Castles

Highland castles itinerary

A tour of the Highlands is probably one of the most magical journeys you could make - for many, it really is the trip of a lifetime. Outstanding landscapes, rugged coastline, spectacular wildlife… and the icing on the cake? Why, the many historic castles of course!

Transport

Days

3

Miles

381

Route

From Caithness in the North Highlands to Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye

Highlights

Atmospheric castles, stunning locations, period features

Areas Covered

North

see full route

Day 1

overview

North eastern Highlands

If you take away anything from your first day, it'll be the knowledge that no two castles are alike! Starting at the very north of Scotland's mainland, see a site with Royal connections, explore a castle which looks like it popped out of a fairy tale and visit a historic garrison with strong links to Jacobite Risings.
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Dunrobin Castle, Golspie

Castle and Gardens of Mey

For fans of the British Royal family, a visit to the Castle and Gardens of Mey in Caithness is a must as it was the favourite summer home of Her Majesty the Queen Mother. See the rooms used when she stayed here, including her bedroom, dining room and study.

Have a tasty snack in the tearoom, browse in the shop for local Mey Selections goodies and check out cute farm creatures at the animal centre. The grounds and walled gardens is the perfect place for a peaceful stroll. Take in the magnificent scenery across the Pentland Firth to Hoy, the nearest of the Orkney Islands. On a clear day the Old Man of Hoy can be seen on the horizon.

Dunrobin Castle

Head south to Golspie and stop at Dunrobin Castle. You might have to rub your eyes in disbelief - it's the sort of castle you'd half expect to see a pumpkin coach pulling up to. It has a whopping 189 rooms, making it one of the biggest homes in the country.

Dunrobin Castle is also one of Britain's oldest continuously inhabited houses dating back to the early 1300s, and was home to the Earls and, later, the Dukes of Sutherland. Interestingly enough, the castle was used as a naval hospital during the First World War, and then as a boys' boarding school from 1965 to 1972. AND - it's even said to have a ghost!! Wooooooo!

Explore the many rooms and then venture into the ornate gardens. You might even see the ancient art of falconry being demonstrated in the grounds.

Fort George

For all that Dunrobin inspires whims of riding off into the sunset with Prince Charming for a happily ever after, Fort George will have you envisioning billowing smoke from cannon fire and the sound of regimented marching of hundreds of Redcoats.

Lying on the road to Inverness, it's the mightiest artillery fortification in Britain. Built in 1746 as the ultimate defence against Jacobite uprising, Fort George is an impressive site, bristling with cannons, muskets, pikes, swords and ammunition. Explore the battlements and gain a fascinating insight into 18th century military life. It's also home to one of only two dog cemeteries in Scotland where loyal regimental mascots and officers' dogs were laid to rest.

Day 2

overview

Moray and Loch Ness

Squeeze in three inspiring castles in the Moray area, east of Inverness, before finishing your day on the banks of Loch Ness to see one of the country's most iconic ruins.
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Urquhart Castle, Loch Ness © johnbraid - Fotolia

Cawdor Castle

Begin your second day with a visit to Cawdor Castle. If you like your castles to have a literary connection, this is for you - it's the 14th century home of the Thanes of Cawdor (recognise the name from Shakespeare's Macbeth?). Full of history, mystery and legend, Cawdor Castle is a fascinating attraction. Delve into the old kitchen, which dates from the 19th century, and has original features such as a roasting spit, ice box and butter-churn.

Brodie Castle

From there, take a short drive through Nairn to Brodie Castle, the ancient seat of Clan Brodie. Shakespeare seemed to really love the idea of Highland castles - Brodie Castle also has literary connections to the playwright's work and is said to be near the hill known as 'Macbeth's Hillock' where Macbeth is said to have encountered the Weird Sisters. Inside, it is filled with countless antiques and lavish furnishings - you might be quite tempted to move in!

Ballindalloch Castle

In under an hour's driving you could be at Ballindalloch Castle, known as the 'Pearl of the North'. It's one of the most romantic castles in Scotland, but perhaps the most impressive fact about it is that it's been inhabited by the same family, the Macpherson-Grants, since 1546. Try not to fall in love with it too much - it's not very likely to go on the market any time soon!

Highlights include a fine collection of 17th century paintings, one of the finest country house libraries in all of Scotland, the grand dining room with its magnificent fireplace, the vaulted hall and the delightful nursery with its antique toys. The Rivers Spey and Avon run through the estate offering excellent fishing and the cattle that graze there belong to the oldest Aberdeen Angus herds in the world.

Urquhart Castle

Finally, finish your day with a visit to the magnificent Urquhart Castle, located on the banks of the famous Loch Ness. Stand and soak in a thousand years of history - it has witnessed some of the most dramatic chapters in Scotland's past. St Columba is said to have worked miracles here in the sixth century, and clan rivalries saw bloody raids carried out in the 15th and 16th centuries. You might even witness an historic event yourself, should you spot the elusive Nessie, Loch Ness's most famous resident.

Day 3

overview

Skye & Kyle of Lochalsh

On your final day of castle hunting it's time to head to Scotland's wild west Highlands! Venture on to the Isle of Skye to see historic structures which are bound to leave a lasting impression.
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Dunvegan Castle, Isle of Skye

Eilean Donan Castle

Drive to the majestic Eilean Donan Castle. A true icon of the Scottish landscape, it's distinguished by its long arched bridge and lochside setting. This location is pretty special - strategically it is set on its own little island at the point where three great sea lochs meet, and it overlooks the Isle of Skye. Unsurprisingly, it's one of the most photographed places in the country.

Inside, see period furniture, Jacobean artefacts, displays of weapons and fine art, and learn about the tough battles the castle endured during one of Scotland's most violent eras.

Armadale Castle

Take the A87 across the bridge onto Skye. Make your way to Armadale Castle and Gardens, located near Ardvasar on the most southerly point of Skye. Built on the ancient lands of Clan Donald, the castle is very much a ruin, but it's surrounded by some wonderful restored historic gardens and woodland walks.  Delve into the history of one of the country's most famous clans - you might even find you've got some ancestral connections of your own.

Dunvegan Castle and Gardens

We reckon Dunvegan Castle and Gardens in the north of Skye is the perfect place to conclude your Highland castle experience. For a start, it's set on a spectacular location on a rocky perch beside a loch, surrounded by verdant woodland. And its history is bound to impress too - it's the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland and it's been the ancestral home of the chiefs of Clan MacLeod for 800 years.

As you'd probably expect, inside it's filled with all kinds of clan treasures, the most famous of which is the Fairy Flag, a sacred banner which comes with its own legend. Outside, explore the grounds and get a seal-eye view of the castle as you enjoy a boat trip on Loch Dunvegan.

Summary

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