Aberdour Castle in Fife is one of the oldest standing stone castles in Scotland and has served as the residence of Scottish noble families since the 1100s. Today, it is managed by Historic Environment Scotland and is open to the public for self-guided tours.
Review of Aberdour Castle
Aberdour Castle is located in the quiet village of Aberdour in Fife and it’s notable for being one of the oldest masonry castles that is still standing in Scotland.
Built in the early 1100s, the castle surrounds a hall house which was gradually extended over several centuries, and although a large portion of the early structure is in ruin the later complex of buildings are in a remarkably good condition thanks to the efforts of Historic Environment Scotland (HES) who now maintain it.
As the castle is so close to Edinburgh it’s an easy journey across the Forth Road Bridge to get to this historic building so if you’re in the Edinburgh area there’s no reason why you couldn’t include Aberdour into your itinerary.
But there’s more to this attraction than history and a visit is worth the journey not only for the castle but also for the manicured gardens that surround it.
There’s a fragrant walled garden to the east and an equally nice terraced garden to the south (both of which offer lovely views across the Firth of Forth) with a tabled seating area that practically begs guests to whip out their cheese sarnies for a summer picnic.
If you’re a fan of the Outlander TV series you’ve got another reason to visit Aberdour as it was the setting for Sainte Anne de Beaupré’s monastery in France in the last episode of season 1 where the Old Kitchen and Long Gallery were both used as filming locations.
This part of Fife has several filming locations where you can follow in the footsteps of Clare and Jamie (take a look at my guide to Culross) and the official Visit Scotland website has got a very good location map if you want to include Aberdour into an Outlander pilgrimage.
Next door to Aberdour Castle is St. Fillan’s Church which is another medieval building that’s worth taking a peek inside.
Also built during the 1100s, St. Fillan’s Church is an interesting wee building that offers great views across the Firth of Forth towards Edinburgh, with the rising Pentland Hills nestled on the skyline behind the city.
Once you’ve had enough of history and taking photos of the scenery you can head back to the castle for a light lunch in the café which overlooks the terrace.
Out About Scotland recommends...
Things to do at Aberdour Castle
Although Aberdour Castle isn’t particularly big there’s more than enough activities to keep a family occupied for a few hours thanks to the gardens and church, but you’ll probably want to start your visit with a walk around the castle interior.
As I mentioned earlier, the hall house is one of the oldest surviving structures of its kind in Scotland (the other is Castle Sween in Argyll) and there are some interesting points of interest to take note of as you make your way around it.
There’s a fairly impressive painted ceiling in the east range which dates all the way back to the early 1600s that’s well worth taking a look at, and if you move into the Long Gallery you’ll get a good insight into how medieval Scottish castles would have looked back in the day.
While it’s quite bare inside it has been extremely well renovated by HES and thanks to the information panels they’ve installed you’ll get a good idea of what everyday life would have been like 900 years ago.
Unfortunately, not all of the castle complex is in such good condition and a large part of the original tower house is in ruin due to a fire that occurred in the 1680s. Even so, there are enough nooks, crannies and hidey-holes that kids will undoubtedly start a game of hide and seek as soon as they get near it.
Once you’ve had your fill of the old buildings you can head out into the two gardens, both of which offer a pleasant short walk.
The terraced garden is formed by four L-shaped levels which descend down in steps towards the Firth of Forth, but it’s the upper terrace where you’ll find the enormous beehive-shaped dovecote that was once used to keep the pigeons that fed the castle’s occupants.
This dovecot is enormous, one of the biggest I’ve seen, and apparently there are over 600 nesting boxes inside (I couldn’t be bothered to count them all) so I guess they must have really liked pigeon meat back in the day.
The walled garden to the east has a small orchard inside it and it also partially encloses St. Fillans Church. While the church isn’t exactly extravagant it’s very pretty and has a peaceful feeling which you’ll sense as soon as you walk through its doors.
The view towards Edinburgh is very picturesque as well – as long as the haar* hasn’t rolled in of course…
*A haar is a Scots word for a thick cold mist that rolls inland off a body of water – as frequently happens along this coastline.
The history of Aberdour Castle
The very earliest section of the castle is the hall house which is believed to have been built in the 1100s by Sir Alan de Mortimer who acquired the barony of Aberdour in the early part of the century.
Although there’s no record of what became of the de Mortimer’s, historians know that Robert the Bruce granted Aberdour to Thomas Randolph – the Earl of Moray – in 1325 as a gift for his service during the Scottish wars of independence.
