From Caithness in the North Highlands to Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye
Atmospheric castles, stunning locations, period features
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.