The Out About Scotland complete guide to Caerlaverock Castle in Dumfriesshire
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
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.
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.
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.
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 its reconstructions of medieval siege engines, and a small castle-themed adventure playpark will keep the kids entertained until it’s time to go home.
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.
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.
What I liked about this attraction
- It’s a unique historical site
- It’s close to some lovely walks in the nearby nature reserve
- It’s very peaceful
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
Address and map
Prices 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. With passes starting at just £35 (as of 2019) it’s an absolute bargain!
- Historic Scotland Member/Explorer Pass holder: Free
- Adult: £6.00
- Child aged 5–15: £3.60
- Child under 5: Free
- Concession: £4.80
- 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
- Telephone: 01387 770 244
- email: NA
- Website: Historic Scotland
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
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