Scotland's top ten coastal castles - things to do
Combine castles and the coast with the History Scotland guide to the top ten Scottish coastal castles.
1. Duart Castle
A thirteenth-century castle which was the seat of Clan MacLean, built in a commanding position overlooking the channel between Mull and the mainland. The oldest part of the castle was completely refurbished by Sir Fitzroy Maclean in 1911 and visitors can explore the impressive keep, admire the Great Hall with its family portraits and coats of arms, and enjoy the castle’s more recent history with the fine state bedroom and dressing rooms.
Duart Castle, Isle of Mull PA64 6AP; tel: 01680 812309; website.
2. Culzean Castle
A clifftop castle near Maybole in Ayrshire which was once the home of the chief of Clan Kennedy. Read more about Scotland's clans here. The castle was completed in 1792 and was designed by Robert Adam – the building boasts beautiful ceilings and fireplaces created by the renowned architect. The castle stands in landscaped gardens and has a walled garden, walks and trails, as well as a children’s playground.
Culzean Castle, Maybole, Ayrshire KA19 8LE; tel: 01655 884455; website.
3. Castle of Old Wick
Scotland’s best preserved Norse castle was built in the early 1100s, probably by one of the earls of Caithness. It was once a four-storey keep and inside, visitors can see the holes where timbers once made up the floor of each storey. A rock-cut moat adjoins the castle and this would once have been crossed by a drawbridge.
The property’s first recorded owner was Reginald Cheyne in the 1300s and it then passed through the ownership of the Sutherlands, Oliphants and Sinclairs. It is now cared for by Historic Scotland and the ruins of the keep are spectacularly sited close to the town of Wick, overlooking the North Sea; the castle was used as a navigational aid by fishermen and was known locally as ‘Aul’ man o’ Wick’.
Signposted from the A99 in the town of Wick. Historic Scotland signs lead the visitor to the castle on foot from a nearby parking area.
Wick Castle, Wick, Highlands; tel: 01667 460232; website.
4. Dunnottar Castle
A ruined medieval castle which stands on a clifftop overlooking the North Sea close to Stonehaven. The castle was completed at the start of the thirteenth century and has had an exciting history, with visits from Robert the Bruce, Mary Queen of Scots and the future King Charles II.
The castle was also at the centre of a dramatic eight-month siege in 1651, when the Honours of Scotland (the Scottish Crown Jewels) were held at the castle to protect them from Oliver Cromwell.
Today, visitors can tour the extensive ruins which include the keep, barracks, lodgings, chapel and storehouses.
Dunnottar Castle, Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire AB39 2TL; tel: 01569 762173; website.
5 Dunscaith Castle
A ruined castle on the Isle of Skye built in the 1300s and believed to be the oldest standing castle on the island. The castle’s strategic position, on the west coast of the Sleat peninsula has meant that it has changed hands many times, notably in 1431 when it was captured by King James I.
The castle is accessed by the remains of a bridge – reaching the ruins is possible to anyone of average fitness, but good views of the historic building can also be enjoyed by viewing the castle from beach level.
Dunscaith Castle, Isle of Skye; website.
6. Dunure Castle
The ancient seat of the Kennedys of Carrick, Dunure Castle stands close to the village of Dunure on the Ayrshire coast. The present castle dates to the fifteenth or sixteenth century and stands on the site of an older building. Mary Queen of Scots visited Dunure Castle in 1563 during one of her progresses around her realm.
Visitors can explore the substantial ruins, and search for the secret tunnels said to connect the castle with the coastline below.
Dunure Castle, Ayr KA7 4LW.
7. Kisimul Castle
A medieval castle cared for by Historic Scotland and located on a small island off Barra in the Outer Hebdires. A five-minute boat trip takes the visitor to the castle, whose battlements offer panaromic views around Castle Bay.
This three-storey tower house dates largely to the fifteenth century and visitors can explore the different rooms and corridors and see the restored feasting hall, chapel and watchman’s house. Also visible are the foundations of the crew house where sailors who manned their chief’s galley were housed.
Kisimul Castle, Barra, Western Isles HS9 5UZ; tel: 01871 810313; website.
8. Lochranza Castle
Located on the northern tip of the isle of Arran, Lochranza Castle is a castle dating to the thirteenth century which comprises a tower house and an older medieval building known as a hall house. The castle has atmospheric dungeons and the ruins offer plenty of opportunity for exploration.
The tower house was built in the early sixteenth century to provide comfortable accommodation for its new owner, most probably one of the earls of Eglinton who had several power bases in this region.
Lochranza Castle, coastal route, Isle of Arran; website.
9. St Andrews Castle
One of Scotland’s most picturesquely located castles, St Andrews Castle stands overlooking Castle Beach and the North Sea. The castle was once the residence of the bishops and arch-bishops of St Andrews and today’s visitors can see evidence of the building’s former use as a fortress, prison and episcopal palace.
Among the most important remains are the bottle prison (known for its bottle-like shape) and the underground passages used when the castle was under siege.
St Andrews Castle, St Andrews, KY16 9AR; tel: 01334 477196; website.
MORE: Ten Mary Queen of Scots castles
10. Varrich Castle
A Highlands castle which stands dramatically on a wooded hill, close to the village of Tongue. Varrich Castle (or Caisteal Bharraich in Gaelic) was a stronghold of the Mackay clan and is said to have been built on the foundations of an older fortification.
The castle had two floors, only one of which remains – the building has stood the ravages of time thanks to its sturdy construction, with walls more than one metre thick in places. The age of the building is uncertain – estimates have ranged from 1,000 years ago, to a fifteenth-century construction date.
Varrich Castle is signposted from the village of Tongue and because of its prominent position, is relatively easy to find.
Varrich Castle, Tongue.