

With its wide moat and triangular shape, Caerlaverock Castle will certainly leave a lasting image with you! It’s actually one of the very few castles in Scotland with a moat, which combined with its high, twin-towered gatehouse, made it a strong defensive hold, as well as striking to look at.

This medieval fortress can be found in the southwestern corner of Scotland, just a stone’s throw in either direction from Dumfries and the English border, and has stood defending the border since the 13th century. Naturally, this means it has been besieged many times, with the final blow coming in the 17th century, when it was eventually abandoned. So it does lie in partial ruins today, but we think this adds to its charm and its drama!

 

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Castle Tioram, Ardnamurchan Peninsula

If you’re lucky, you’ll get this one all to yourself, in its peaceful, isolated location, which makes for an unforgettable visit. The Ardnamurchan Peninsula is one of the most remote areas of mainland Scotland, situated on the West Coast of Loch Linnhe, not far from Fort William and Glenfinnan. With only handfuls of tiny villages scattered across it, you can enjoy miles upon miles of uninhabited, uninterrupted natural scenery en route to Castle Tioram.

After journeying down a narrow single-track road, this tiny fortress can only be accessed at low tide, when the causeway to Eilean Tioram (Gaelic for ‘The Dry Island’) on the corner of Loch Moidart and the River Shiel, reveals itself. The castle dates from the 13th century, once the ancestral seat of the Clanranalds, but has been unoccupied for many centuries.

 

Drummond Castle, Perthshire

You’d be forgiven at this point for thinking that all of Scotland’s castles lie in ruins, but that’s not the case, we promise! For something a bit more luxurious, head to Perthshire, where there are spectacular, stately castles galore, including the more famous Scone, Blair and Doune Castles. But one of our favourite, slightly lesser-known ones in the region is the beautiful Drummond Castle, just south of Crieff.

The building itself isn’t open to the public, as it is still occupied by the Drummond family, but it can be seen from its Gardens, which are available to visit. Roaming the grounds is like stumbling into a fairytale, with its spectacular terraced formal gardens, immaculately kept and utterly breathtaking. The setting is so impressive, it was used as a stand-in for the Royal Gardens of Versailles, France, in series two of Outlander!

 

Tantallon Castle, East Lothian

East Lothian lies just east of Edinburgh, with lots of seaside towns along its coast, and here you can’t miss a visit to Tantallon Castle, with its stunning cliff top location. A thick, defensive wall once encircled its central courtyard, but the eastern side has now fallen away, opening the site up to incredible views out to the North Sea. On a clear day, you can spot the Kingdom of Fife and the Bass Rock, the latter being home to thousands of seabirds.

Although now a ruin due to its numerous sieges since it was first constructed in the 14th century, visitors can still enter the castle grounds and buildings, even climbing up its tall towers to the battlements – just in case those sea views weren’t spectacular enough from ground level!

 

Ardvreck Castle, Sutherland

The North Coast 500 may have gotten increasingly popular in recent years, but there are still plenty of remote, secret sites around it that many have yet to discover. In the far northwest of Scotland, on a rocky outcrop jutting into Loch Assynt, you will find the eerily beautiful ruins of Ardvreck Castle.

Once a powerful fortress of Clan Macleod, it has seen much battle and bloodshed through its long history, and now a mere single tower remains, set within an incredible backdrop of the loch and surrounding Assynt mountains. Nearby you will also find the ruins of Calda House, built by the Mackenzies as a new home when they captured Ardvreck and using some of the stones from the original castle, but which burnt down in mysterious circumstances just a decade later.

 

Floors Castle, Scottish Borders

At just 300 years old, this is one of the youngest castles on our list! Considered the gem of the Scottish Borders by locals and holding the record of Scotland’s largest inhabited castle, Floors Castle remains somewhat unknown outside the region, which is incredible when you see just how spectacular it is – you could almost imagine this was a chateau in the French countryside!

