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Top ten Scottish castles on islands – travel in Scotland


Explore Scotland’s past with our guide to ten of the best historic castles located on an island.

1. Cubbie's Row Castle

One of Scotland’s earliest surviving stone castles, Cubbie’s Row is located on the island of Wyre in Orkney and was built in the mid twelfth-century by Kolbein Hruga (when the island was under Norse occupation), as a defensive tower. The castle is mentioned in the Orkneyinga Saga, written c1230, which charts the history of the Orkney islands from AD900-1200.

The ruins stand beside a slightly older church which may have been built by Hruga’s son.

The castle is on the island of Wyre, Orkney and can be reached by ferry from Kirkwall. Tel: 01856 841815; website.

2. Dunvegan Castle

Scotland’s oldest continually inhabited castle is Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye, home of the chiefs of Clan Macleod for eight centuries. The castle stands beside Loch Dunvegan and work on the building began in the thirteenth century, with at least ten different periods of castle building over the ensuing centuries.

Today, visitors can tour many of the castle’s rooms and explore the gardens, originally laid out in the 18th century.

Dunvegan Castle, Dunvegan, Isle of Skye IV55 8WF; tel: 01470 521206; website.

3. Duart Castle

A thirteenth-century castle on the Isle of Mull which is the family seat of the chief of Clan MacLean. The castle’s keep was built in 1360 and at its widest part, the walls are ten-feet thick. The castle’s Great Hall is home to a collection of family portraits and visitors can also explore the state bedroom and dressing rooms, which are home to a collection of family photographs.

An exhibition area at the top of the castle tells the story of the MacLean clan over the centuries.

Duart Castle, Isle of Mull PA64 6AP; tel: 01680 812309; website.

4. Eilean Donan Castle

One of Scotland’s best known and most photographed castles, Eilean Donan Castle stands on an island at the point where three sea lochs meet. The site has been inhabited since at least the sixth century and the first castle was built in the thirteenth century, with four subsequent castles following.

Eilean Donan Castle, Dornie, Kyle of Lochalsh IV40 8DX; tel: 01599 555020; website.


5. Kisimul Castle

A medieval castle on the island of Barra in the Outer Hebrides which once belonged to the chiefs of Clan Macneil. The castle can only be reached by boat and the battlements of the tower house offer views over the water and surrounding countryside. Many of the castle’s buildings were restored last century, including the heir’s house, watchman’s house and the chapel.

Kisimul Castle, Castlebay, Isle of Barra HS9 5UZ; 01871 810313; website.

6. Lochleven Castle

This medieval castle, built around 1300, played a key role in the life of Mary Queen of Scots, who was held prisoner here for several months in 1567 and forced to abdicate the throne in favour of her infant son. Visitors can see the rooms where Mary was kept prisoner, as well as 16th-century Glassin Tower, and enjoy the boat ride to and from the castle, imagining how Mary must have felt when making her daring escape.

Lochleven Castle, Perthshire KY13 8UF; tel: 01577 862670; website.

7. Muness Castle

Located on the island of Unst in the Shetland Isles, Muness Castle is Britain’s most northerly castle. The castle belonged to the Muness family, who had several other castles on Shetland’s mainland – work on this one began in 1598.

The substantial ruins of the z-plan building have plenty to explore, including the tower, cellar with stone display, the main hall and several chambers.

Muness Castle, off the A968, Unst; tel: 01856 841815; website.


8. Rothesay Castle

One of Scotland’s oldest castles, Rothesay has strong connections with the royal Stewarts and has had an exciting history, including being twice besieged by kings of Norway (in 1230 and 1260). Both James IV and James V carried out work here, creating the castle gatehouse and a chapel. The Stewart connection continued into the nineteenth century, when it was restored by the Crichton Stuarts.

Highlights include the moat and a circular curtain wall which is unique to Scotland.

Rothesay Castle, Isle of Bute PA20 0DA; tel: 01700 502691; website.


9. Scalloway Castle

A tower house on the Shetland mainland built by Patrick Stewart, 2nd earl of Orkney, in 1600. Stewart, known as ‘black patie’ was unpopular as the effective ruler of Shetland and was executed in 1609, ending his tyrannical regime.

Today, the tower house shows the grandeur of this castle and visitors can also see the great hall and enjoy views over Cliff Sound.

Scalloway Castle, near Lerwick off the A970; tel: 01856 841815; website.

10. Threave Castle

Located on an island on the River Dee, Threave Castle was once the home of the ‘Black’ Douglases. The huge castle had an advanced defence system, including an artillery house and artillery wall, and was besieged by James II in 1455, an act which overthrew the Douglases.

The castle is accessible by boat and on arrival, visitors can admire the huge tower house, which stands some 30 metres high.

Threave Castle, Kelton Mains DG8 8PY; tel: 07711 223101; website.

Discover more of Scotland's past in each issue of History Scotland, available in print and digital editions.

Images: Cubbie’s Row Castle © S Allison; Dunvegan © John Allan; Duart © Philippe Giabbanelli; Eilean Donan © KRB&NAH; Kisimul © Otter; Lochleven © Jonathan Oldenbruck; Muness © ThoWi; Rothesay © Supergolden; Scalloway © Tom Pennington; Threave Castle © Peter Gordon

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