Learn the history behind Scotland's ancient castles and buildings
About the trail
Aberdeenshire has long been hailed as Scotland’s castle county, and with good reason, as this remote area of Britain is home to more castles per acre than anywhere else in the nation. In fact, there are nearly 300 grand castles in just this one corner of Scotland. Some are perched high on top of the remotest cliff tops, some are nestled deep in thick pine forests, others sit majestically on top of high mountain passes and yet others lie in glorious rolling open countryside. The only thing that could possibly be more diverse than the different style of castles is the differences in the landscape, where mountains and lochs meet sea-battered cliffs and quaint fishing towns. It’s fair to say that Aberdeenshire is a perfect microcosm of Scotland at large.
The reason for the number of fortified buildings in this area of the country is simple. Surrounded to the north and east by the sea, the county was prized as an area of strategic importance for hundreds of years and the resulting invasions, uprisings, rebellions and all-out wars led to the requirement for vast fortified castles to keep their occupants safe.
Today, tourists can enjoy a rather more sedate experience as they meander around any one of the old militarised buildings, and many have been renovated exactly to how they would have looked when they were originally built. Some are under the stewardship of the Scottish National Trust and the Historic Scotland Trust, while others are privately managed, yet all are worth visiting to really appreciate the beauty of Aberdeenshire. What better way is there to discover peaceful nature reserves and golden, sandy beaches than by setting off on an adventure to find an ancient castle? With this thought in mind, we’ve put together a list of the most magnificent and culturally important castles in Aberdeenshire, and each one is guaranteed to offer you a fantastic time exploring them.
Possibly the most recognisable castle in Aberdeenshire, Dunnottar Castle sits proudly on top of a remote pinnacle of rock nearby the coastal town of Stonehaven. The castle was once home to the Earls Marischal, one of the most powerful families in Scotland, and although there have been chapels and other buildings on the rock since the 7th century, the castle as we see it today is mainly from the 15th and 16 centuries. Over its long history Dunnottar Castle has been involved with many pivotal points in Scotland’s history, including the Jacobite uprising where it passed into hands of both the Stuarts and the Hanoverians, and the Civil Wars of the 17th-century where it served as the hiding place for The Honours of Scotland; the crown, sword and sceptre that now resides at Edinburgh castle.
Visiting Dunnottar today rewards tourists with an unusual experience as they walk up the winding path that leads into the main cliff-top fortifications. From here you will be confronted with fantastic views of the north sea to the east and the Aberdeenshire countryside to the west, while the haunting ruins of the castle provide fantastic photo opportunities for anyone with a camera.
Address: Dunnottar Castle, Stonehaven, AB39 2TL
Telephone: +44 (0) 1569 762173
email: Contact form here
Crathes Castle near Banchory is managed by the Scottish National Trust who have ensured that the building still looks every inch the imposing tower house that it was originally designed to be. Built in the mid 16-century by the Burnett of Leys family, the castle features one of the most significant collections of portraits in Aberdeenshire, while externally there are over 530 acres of woodland and fields to explore. Perhaps the most striking feature though is the four-acre walled garden that includes a dizzying variety of plants and even has a croquet court on it’s immaculately manicured lawns.
The main castle building can be viewed by means of a designated route that runs through the enormous maze of rooms, while the castle grounds have a number of walking trails that will take visitors on a journey around woodlands, marshes, ponds and fields. The more adventurous might like to have a go at the SkyWall, which is a tall climbing wall built on the site near the cafe, and the SkyTrek which is a high-level adventure activity near the car park.
- Jan – Mar, Sat & Sun, 11.00 – 16.00
- 30 Mar – 1 Oct, daily, 10.30 – 17.00
- 1 Nov – 23 Dec, Sat & Sun, 11.00 – 16.00
- 1 Jan – 31 Jan, Sat & Sun, 11.00 – 16.00
- 1 Feb – 30 Mar, Thur – Mon, 11.00 – 16.00
- 1 Apr – 31 Oct, daily, 10.30 – 17.00
- 1 Nov – 23 Dec, Thur – Mon, 11.00 – 16.00
- 23 Dec – 2 Jan 2019, closed
- Adult £13.00
- Family £30.00
- One adult family £24.00
- Concession £9.50
Address: Crathes Castle, Banchory, Aberdeenshire, AB31 5QJ
Telephone: 01330 844525
Once the ancestral seat of Clan Irvine, Drum Castle is an impressive series of buildings that have been added to the original 13th-century tower house over the course of more than four hundred years. The castle played an important role in the nation’s history several times, most notably in the 1600’s when it was captured twice by hostile troops during the Civil Wars. This castle is a mix of buildings from several different centuries and the warren of rooms in various architectural styles makes visiting Drum Castle quite unique to others you may have been to before.
As you walk around the buildings you can’t fail to be surprised by the number of twists and turns that the maze of rooms will take you through as you explore each section. Unlike many ancient castles, this one is quite modern by most standards and the Victorian-era modernisation might lead you to wonder what it would be like to live there yourself. In fact, the Irvine family had continued to live at Drum Castle right up until 1975 so you’ll get a real sense of what it’s actually like to live in an aristocrat family home as you explore every nook and cranny of this fascinating piece of Scottish history.
- 6 Jan – Mar, Sat & Sun, 11.00 – 16.00
- 30 Mar – May, Thur – Mon, 11.00 – 16.00
- Jun – Aug, daily, 11.00 – 16.00
- Sep – Oct, Thur – Mon, 11.00 – 16.00
- 1 Nov – 22 Dec, Sat & Sun, 11.00 – 16.00
- 23 Dec – 6 Jan 2019, closed
- 2 Jan – 29 Mar, closed
- 30 Mar – 31 Oct, daily, 11.00 – 16.00
- 1 Nov – 31 Mar 2019, closed
- All year, daily
- Adult £12.50
- Family £29.50
- One adult family £23.00
- Concession £9.00