Everybody loves a good castle. Whether you’re a history buff, or always secretly fancied yourself as a Game of Thrones style warlord, they are endlessly fascinating places to explore. Quite how many there are in Scotland is remarkable in itself. Estimates range up to 4,000 if you include the smaller, more remote and ruined sites. In terms of those you can actually visit that are more than mere rubble, the number is a lot lower, but still over 200.
Some of these castles are well preserved; others are dramatically smashed up. Some of have museums and exhibits; others have even been converted into hotels. We couldn’t hope to cover all of the castles in West Scotland in one blog. Nevertheless, here are eight interesting sites to visit close to our doors, focussing mainly on castle sites in Ardnamurcham, Skye and the West Highlands.
Located just above Loch Lomond, this decadent looking castle is a popular stop for those travelling to the West Highlands. Although an original fortification stood here as long as 600 years ago, the place you see today is the revamped castle built after the fire of 1877.
It has an endearing fairytale quality and is still the ancestral home of the Campbell Clan, who have lived here for generations. Besides the beautiful views and elegant architecture, there are some interesting family artefacts too, along with beautiful gardens and a tea room to enjoy too. See https://www.inveraray-castle.com
Old Inverlochy Castle
Located at Fort William site is fascinating, if rather smashed up in places. Then again, your place probably would be too if it had been at the centre of such colossal battles. It was caught up in the civil war of the 1600s for one thing. In fact, the castle’s replacement is responsible for the name of the town of “Fort William” itself. Still not done with building castles by the 19th Century, a new Inverlochy Castle was also constructed in fashionable Victorian style (now a luxury hotel).
The original still makes an interesting excursion, it must be said. It’s free to look around and there is some gruesomely compelling history to explore, if you are curious.
These spectacular ruins sit right at the mouth of the River Shiel. It is not an official visitor site, so caution should be exercised. However, if you are quick and careful, it can be approached at low tide. Coastal forts like this occupied strategic positions through the centuries, with Viking invaders and settlers mixing with the Celts in distant times. Do enjoy from a slight distance, because there is always a risk of falling debris! There is a stack of interesting information here: http://www.moidart.org.uk/datasets/tioram.htm
This 14th Century castle has a brilliant coastal location that just oozes atmosphere. On a sunny afternoon, you might think you were in a fantasty tale; on a heavy, overcast day you might wonder if a vampire lives there. The place is privately owned (by the friendly Stewart Allward family, not the undead), but does host tours on selected dates in the year. For full details and prices, see: http://www.castlestalker.com
Eilean Donan Castle
This restored site is one of the most noted castles in Scotland. The combination of 13th Century ruins and 21st centruy hospitality somehow work a treat; in fact, these days it's a popular wedding venue as well as an interesting visitor attraction. Indeed, the castle has caught the eye of plenty of famous guests, including a fair few movie makers looking for the perfect Scottish castle. Film credits include Highlander, Prince Valiant and The World is Not Enough. See http://www.eileandonancastle.com
Dunvegan Castle and Gardens
For arhitecture buffs, especially, this Hebridean treasure is a marvel of different styles from the 13th Century to much later additions and renovations. it is actually a series of fascinating buildings, rather than a single entity. So much to discover here, from art and interior design treasures to a long and rich history. Regular events and exhibitions ensure that present day goings on are just as compelling, too. See: https://www.dunvegancastle.com
Armadale Castle, Gardens & Museum
Set on the Isle of Skye, this visitor site combines rich woodland trails, elegant gardens and the fantastic Museum of the Isles- which is a must for anyone who loves island hopping off the Scottish coast! Perhaps the best time of all to visit is for one of the castle's regular events. The outdoor concerts are especially enjoyable and you won't find many more dramatic venues in the whole of Scotland. For full details see: https://www.armadalecastle.com
Another cracking island castle, Moy is set on Mull, just a short boat trip from the mainland. Home of the Maclean Clan, it is a real coastal epic with lavish interiors and items on show from various centuries. The history alone is quite a tale, with kidnappings and political intrigue galore. These days, however, it is a wholly more peaceful place, not to mention an excellent spot to enjoy lunch or a cream tea in spectacular surroundings. See http://www.duartcastle.com