Castle Ruins of Scotland
“Ruins are more beautiful than adorned castles, for ruins are the cathedrals of time.” – Ben Caesar
Castle’s that hold many rich secrets of Scotland’s colourful past…..
When it comes to exploring castles in Scotland, there is nowhere like Aberdeen. With more castles per square mile than in any other county, this corner of Scotland is unbeatable for historic castle ruins and fully functioning castles. With over 300 of them, from coastal fortresses to sprawling country manors, Aberdeenshire has the only Castle Trail in the country which comprises 19 of the most dramatic and magnificent sites. Heritage, wonder and intrigue coupled with fantastic architecture, provides a rich and exciting experience that is not to be missed. Discover the dramatic and sometimes macabre stories that bring alive the rich history of these remarkable fortresses. We have whittled down the extensive 300 to our favourite eight (in two parts), which will lead you through Aberdeenshire discovering both atmospheric, imposing ruins to residences fit for a Queen. Here, enjoy exploring some of Aberdeenshires most extraordinary castle ruins, evocative and eerie and a reminder of Scotland’s long, noble and complicated history.
Considered one of the most picturesque of the castles in the Grampian countryside, Tolquhon Castle was mostly built in the late 16th century, and now consists of imposing ruined structures although the Tower House built around 1400 is still visible. Found just off the B999 between Tarves and Pitmedden and standing sentry within palatial grounds, the castle impresses with its striking gatehouse, a real gem built not to deter but to amaze – which it still does today. In the 1580’s, the owner Sir William Forbes instructed the expansion of the existing tower house, and it was built by master mason Thomas Leiper, whose initials T.L. (Thomas Leiper) can still be seen on the exterior of the main house, unusual as it was rare for a medieval architect to sign his work. The adaption made the castle an awe-inspiring residence, with lavish details such as fine carvings of Forbes and his wife.
You can also visit his tomb which survives in Tarves kirkyard, a mile and a half away from the house. Decorated with elaborately carved stone effigies of himself and his wife Elizabeth Gordon, it is one of the best examples of Scotland’s so-called Jacobean ‘Glorious Tombs’. Exploring this fantastic site is an adventure through time, the structure complete enough to imagine all that passed in its grounds – and make sure you hunt out the secret compartment in the laird’s quarters where he hid his valuables! Check out Brae Cottage, a great base for your Castle Trail adventures. Sleeping six in one double and two twin, Brae Cottage has been completely renovated to modern standards, and the conservatory to the side of the house has fantastic views of the surrounding hillside down into the village of Methlick. And there is a hot tub too! There is an unused road that runs past the cottage which takes you straight into the village, so make sure you take a stroll down here during your stay, and return to the open fire after a day of exploring! Sleeps 6 | From £550/week |
Dunnottar Castle, perched on a dramatic cliff some 160ft above the North Sea, conveys a very simple message: “Don’t mess with me.” Impregnable and brooding, this ruined cliff top fortress was the home of the Earls Marischal, once one of the most powerful families in Scotland. It’s dramatic location looking over the roaring North Sea, has made it attractive and mysteriously alluring giving a history steeped in intrigue and mystery. Attacked by Vikings in 900; recaptured by William Wallace from Edward I in 1297; visited by Mary Queen of Scots in 1562 the castle has had its fair share of historically important action, mostly so when it hid the Scottish crown jewels from Cromwell’s forces before they were smuggled out of the castle when lowered down the cliffs to a local woman pretending to be collecting seaweed.
Today, it’s an awe-inspiring crumbling ruin and one of Aberdeenshire’s most treasured viewpoints. Less than two miles from Stonehaven it is a must-see location for anyone on the Castle Trail. However, reaching the castle involves climbing over 200 steps (with the reverse on the way back) so access for those with mobility difficulties is not possible. That said, some of the best views of the castle are from the surrounding cliffs, and distance allows true appreciation of the substantial size of the structure. Film lovers may recognise it from Franco Zeffirelli’s 1991 film Hamlet for which it was used as a set, and the chances of spotting see puffins or dolphins from the castle ramparts is high. Evocatively haunting, Dunnottar Castle is an iconic tourist destination for visitors the world over, and its dramatic silhouette against an evening sky will say with you long after you have left.
