The Complete Guide to Visiting Caerlaverock Castle in South West Scotland

Last updated on August 21st, 2020

Caerlaverock Castle in Dumfriesshire

Caerlaverock Castle is located near the Solway Firth on the Scottish / English border and is famous its unusual triangular shape. The castle ruins are open to explore and offer access to a nearby woodland and nature reserve.

Category: Castle, Forest or woodland

Suitable for ages: 5 to 10 years, 11 to 18 years, 18+ years, 65+ years

Ideal for: Couples, Families, Groups, Solo travellers

I rate it: 8 out of 10

Caerlaverock Castle

About Caerlaverock Castle

The Historic Scotland-managed Caerlaverock Castle is often regarded as one of the most impressive medieval fortresses on the Scottish/English border.

Famous for its unusual triangular shape, the castle is surrounded by one of the few remaining moats in Scotland and the imposing fortified walls are a reminder of the siege years that troubled this part of the country during the Wars of Scottish Independence.

Although Caerlaverock Castle is now in ruin it’s still an impressive sight and it’s a great place to come if you’ve got a few hours to kill and you’re in the area. The castle’s remains offer plenty of photo opportunities and the nearby walks along the Solway Firth nature reserve are lovely – perfect for a stroll on a sunny day.

Caerlaverock Castle

Things to do at Caerlaverock Castle

Today, Caerlaverock is a popular tourist attraction due to the ruined fortifications which are great fun to explore, and although it won’t take you long to explore it entirely (I’d give it no more than an hour) it’s a nice place to visit for an afternoon with the family.

Historic Environment Scotland have done a good job of maximizing what’s on offer here and there’s a wide-open stretch of grass in front of the castle that’s ideal for letting the kids run riot, and there are benches set to one side if you fancy taking a break with a picnic.

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Although the castle is interesting enough and there’s a lot of history to discover I thought the highlight of my visit was walking through the nearby woodland that runs down into the grasslands of the Solway Firth.

Caerlaverock Castle

The woodland is a wonderful place to see a variety of songbirds and the trail also leads to the foundations of another castle, and following the path further south will lead you into Caerlaverock National Nature Reserve which is worth a visit in its own right.

Covering 21 square miles, this reserve is home to a rich variety of waterfowl and wading birds and taking a pair of binoculars is a must for any walk there with the salt-marsh, grassland and mudflats clearly visible in all directions.

After exploring the reserve you can head back to the castle grounds to relax in the tea rooms which offer hot drinks and home baking with seating inside if the weather’s not so good.

There’s also a permanent exhibition that will teach you all about siege warfare thanks to reconstructions of medieval siege engines, and a small castle-themed adventure playpark that will keep the kids entertained until it’s time to go home.

Caerlaverock Castle

The history of Caerlaverock Castle

The castle was first built in the 13th-century by the Maxwell family as a defensive stronghold and was reconstructed several times throughout its life until it was finally abandoned and left to ruin in the 17th-century.

Prior to its construction several defensive structures had been built in this area that were designed to take advantage of the nearby Solway Firth, including the Roman fort that was erected on nearby Ward Law Hill.

The site where Caerlaverock is located is known to have been originally owned by the monks of Holm Cultram Abbey, but these lands were awarded to Sir John Maxwell in the early 13th-century.

The Maxwell family went on to build a four-sided castle 200 metres to the south but this was later abandoned and the familiar three-sided fortress that we see today was subsequently built by Sir Aymer Maxwell around 1270.

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The Maxwell family continued to improve the castle during the time they lived there with the impressive south and east ranges (known as the Nithsdale Lodging) constructed in the early 17th-century, while the imposing red sandstone walls and towers were built in response to the cross-border conflicts that occurred due to the castle’s close proximity to the English border.

Find more historic fortifications in my Guide to the Best Castles to Visit in Scotland.

The highlights

  • It’s a unique historic attraction that’s definitely worth visiting if you’re in the area to enjoy the Solway Firth.
  • The castle is close to some lovely walks in the nearby nature reserve which you can join from the rear of the castle grounds.
  • Although the castle is in ruins the visitor facilities are actually pretty good. I have to say the cafe is well worth a look.

My top tips

  • There’s a path that leads down to the nature reserve where you’ll find a fantastic walk – but wear wellies in winter as it gets really waterlogged.
  • The lawn area outside the castle is big enough to let the kids run about and there are picnic benches if you want to sit outside with a packed lunch.
  • If you want something else to do you’ll find another nice historic attraction nearby called New Abbey Corn Mill. Alternatively, take a walk along the picturesque Southerness beach.

Photos and video

Photo Gallery
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Virtual Tour

Scotland 360 Photo Tour
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Address and map

Caerlaverock Castle,

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Tickets and opening times

Special offer! Click this affiliate link to purchase a Historic Environment Scotland Explorer Pass from Viator. Your 5-day or 14-day pass allows free entry to more than 77 castles, cathedrals, distilleries and more throughout Scotland.

  • 1 Apr to 30 Sept: Daily, 9.30am to 5.30pm. Last entry 5pm.
  • 1 Oct to 31 Mar: Daily, 10am to 4pm. Last entry 3.30pm

Contact details

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Getting there: Car park on-site

Getting around: Disabled access, Easy-access paths, Pushchair access

On-site conveniences: Gift shop, Hot drinks, Picnic area, Restaurant or cafe, Snacks, Toilets