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Castles in Scottish Highlands
To some, the Highlands are Scotland – the beautiful lochs, wide open spaces with more sheep than people spread out as far as the eye can see. While Scotland’s beauty extends far beyond its Highlands, it is true that a big piece of the heart and history of Scotland can be found here. Inverness is the urban centre from which visitors head off to more remote areas of the Highlands, sometimes along the Road to the Isles, which leads from Mallaig to Isle of Skye, passing Glen Coe, Cairngorms National Park, Ben Nevis, Fort William and Lochaber.
Castles in Craithness
The town of Wick is bisected by the River Wick, extending along both sides of Wick Bay just 16 miles from John O Groats, the northernmost town in Scotland. Wick and the surrounding areas are home to many of Scotland’s castles, with a history that stretches back to the era of Norwegian rule in Caithness. The name Wick comes from the Norse word, ‘vik’, meaning ‘bay’. The Castle of Old Wick sits less than a mile south of the town centre, and the Sinclair and Girnigoe Castle is 3 miles north of Wick, as is Ackergill Tower, built in the 1400s by Clan Keith. Dunbeath Castle is a majestic and still inhabited castle on the coast of Caithness, first built in 1428 and belonging to the Clan Sinclair for many years. The Castle of Mey (formerly Barrogill Castle) is most well known as the former home to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, who rescued Barrogill from being abandoned in 1952. The Castle of Mey is also the most northerly inhabited castle in mainland Britain, located 6 miles west of John O’ Groats.
Castles in Sutherland
The area of Sutherland is the northernmost county in Scotland, Dornoch is the only large town. Just over 14,000 people populate the rugged and mountainous terrain of the area, with Ben More at 3273 ft in Assynt as the highest mountain in the county. Ben Clibreck (3154) and Ben Hope (3040 ft) add to the grandeur of the region where the wild cat and golden eagle are sometimes visible. After the conquest of the area by Scottish kings from the Scandinavian influence, Assynt was peopled by a branch of the Macleods of Lewis, and then the Mackenzies, who sold the territory to the Earl of Sutherland during the mid 18th century.
Dunrobin Castle - Wikimedia Commons
Sutherland is home to several castles, including Ardvreck Castle, now in ruins and supposedly haunted, at the east end of Loch Assynt, which was the prison of the Marquis of Montrose after his defeat at Invercarron. Other castles in the area include Carbisdale Castle operated by the Scottish Youth Hostels Association, Dornoch Castle and the nearby Skibo Castle, while Skelbo Castle is located on the shore of the mouth of Loch Fleet. Nearby there is Dunrobin Castle, a grand stately home with 189 rooms which serves as the seat of the Countess of Sutherland and the clan Sutherland, and Varrich Castle, the historic seat of the Clan Mackay which now lies in ruins. The Clan Mackay then moved on to Tongue House, located directly in Tongue off the Kyle of Tongue.
Castles in Fort William and the surrounding area
The Highland town of Fort William is the largest in the west Highlands of Scotland, and is home to both
the highest mountain in the UK – Ben Nevis, and the deepest loch – Loch Morar. The area markets
itself as the Outdoor Capital of the UK, as is very well known to visitors interested in climbing and
hiking, not only for its mountains but also for its connection to the West Highland Way from Glasgow
and the Great Glen Way - a walk and cycle way from Inverness to Fort William through The Great Glen.
Historically, Fort William and the wider area of Lochaber was Clan Cameron country, with several
Cameron settlements in the area, such as Achnacarry Castle, located 15 miles northeast of Fort
William, and the Historic Scotland owned remains of the ruined 13th century Inverlochy Castle, also
Castles in Inverness, Ross and Cromarty and Nairnshire
Inverness is the unofficial capital of the Scottish Highlands and the northernmost city in the United Kingdom and due to its location a major hub for transport links. The city itself is home to Inverness Castle, and also serves as the perfect base for exploring castles in the region. 13 miles outside of Inverness towards Nairn is Kilravock Castle, which was begun in 1460 and has been the seat of the Clan Rose ever since. Nearby Cawdor Castle is an extended tower house with magnificent gardens which is home to the Earls of Cawdor, though it is equally well-known for its (albeit chronologically impossible) connection to Shakespeare’s Macbeth, in which the title character was made Thane of Cawdor. 7 miles north of Inverness is Moniack Castle, located in Beauly. This castle was built by the Frasers, and still occupied by the clan, who run a winery today from the castle.
