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5 Castles in Scotland to Explore

From the biggest castle in Scotland to the oldest! 

1. Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle Scotland

(photo from Historic-UK)

Where is Edinburgh Castle? 
Edinburgh Castle is situated on a hilltop called Castle Rock, overlooking Scotland's capital, Edinburgh

Interesting Facts:
- Edinburgh Castle is the biggest castle in Scotland
- The castle was one of the most attacked fortresses in the United Kingdom
- When visiting Edinburgh Castle, you wil be able to view Scotland's Crown Jewels (the oldest crown jewels in all of the United Kingdom), The Stone of Destiny, and Mons Meg
- The castle is situated on top of a dormant volcano

A Tidbit of History:

Edinburgh Castle is certainly one of the more recognized castles in Scotland and with good reason - there's centuries upon centuries of history surrounding the castle and is one of the most popular tourist attractions. The land traces all the way back to the Bronze Age (3300 to 1200 BC) and the castle first appeared in a literature piece called The Gododdin, in the seventh century. The castle has acted as a fortress, a military garrison, a prison, served as the Royal Palace (Mary, Queen of Scots lived there for a time), and was captured by the English then overthrown and secured by the Scottish numerous times throughout history. Robert the Bruce purposely destroyed the castle in 1314, all the way to its foundation, just to prevent the English from making use of the fortress. The English captured it anyway several years later (reclaimed by the Scottish again six years later), and it wasn't until Bruce's son David II of Scotland that the castle was built again, with new towers and additions. 

Additional resources to learn more about the castle's history. World History Org | Edinburgh Castle Scot


2. Castle Sween

Castle Sween Scotland

Where is Castle Sween?
Castle Sween overlooks Loch Sween along the southeastern shore, on the western coast of the Knapdale peninsula (a rural district of Argyll)

Interesting Facts:
- It is believed to be oldest stone castle in Scotland, as it dates back to the late 11th century/early 12th century
- The site has been excavated multiple times over the years and evidence suggests the site was long occupied before the current ruins were even built
- During excavation, a neolithic six-knobbed stone ball was uncovered
- An Irishman Alasdair MacColla led a group of mercenaries and destroyed the castle, leaving the roofless castle we see in ruins today

A Tidbit of History:

The name Sween comes from Suibhne, a Gaelic name prounced as sven, which means "the red." It is believed the castle as built by Suibhne the Red, a chieftain of Irish descent, ancestor of the MacSweens and ruler of the area at the time. During this period in history, Argyll was outside of the Kingdom of Scotland and control was being challenged between the King of Norway and the King of Scotland. The location was a prime spot for small warships and transport.

The castle is maintained and preserved by Historic Environment Scotland. Additional resources to learn more about the castle's history. Britain Express | Historic Environment Scotland


3. Dunnottar Castle

Dunnottar Castle

Where is Dunnottar Castle?
Dunnottar Castle is located in Northeastern Scotland near the town of Stonehaven.

Interesting Facts:
- There's evidence from carbon dating that shows Picts originially inhabited the area between 5000BC and 700AD, making it the oldest Pictish fort ever discovered
- Dun is a word from the extinct pictish language that means fort and "place of strength" - it was a language spoken by people in Northern Scotland until the mid-9th century when it was replaced with Gaelic after the union of the Pictish kingdom with the rest of Scotland
- Mary Queen of Scots visited Dunnottar in 1562 and 1564

A Tidbit of History:
Dunnottar Castle, a ruined medieval fortress, can be traced back all the way to 5000BC! It's been home to many fortifications over the past two thousand years and was the site of many battles throughout its history - Vikings destroyed most of the castle around 900 AD and the English took control of the fort in 1296 only for it to be taken back by the Scottish thanks to William Wallace and his forces in 1297. In 1652 during the War of Three Nations (Scotland, England and Ireland), it was the only place left holding out for King Charles II (Scotland) against Oliver Cromwell's forces (English). Cromwell's Parliamentary Army found out the Honours of Scotland (Scotland's crown jewels), as well as some Charles II papers, were at Dunnottar for safekeeping and attacked. Even though the Scottish surrendered after an eight month siege, they were able to smuggle out their nation's valuables. Charles II's papers were snuck out by a woman who hid them in her clothnig, and the jewels were lowered down the side of the cliff to a woman who pretended to collect seaweed.

Additional resources to learn more about Dunnottar Castle's history. Historic Houses | Dunnottar Castle | Undiscovered Scotland


4. Eilean Donan Castle

Eliean Castle

(Photo from Eusebuis, Wikimedia Commons)

Where is Eilean Donan Castle?
It's perched on a super tiny islet at the intersection of three small lochs (lakes/arms of the sea) in the western Scottish Highlands, outside the small fishing village of Dornie.

Interesting Facts: 
- It was built as a defensive measure to protect the surrounding land from the Vikings and used to be twice the size you see today
- The castle was featured in the James Bond Skyfall film; in the film it was used as the Scottish headquarters of MI6

A Tidbit of History:

Eilean Donan Castle was initially built around the beginning of the 13th century. This area was part of a sea kingdom at the time. It was considered to be an enviable location due to where each of the lochs surrounding the castle all connect to, such as Loch Alsh, which separates the Isle of Skye from the mainland. It was a great spot to guard the waters over the centuries from Vikings, Norse armies, and yes, once again, the English. The castle played a role in the Jacobite risings in the late 1600s and early 1700s. Jacobites took over the castle in 1719 but were bombarded by England's Royal Navy. Even after they surrendered, the Royal Navy continued to blow up the castle so that it couldn't be used again. 

For two centuries, the ruined castle remained abandoned and untouched until it was bought in 1911. Two men spent 20 years fixing it up to restore it based on old plans they found of the castle.

Additional resources to learn more about Eilean Donan Castle's history. Eilean Donan Castle | Undiscovered Scotland


5. Culzean Castle

Culzean Castle

Where is Culzean Castle?
Culzean Castle is located along the west coast of Scotland. It's perched on the Ayrshire cliffs in Maybole. 

Interesting Facts:
- It was built for one of the oldest (and wealthiest) clans in Scotlands, the Kennedys, in the late 1700s
- The only condition the Kennedy's gave to the National Trust of Scotland before donating the castle was that the top floor was to be gifted to Dwight Eisenhower, as a thanks for his role in World War II. Eisenhower visited 4 times, once while he was the President
- The castle is popular with visitors for its stunning views, formal garden and architecture

A Tidbit of History:

The castle served as the home to the Kennedy clan for a couple of centuries until the family donated it to the National Trust of Scotland in 1945. It was designed by Robert Adam, one of the most influential architects of the time. The Kennedy clan supported Robert the Bruce in the Scottish Wars of Independence and rose to be Lords, then Earls of Cassillis. The are actually descendents of Robert the Bruce. Culzean Castle was initially a fortified stone tower in the 1500s, known then as Coif Castle, before being expanded upon and restructured.

Additional resources to learn more about Culzean Castle. Britain Express



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