Castle Country 10 stunning sites on Scotland's Castle Trail
An impressive collection of over 300 castles, stately homes and ruins..
London City Travel Blog
Satisfy your wanderlust, explore from LCY
...have earned Aberdeenshire the moniker 'Scotland's Castle Country'. And with flights from London City Airport taking just 90 minutes, you can easily make a long weekend of a trip around some of the UK's most beautiful and atmospheric historic sites. So book a hotel base in Aberdeen, hire a car and read on for details of our favourite regal ruins within easy reach of Scotland's Granite City.
Just 30 minutes south of Aberdeen city centre you'll find Dunnottar Castle. Perched dramatically on a grassy clifftop, this imposing ruin overlooks the bleak expanse of grey that is the North Sea (which provides the perfect frame for keen photographers). If it had a visitors' book it would make impressive reading, with Scottish legends such as William Wallace and Mary, Queen of Scots on the list.
Elegant Castle Fraser provides a perfect contrast to the wild, windswept ruin at Dunnottar. A mere 16 miles west of Aberdeen, this smart 15th-century castle sits on a neat estate near the tiny village of Sauchen. As well as one of the largest tower houses in Scotland, this castle has a myriad of quirky features to discover, including trapdoors and secret staircases. It’s a fun choice for those castle-hunting with kids, and hides an adventure playground in its grounds.
This crumbling stone castle near the village of Tarves gives you a peek into family life from the 16th century onwards, with access to the family rooms and 'below stairs' rooms in its main house. It's also fun to find the secret hiding place that was built to store the valuables of Sir William Forbes, the 7th Laird of Tolquhon, and the commissioner and first occupant of the castle. Sadly, his ambitions for the castle were relatively short-lived, as it remained occupied by his descendants for 129 years after his death in 1589, before being abandoned due to debt, and falling into disrepair. Of course, that makes it all the more romantic and mysterious today.
Just a short distance from Tolquhon lies Haddo House, a good choice for those who love to explore beautiful gardens and parks, as well as interesting historic buildings. Not only does it sit within pretty grounds, complete with colourful flowerbeds, woodland walks and a wildflower meadow, but it also links directly to Haddo Country Park and its tree-lined lake. Wildlife trails and a playground will keep little ones entertained.
Drive eight miles west of Haddo House and you'll come to Fyvie, where pale-pink baroque beauty Fyvie Castle waits to delight art-lovers with its rich collection of portraits (including an impressive set of portraits by the great Scottish painter Henry Raeburn), fine furniture, tapestries, arms and armour. The outdoor attractions are equally appealing on a bonnie day – they include gorgeous gardens and a loch. It's also possibly the only castle in Scotland to have its own bowling alley! Watch out for the Green Lady who's said to haunt the halls.
Kinnaird Head Castle
Going right up to the northern coastline now, Kinnaird Head Castle in Fraserburg offers a unique two-for-one attraction. Altered in the 18th century to incorporate a still-working lighthouse, this 16th-century castle makes the best use of its coastal position. You can also pay a visit to the adjoining Museum of Scottish Lighthouses.
Follow the coast west and it will lead you to the historic former Royal Borough town of Banff. Here, Duff House looks fittingly regal, standing resplendent in all its Georgian glory. Once the subject of a bitter dispute between owner William Duff and architect William Adam, Duff House now acts as an outpost for the National Galleries of Scotland. Strictly speaking, no, it's not a castle, but its grandeur and history make it an essential stop – Duff House has gone through multiple incarnations as a family home, hotel, sanatorium 'for the treatment of internal diseases', and even a WWII prisoner-of-war camp.
This mansion-house is a must for art fans, with its collection of fine artworks by the likes of El Greco, Gainsborough and Raeburn. Or, if words interest you more than pictures, you can make an appointment to see the Dunimarle Library, which houses a collection of over 4,000 rare books.
From riches to ruins now, as we go inland to Huntly Castle – historic seat of the powerful Gordon family, who became the Earls of Huntly. With parts of it dating way back to the 12th century, it's definitely left its glory days behind. Still, there's something undeniably majestic about this stonewalled shell. Look for the stone lettering carved into the frontage added by the 6th Earl (and the 1st Marquis) of Huntly in 1602, in memorial of his wife, Lady Henrietta. The 6th Earl, George Gordon, is responsible for transforming the castle with grand embellishments, including not only a new frontage, but also a new tower and turret.
Just 15 miles west of Huntly sits another stone ruin, Balvenie Castle, which dates back to the 13th century. Built behind a curtain wall for protection, it's one of Scotland's few examples of medieval military architecture. The two-part iron yett gate at the entrance, plus the wide ditch circumnavigating the castle, also add to the serious feel of this heavily fortified building – no unwelcome visitors were getting in here!
The last stop on our 10-castle trail is Corgarff, which you'll have to travel into the wilds of Cairngorms National Park to reach. This 16th-century castle is surrounded by scenic moorland, with sweeping views in all directions. Technically a tower house, it has a more modern structure than your typical castle. This whitewashed noble residence-turned-army-base has reconstructed barrack rooms, so you can picture yourself as a resident 18th-century soldier tasked with hunting down Jacobite rebels or whisky smugglers.