Cawdor Castle © Ukexpat
25 miles outside Inverness is Kildary, a small village which is home to Balnagowan Castle, now owned by Mohammed Al Fayed, the previous owner of Harrods. 9 miles south of Kildary is Alness, where Newmore Castle ruin is located, which once belonged the Munro Clan. 5 miles south is the town of Dingwall, home to Tulloch Castle, and a further 5 miles southwest is Strathpeffer, which, due to its strategic location, has a long history of battles over territory in the area. At one point the Clan Mackenzie and Clan Munro defeated the invading Clan MacDonald of Lochalsh in the Battle of Drumchatt in 1497 and Castle Leod, seat of the Earl of Cromartie, Chief of the Clan Mackenzie, is open to the public several times a year. Evanton is an oft-visited village in close proximity to the site of Teaninich Castle and Balconie Castle, the old seat of the Earls of Ross, chiefs of Clan Ross and later held by their successors, the Clan MacDonald, then Clan Munro, as well as having a period of Clan MacKenzie ownership. Foulis Castle in Kiltearn, 1.5 miles southwest of Evanton, has been the seat of the Clan Munro for over eight hundred years.
Castles in Moray
The Moray region of the Scottish Highlands borders Nairnshire to the west and Inverness-shire to the south and Banffshire to the east. Moray’s location caused it to serve as a frontier between Scottish Kings and Viking Earls during the 9th and 10th centuries. Accordingly, the region’s importance led to the establishment of several Royal Burghs, of which Elgin was the most significant in the region. Spynie Castle sits just a few minutes’ drive outside of Elgin and was the fortified seat of the Bishops of Moray for 500 years. Elgin was first documented in 1190, earning Royal Burgh status in the 12th century by King David I of Scotland. Throughout this area, several castles were built to act as bases for the enforcement of laws. Close to Elgin, Duffus Castle was in use from 1140 to the early 18th century. Clans Ogilvy and Clan Gordon had a presence in the area, most specifically at Auchindoun Castle near the town of Dufftown, also near to Ballindalloch Castle and Historic Scotland’s Balvenie Castle, which was built by the powerful ‘Black’ Comyn Earl of Buchan in the 13th century. After possession passed to the ‘Black’ Douglases, then to John Stewert, Earl of Atholl, in whose family it remained for 250 years. Castle Grant was the former seat of the Clan Grant chiefs a mile north of Grantown-on- Spey which, after changing hands many times is now a private estate. 10 miles west of Elgin is the National Trust property Brodie Castle, while 10 miles east of Elgin outside of Fochabers, sits Gordon Castle, historically the principal seat of the Dukes of Gordon.
Castles near Loch Ness
At 23 miles long, Loch Ness is a long slender loch which finds Inverness to the north and Fort
Augustus to the south, and Urquhart Castle in between, located on the water at Drumnadrochit.
Castles on the Isle of Skye
The Isle of Skye is the one of the world’s most popular islands. Skye has been populated since the
Mesolithic era, enjoyed a time of Norse rule as well as rule by the MacLeods and the MacDonalds. On
the northwest corner of Skye lie the ruins of Duntulm Castle, the seat of the chiefs of Clan MacDonald
during the 17th century, though the castle itself was built much earlier in the 14th and 15th centuries.
Scottish Highlands castlesAchnacarry Castle
Eilean Donan Castle
Castle of Mey
Castle of Old Wick
Sinclair and Girnigoe Castle
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