Travel 50 minutes in land towards Banchory to find ‘The Hideaway‘, a luxurious retreat converted from a steading and the perfect balance of old and new, sleek and shiny and cosy all at once. This is a property for socialising and celebrating – from the cocktail making facilities to the hot tub outside the courtyard, The Hideaway has everything you need to have a fantastic time without needing to leave the house. Sleeps 12 | From £1120/week |
Slains Castle, located on the coast of Cruden Bay, is a monument to what happens to ruins when nature has just been left to get on with it. Abandoned and roofless, with the sound of crashing of the waves on the rocks below and the eerie wails of the many gulls on the wind, it is not surprising that then Slains Castle leaves people feeling a little spooked. Since its construction in 1597 by the Earl of Erroll the castle has been reconstructed may times and the stark ruin visible today is the result of the castle’s location and various misfortunes of the owners over time. The owners, the Earls of Errol, were an influential family in the Cruden Bay area for many years, but sold the castle to Sir John Ellerman when they fell upon hard times in 1919. Sir John gave up the castle in 1925 and the roof was removed to avoid paying taxes – perhaps not as sinister as some might think! Ruin or not, the imposing location and the destitution of Slain Castle has played on the imagination of many a visitor, conjuring images of this cliffside fortress in its glory days.
The front of the castle lies literally along the edge of the cliffs, while its rear is protected from unwanted guests by a deep cleft that cuts into the cliffs as far as the main road. The heart of the castle is the courtyard, and winding intersecting corridors leading around rooms, so deeply carpeted in nettles it takes some time to work out which were originally outside and inside. Slains Castle today is a slightly unsettling place, however it must have always had a bit of an air of mystery, as it’s said to have inspired the vampire’s castle in Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, which he wrote following a visit in the 19th century. You’ll find at the end of a visit you don’t want to turn your back on this desolate bastion, its eyes on you as you walk away. Foreboding and a monument to coastal aberdeen’s heritage, Slains Castle can really can begin to play on the imagination.
Nearby you will find Newton House, a stylish large house which sleeps 14 in recently refurbished accommodation. The large wood burning stove is a welcoming warmth after a day of exploring, and the peaceful setting of rolling countryside all around can’t help but relax you. Overall, Newton House is a great base from which to explore this fantastic part of Scotland. Sleeps 14 | From £2050/week | Pet friendly |
Remarkable for its splendid architecture, the once magnificent, sumptuous and ornate Huntly Castle served as a baronial residence and stronghold for five centuries. Over a period of 600 years this site saw four different castles and was attacked at least eight times. And it has the scars to prove it. Majestically sited at the confluence of the rivers Bogie and Deveron, on the outskirts of the pretty market town of Huntly, the many different developments makes exploring the ruins fascinating. The south range of the castle today still stands to full wall height, with part remains of the east range visible, as well as a brewhouse and bakehouse in the courtyard. The earliest stronghold on the site sheltered Robert the Bruce in the 14th century – quite a claim to fame! Huntly Castle is ornate in its stonework, designed to incite awe, and exquisite carved stonework is apparent in three areas.The first can hardly be missed as it is the inscribed stone frieze on the front of the palace. The second is the magnificent frontispiece stretching vertically above the main entrance to the palace on the courtyard side, highly coloured and designed to impress visitors, and unparalleled anywhere else in Britain.
The third is the carved heraldic fireplaces in the lodgings of the marquis and marchioness on the second floor of the palace fireplaces. With stairs to climb, views to enjoy, and cellars to explore the breadth of history in one place is fantastic. Throw in the haunting of the ‘Green Lady’, the ghost of a girl who found herself with a child but no husband and committed suicide, and Huntly Castle is not to be missed.
Within an hours drive towards the coast at Lossiemouth, you will find Scotstonhill Farmhouse, a modernised and renovated house that sleeps 8, the ideal accommodation for family holidays and for a group of friends who are looking to spend some time sightseeing in Moray and the surrounding area. Enjoy the spacious bedrooms and the cosy wood burning stove, and a soak in the hot tub after a long day exploring all on offer. Sleeps 8 | From £795/week | Pet friendly |
Walking the castle ruins of Scotland’s illustrious and sometimes gruesome past really has no equal. That there is a story, some undocumented and some heavily so, in every historic restoration is truly remarkable, and despite war, bankruptcy and many attempts to desecrate and destroy, these battered garrisons stand resolute against the test of time, and centuries of savage assault from the remorseless North Sea. A visit to see the vestiges of Scotland’s remarkable fortresses is unmissable.