Caerlaverock Castle is located near the Solway Firth on the Scottish/English border and is famous for its unusual triangular shape. The castle ruins are open to the public and offer access to a nearby woodland and nature reserve.
Review of 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 offers 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 look around 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 has 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 and there’s a lot of history to discover I think the highlight of a visit is walking through the nearby woodland that runs down into the grasslands of the Solway Firth.
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The woodland is a wonderful place to see a variety of songbirds and the trail also leads to the foundations of a much older castle. 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.
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.
Find more historic fortifications in my Guide to the Best Castles to Visit in Scotland.
- It’s a unique historic attraction that’s definitely worth visiting if you’re in the area.
- 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 café is well worth a look.
- 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.
Photo gallery and video
Things to do near Caerlaverock Castle
- Caerlaverock Wetland Centre. Eastpark Farm, Caerlaverock DG1 4RS. 7-minute drive. This nature reserve is within walking distance of Caerlaverock Castle. It is famed for its diverse wildlife habitats that are a haven for barnacle geese, ospreys, swans and other waterfowl.
- Sweetheart Abbey. Main St, New Abbey, Dumfries DG2 8BU. 28-minute drive. A 700-year-old abbey that is in ruin, although most of the exterior walls are intact. The abbey is within walking distance of New Abbey Corn Mill.
- New Abbey Corn Mill. New Abbey, Dumfries DG2 8BX. 27-minute drive. A historic 18th-century water-powered mill that comes to life in the summer months when the water wheel can be seen in action. Inside the mill, visitors can explore the exhibits left behind by the last miller 65 years ago on a self-guided tour.
- Mabie Farm Park. Mabie Ct, Dumfries DG2 8EZ. 24-minute drive. A family-oriented farm theme park that gives visitors the chance to feed ponies, sheep, pigs and donkeys. There is a boating pond, go-kart track, quad bike track, a rope swing barn and much more.
- Dumfries Museum. The Observatory, Rotchell Rd, Dumfries DG2 7SW. 18-minute drive. Dumfries Museum is dedicated to telling the stories of the people who lived in the city and the surrounding area. There are displays of fossils, early man-made tools, stone carvings and more.
More places to visit in Dumfries & Galloway
- New Abbey Corn Mill – Dumfriesshire: Complete Visitor GuideThe New Abbey Corn Mill, situated in the lovely village of New Abbey in Dumfries and Galloway, offers a glimpse into the history of Scotland’s ancient grain milling craft with a complete working set of original milling machinery.
- The Solway Firth – Dumfries & Galloway: Complete Visitor GuideThe Solway Firth is rightly regarded as one of the most beautiful areas of Scotland, yet it’s often overlooked by visitors to the country. Stretching out across both England and Scotland the Solway Firth borders the stunning coastlines of Cumbria and Dumfries & Galloway and reaches out into the Irish Sea to almost touch the Isle of Man.
- Caerlaverock Castle – Dumfries & Galloway: Complete Visitor GuideFamous 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.
- Gretna Green Blacksmiths Shop – Dumfries & Galloway: Complete Visitor GuideIf you’re in any way romantically inclined you should probably take a visit to the famous Gretna Green Blacksmiths Shop on the Scottish border near the Solway Firth (which you can read about in my Complete Guide to the Solway Firth).