Scotland - the land of castles & palaces

There were well over 2,000 castles in Scotland. What would Scotland's landscapes be without the multitude of fascinating ruins and well-preserved and recreated castles?

Scotland - the land of castles & palaces

Some say that there were once even up to 3,000 castles in Scotland. That would mean that there was one castle for every 2,500 acres of land in Scotland! Why were there so many castles in Scotland?

On our Scotland tours we visit many different castles and fortresses and get a vivid picture of Scotland's past. What would Scotland's landscapes be without the multitude of fascinating ruins and well-preserved and recreated castles? Many of these are set against Scotland's dramatic backdrops. From there, Scotland's glens, lochs and coasts were guarded from attackers.  Castles also tower as magnificent landmarks in Scotland's towns and cities.

Bronze and Iron Age castles up to the defence against Edward I.

Bronze and Iron Age hillforts, brochs (Iron Age towers) and dun (circular drystone structures) date from the Bronze and Iron Ages. Although these can still be found in much of Scotland, many of the first castles were built on their sites. It was King David I, who reigned as King of Scots from 1124 to 1153, who initiated the building of Scottish castles to protect Scotland from conquest. He had learned much from the successes of the Normans, who had invaded England and Wales from 1066 and conquered large areas. Thus, David I allowed nobles to build castles and palaces and to take power over small parts of his kingdom themselves - as long as they provided him with men in times of war. From this point on, the Scottish nobility struggled to defend their land against attacks from the English and Vikings who had settled in the Western Isles.

Around 1200, the oldest castles were replaced by the first castles made of stone. In 1287, Scotland faced its greatest challenge: The fearsome Edward I of England - or the "Hammer of Scots" as he was called - invaded Scotland to conquer the country and become Scotland's king. He had previously successfully conquered Wales and built an "Iron Ring" of Welsh castles to maintain his power over the Welsh people. Angered by a Scottish treaty with the French, he executed thousands of people in Berwick (Scottish Borders), seized Scotland's jewels and seized power. However, he had not reckoned with Scottish rebellions: William Wallace and Robert the Bruce challenged Edward's rule with unexpected force - a rebellion made famous worldwide by the film 'Braveheart'.

Scottish castles & fortresses from the 14th - 19th century

Then, in the late 14th century, the large curtain-walled castles gave way to more modest tower houses. Vertical dwellings with less impressive defences emerged. This type of vertical house was popular with Scotland's landowners until the late 17th century. However, at the same time, better fortifications had to be built for important royal occasions as artillery advanced.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, the ceilings of tower houses and castles were often painted and decorated with stucco work. In the following century, the value of Scotland's medieval architecture was again recognised and many houses were built in the castle style, until the 19th century when the Scottish Baronial style took over.

Scotland's Castles Today

Partly crumbling ruins tell us stories today of bitter clan rivalries and invasions from near and far. Each castle (ruin) tells its own unique story of Scottish life long, long ago. Most of Scotland's castles were built because of unrest. Therefore, a high number of castles as well as historic sites were built around Galloway in the south of Scotland and in the northern Highlands. The castles in Galloway were built during the border conflicts with the English, while the forts in the north as well as the north-west were built where the influence of the Scottish kings waned against the stormy Vikings. Tower houses and cupolas are more common in the south of the country, while Renaissance-era castles are concentrated in the north-east.

Castles & Palaces Worth Seeing in Scotland

Visible from pretty much anywhere in Scotland's capital, Edinburgh Castle is undoubtedly the most iconic of all castles in Scotland. It is said that the history of the castle is linked to the history of Scotland itself - and exploring this fortress is a great way to get a feel for the battles and forces that shaped Scotland into the country we know today.

Other famous castles in Scotland include Stirling Castle, Dunnottar Castle, Eilean Donan Castle, Urquhart Castle, Braemar Castle, Blair Castle, Glamis Castle and Cawdor Castle.

The location of Dunnottar Castle on the cliffs on the east coast of Scotland is spectacular and a highlight of any trip to Scotland. In the ruins of the once very important fortress, you learn more about the Scottish crown jewels that were guarded there and about the siege of William Wallace's ('Braveheart') troops. The rooms are gloomy and tell the cruel stories of prisoners. By contrast, Eilean Donan Castle on the west coast is Scotland's 'romantic castle' and probably the most photographed castle in all of Scotland. This beautiful fortress is set amidst three 'sea lochs' against the dramatic backdrop of the West Highlands.

  1. Eilean Donan Castle, West Highlands
  2. Urquhart Castle, Loch Ness
  3. St Andrews Castle, Fife
  4. Tioram Castle, West Highlands
  5. Craigmillar Castle, Edinburgh
  6. Dunnottar Castle, Aberdeenshire
  7. Drumlanrig Castle, Dumfries & Galloway
  8. Castle Campbell, Central Scotland
  9. Doune Castle, Central Scotland
  10. Braemar Castle, Cairngorms Nationalpark
  11. Blackness Castle, Falkirk
  12. Balmoral Castle, Cairngorms Nationalpark
  13. Eilean Donan Castle, West Highlands