Of ruins and royalty - our top Scottish castles
We’ve covered the best English castles and are now turning our attention north, partly because Scotland has the UK’s only Castle Trail (in Aberdeenshire: seventeen of them!) and partly because quite frankly we could spend all our holidays, forevermore, stomping around castles and peering out their windows wondering just how far our arrows would soar if we were allowed a bow. (A proper one, not the plastic bows and arrows sold in castle gift shops – we live in hope.)
Like England (and Wales to come), there are so many cracking castles in Scotland that you’re likely to find one within reach of any campsite you stay at, from proper posh sorts like Castle Fraser to clifftop ruins like Dunnottar. Here’s our pick of some top Scottish castles to start off your trail:
Wherever you’re staying in Scotland, Edinburgh Castle should be part of your route, even if that does make said route a bit zigzag (you can shop in Princes Street afterwards to make up). This is Scotland’s main castle, with its oldest part dating back to the twelfth century, and now has the Crown Jewels, the National War Museum and regular events including concerts, re-enactments and the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. If browsing through all that’s on offer is making you a bit dizzy, the helpful staff at Edinburgh Castle have put together some suggested itineraries on the castle website.
Castle camping: Harvieston Huts and Adventure in the Meadow are both mere miles from Edinburgh and have wooden ‘Kocoons’ with padded insulation and LED lighting; there’s a Jacuzzi on site at Harvieston Huts too. Prices start from £40 for both sites. For family camping near Edinburgh, Seton Sands Holiday Park at Longriddy is about half an hour’s drive away from the city; there are kids’ clubs, a heated indoor pool, tennis and archery on site, a café bar and the essential holiday fish and chip shop. The park has a minimum three-night stay and starts from £77 for a reinforced grass electric pitch for tents, tourers and motorhomes.
Balmoral Castle, Aberdeenshire
Another proper posh sort, Balmoral Castle is the Scottish home of Her Maj and Co and was nabbed for royal use by Queen Victoria, who described it as her ‘dear paradise in the Highlands’. The castle ballroom, estate, gardens and Vicky’s garden cottage for royal breakfasting are open to the great unwashed from around the end of March to the end of July each year, and there are guided walks and land safaris available around the estate.
From Balmoral, it’s a ten-minute drive to Braemar Castle, a seventeenth century stronghold run by the local community, and about fifty minutes to the gargoyles and turrets of Craigievar, said to have inspired Walt Disney.
Dunnottar Castle, Aberdeenshire
If you prefer your castles ruined, rugged and remote, all the better for clambering under crumbled windows and waving an imaginary bow, Dunnottar’s the one. William Wallace and Mary Queen of Scots have wandered this place, and the Horrible Histories crew would have a field day here: the future Charles II stayed at the castle when fleeing England at the start of the English Civil War; Cromwell subsequently laid siege to it, and a group of Covenanters were imprisoned at Dunnottar in 1685 (you can see all this in your very own head if you stand among the ruins and close your eyes very very tight). Dunnotar is open all year round apart from 25—26 December and 1 January.
Castle camping: To base yourself regally to see all the castles on the Aberdeenshire Castle Trail, stay at the five-star Deeside Holiday Park just six miles from Aberdeen, on a leafy family-run site with new family rooms and campers’ kitchen. Camping pods sleeping up to four start from £40 a night, with non-electric grass tent pitches from £14 and hardstanding serviced pitches for tourers from £20.
More horrible historying at this Perthshire pad, with Mary Queen of Scots and the Civil War both popping up again, Queen Vicky laying her head down and Bonnie Prince Charlie dropping in before Culloden: the resulting siege at the castle when the Jacobite forces were defeated is thought to be the last castle siege in British history. There are thirty rooms to see at Blair Castle, with collections of Battle of Culloden armoury, antique furniture and tapestry, guided attic tours, and grounds with a walled garden, life-sized Hercules statue, peacocks and adventure playground. The castle is open all year.
Castle camping: Blair Castle is in Pitlochry, less than eight miles from Tummel Valley Holiday Park deep in the Tay Forest with deer and wildlife all round. There’s a sauna and solarium on site, an indoor pool, kids’ clubs and crazy golf, with tipples and vittles from the riverside bar and restaurant. Serviced hardstanding pitches start from £18. Within twenty miles of Blair Castle, Corriefoldy Holiday Park has two-bedroom holiday homes for hire from £214.5o for three nights, welcomes dogs and has salmon and trout fishing on site.
A glam site for Shakespeare fans as this is where the Bard set Macbeth, when things all went a bit haywire for the Scottish king. Glamis is at the foot of the Angus Glens and has walks from the castle to an Italian garden, a nature trail walk and a walk along the River Dean. Inside, there are guided tours around the castle rooms, exhibitions and a family exhibition room, with storytelling Sundays held each week – ‘not just for kids’, point out the perceptive staff. The castle is open all year round, with free entry to the gardens, exhibitions, restaurant and shop in November and December.
Castle camping: Drumshademuir Caravan Park is just a mile and a half from Glamis Castle in the Strathmore Valley in Kirriemuir, which was the birthplace of AC/DC’s Bon Scott and where there’s an annual BonFest in the town to let there be rock. The park is open all year and has non-electric tent pitches from £14 and electric pitches for tents, tourers and motorhomes from £16. Also in Angus, Lochlands Caravan Park is on an updated farm with new bar and restaurant, and has hardstanding electric pitches from £22.
Inveraray Castle, Argyll
Culzean Castle, Ayrshire
Caerlaverock Castle, Dumfries and Galloway
Aberdour Castle, Fife
Eilean Donan Castle, Highlands and Islands
Balhousie Castle, Perth
Dunvegan Castle, Isle of Skye
Stirling Castle, Stirlingshire