This architectural masterpiece was designed by William Adam and altered by William Playfair, two of Scotland’s most significant architects of the time. Floors Castle is the family home of the Duke of Roxburghe, but visitors can still enter and explore some of the rooms. It also has extensive grounds, including the Victorian Walled Gardens, riverside and woodland walks (including dog-friendly walks!), two cafes and a gift shop.

 

 

Aberdour Castle, Fife

From the youngest to the oldest, Aberdour Castle has stood for over 800 years, though with significant changes and additions made since then. Outlander fans will likely recognise Aberdour Castle from the series, but despite its starring role onscreen, it still flies somewhat under the radar.

The picturesque village of Aberdour on the Fife Coastal Path isn’t necessarily where you’d expect to find a castle, but visitors to Scotland should learn to expect the unexpected! While the tower has partially collapsed, much of the castle remains intact and you can still enter and explore its well-preserved rooms. Don’t miss the stunning 17th century painted ceiling – as well as the surrounding gardens.

 

Skipness Castle, Kintyre Peninsula

The far-flung Kintyre Peninsula, snaking down Scotland’s West Coast, is quite the journey to get to but we promise it’s worth the distance! This quiet, idyllic corner of the country is full of gorgeous, untouched natural scenery and miles of stunning coastline and beaches. And halfway down its eastern shores, you will find Skipness Castle (as well as the delicious Seafood Cabin next door, not to be missed!)

This 13th-century fortress has passed through 3 different families (MacSween, MacDonald and Campbell) in its long, turbulent history, yet has remained remarkably intact! Its coastal location offers some wonderful views – climb up to the battlements on a clear day, and you can see the Isle of Arran, tucked into the Firth of Clyde.

For a bonus secret castle Lochranza Castle sits on the northern end of Arran and was also built by the MacSweens, to protect their territory on either side of the Kilbrannan Sound!

 

Culzean Castle, Ayrshire

On the southwest coast of Scotland, Aryshire is most commonly known as Robert Burns Country amongst the Scots, but did you know it has played host to an American president too? Built in the 18th century (and slightly younger than Floors Castle in fact!), Culzean Castle is a breathtakingly beautiful work of architecture, made all the more memorable by its incredible clifftop location, with coastal views overlooking Arran and Ailsa Craig.

Visitors can explore the castle’s interior, including the fantastic Oval Staircase as its centrepiece, and the Eisenhower Apartment. The top floor of the castle was gifted to Dwight Eisenhower by the Kennedy family (the castle’s former owners) and he stayed there four times, including once while president. The apartment is now available to stay in as a guest! And don’t miss Culzean Castle’s vast grounds which include a swan pond, walled gardens, woodland walks and a deer park.

 

Cragievar Castle, Aberdeenshire

A Disney princess castle if we ever did see one – no, seriously, Cragievar Castle is rumoured to have been a source of inspiration for Walt Disney’s Cinderella Castle! Aberdeenshire and Royal Deeside are famous as Scotland’s castle country, so it seemed only fitting to conclude our list with one of the most striking, yet still secret castles in the area. With its bright pink exterior and many tall turrets and towers, you certainly won’t forget Cragievar anytime soon!

Situated nestled into a hillside just south of Alford, this 16th-century Scottish Baronial style castle has remained incredibly well-preserved over the centuries. Visitors can explore the many rooms inside, which also house an impressive art collection, and wander the surrounding gardens and woodlands. Definitely the place to live out your fairytale fantasies!

 

Discover Scotland’s Secret Castles

Scotland’s castles have played an important role throughout our history, whether as powerful fortresses defending the border or magnificent stately homes housing the nobility, and there are thousands of stories and secrets to discover within their walls. So with so many to choose from, what are you waiting for? Here at Absolute Escapes, we have a wealth of experience in planning tailor-made, self-drive holidays across Scotland, including as many castles en route as you want!

Charlotte Ballantyne

P.S. Want to go one step further? Check out our Stay in Scottish Castles holiday to not just visit our castles, but actually stay in them as a guest throughout your trip!

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