The Randolph’s then kept Aberdour in their possession for the next two generations until they granted it to Sir William Douglas in 1351.
At this time Sir Douglas already had a residence in Dalkeith near Edinburgh so Aberdour was used only as a secondary home, but the rising power of the Douglas’s meant that they could afford to expand on the original tower house by building new stair towers and an extension to the south block.
The Douglas’s continued to use Aberdour as a joint seat of barony alongside Dalkeith for several hundred years, and with their increasing fortune came even more extensions to the castle, including the central range built in the 1500s and the east range built in the 1600s.
The decline of the Douglas family began with William Douglas in the 17th-century when mounting interest from loans caused the family to get heavily into debt. After a catastrophic fire broke out in 1688 they found themselves unable to repair the buildings so in 1725 they finally moved out and never returned.
Thankfully, Aberdour was placed into state care in the early 1900s and is now listed as a Category A building, which means it has the highest level of protection possible for a historic building in Scotland.
If you want to discover more Scottish fortifications read my Guide to the Best Castles in Scotland.
- The house and gardens are quite interesting to walk around although only some of the buildings are open.
- The church next door is very pretty inside. There’s a nice view across the Firth of Forth as well.
- The gardens that overlook the Forth are perfect to sit in on a warm summer day. If the café isn’t open I definitely recommend a picnic.
- Check out nearby Aberdour Silver Sands beach which looks out over Inchcolm Island and abbey
- After you’ve visited the castle you might consider driving to Dunfermline which is by far the best option for food. There’s not much in Aberdour village to be honest.
- If you’re looking for more history take a drive to Dunfermline Abbey which is 8 miles away.
Photo gallery and video
Things to do near Aberdour Castle
- Braefoot Bay. Burntisland KY3 0XR. 15-minute drive. A local coastal nature reserve that features a footpath around Dalgety Bay. The path is frequently used by mountain bikers as well as walkers. The bay is the nearest point to Inchcolm Island.
- Silver Sands Beach. Firth of Forth, Burntisland KY3 0RQ. 3-minute drive. A golden-sand beach to the east of Aberdour. There is a path from the beach that closely follows the coastline to Burntisland.
- Fife Coastal Path. N Overgate, Kinghorn KY3 9SY. 14-minute drive. The Fife Coastal Path is a 187 km footpath that begins in Kincardine and finishes in Newburgh. The section that starts at Kinghorn offers picturesque views across the North Sea before winding its way to the large town of Kirkaldy.
- Cullaloe Nature Reserve. B9157, Burntisland KY3 0LU. 4-minute drive. This nature reserve centres around a reclaimed reservoir that is a haven for birds including lapwings and sedge warblers. There are areas of wildflower meadows, marshland and willow scrub. There is also a wildlife viewing screen with wheelchair access.
- Dunfermline Abbey. St Margaret’s Street, Dunfermline KY12 7PE. 18-minute drive. One of the largest abbeys in Scotland, Dunfermline Abbey is known as the burial site for many of Scotland’s ancient kings. There are several attractions nearby including the Abbot House Museum, Pittencrieff Park and the Andrew Carnegie Museum.
More places to visit in Central Scotland
- The Scottish Deer Centre – Fife: Complete Visitor GuideSet in 55 acres of lovely Fife countryside, The Scottish Deer Centre is an animal conservation park that looks after 14 species of deer from around the world as well as wolves, otters, wildcats, and birds of prey.
- Scone Palace – Perthshire: Complete Visitor GuideScone Palace is widely recognised as one of the top tourist attractions in central Scotland, not only because It’s a genuinely interesting place to visit but also because it’s absolutely steeped in history.
- The Crieff Hydro – Perthshire: Complete Visitor GuideThe Crieff Hydro is a popular resort in the Perthshire countryside that offers a range of health-based activities as well as large grounds for walking and relaxation. The hotel boasts over 200 bedrooms and over 50 self-catering properties, as well as restaurants, cafes and bars.
- The Kelpies – Stirlingshire: Complete Visitor GuideThese equine marvels are Scotland’s celebration of a bygone era of horse-drawn barges that kept the nation’s industry going for well over a hundred years, and although Clydesdale’s (the breed of horse) are no longer a sight on the canals you can at least enjoy the spectacle of the world’s biggest horse sculptures when you go to visit them at Helix Park.