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Scottish Castles

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Shetland Islands Council
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Castles in Hebrides & Isles

Shetland castles

Shetland offers some of the most spectacular and varied scenery in all of Britain, from heather hills to crags to farmland, the landscape is breathtaking and no matter where you stand, you are no further than 3 miles from the sea. The history of Shetland dates from the Celtics, to the Scandinavians to the Romans. Shetland was also home to the Danish until relinquishing control in the 15th century, after which castles were built by the Earl of Orkney: Muness and Scalloway.

Muness Castle, in the southeast corner of Unst, is the most northern of all British castles, was buiolt by Laurence Bruce, the half brother of the Earl of Orkney Robert Stewart in 1598. Today Muness Castle is in the care of Historic Scotland. Patrick Stewart, the 2nd Earl of Orkney, built Scalloway Castle in 1599 in what was the capital of Shetland at the time. Andrew Crawford designed Scalloway and Muness Castles as the Earl’s Master of Works.

Orkney castles

The region of Orkney covers over 70 islands scattered in the sea in the form of an archipelago, though only 20 of these islands are inhabited. The islands of Orkney can boast an 8,500 year history stretching back to Mesolithic and Neolithic tribes and was under Scandinavian rule for much of its history until annexed to the Scottish Crown in 1472. Orkney is home to several magnificent castles.

The island of Shapinsay, Orkney, is most well known for Balfour Castle, located in the village of Balfour, which was built during the Balfour family’s domination of the island during the 18th and 19th centuries. Balfour Castle is a picture-perfect example of a Scottish castle and is a privately owned family home.

Located on the island of Kirkwall, the capital of Orkney, Bishop's Palace is a beautiful ruined castle adjacent to the still standing St Magnus Cathedral. Originally in the hands of the Norwegians, Bishop’s Palace passed through Scottish hands including to Robert Stewart 1st Earl of Orkney. St. Magnus Cathedral is the most northerly of cathedrals in the British Isles, owned not by the church but the Scottish Crown and is houses its own dungeon. Earls Palace lies nearby, a ruined Palace begun in 1607 by Patrick Stewart and his father Robert Stewart.

The tiny isle of Wyre (just 1.2 square miles and 32 metres at its highest point) is home to Cubbie Roo's Castle, one of the oldest castles in Scotland. Cubbie Roo’s Castle was built in 1150 and today is maintained by Historic Scotland as is St. Mary's Chapel, a 12th century chapel ruin in the centre of the island.

The Hebrides

This region in the northwest of Scotland is a 150-mile long chain of islands that offers the most breathtaking of habitats. Separated into two main groups, the Inner and Outer Hebrides, this Scottish island chain is also home to several historically significant castles.

Inner Hebrides castles

The Isle of Mull of the coast of Argyll is a major tourist attraction in the summer months, no doubt in part due to the classic castles which call Mull home. 22 miles south from the Isle of Mull’s capital Tobermory, is Torosay Castle, 1.5 miles south of Craignure. Though a private home, the castle, which was designed for John Campbell and built in 1858, and the 12 acres of gardens which surround the castle are open to the public. Just twelve miles from Torosay Castle sits Moy Castle, a stunning but badly damaged castle near Lochbuie, built in the 1400s by Clan MacLean. Nearby Duart Castle dates back to the 13th century and was the seat of the Clan MacLean. A major tourist attraction, this well maintained castle has also been used as the backdrop of some very famous Hollywood films.

Torosay Castle, Hebrides & Isles copyright Rob Farrow
Torosay Castle © Rob Farrow

On a clear day the Irish coast can be seen from the Isle of Islay, the fifth largest Scottish island off the coast of Argyll and known as the Queen of the Hebrides. Islay is also home to Dunyvaig Castle. Located on the south side of the island just over 2 miles from Port Ellen, the castle was once a naval base of the Lord of the Isles, the chiefs of Clan Donald. Once a centre of Celtic Christianity, the Isle of Lismore in Loch Linnhe, is home to the Castle Coeffin, a ruin built in the 13th century, probably by the MacDougalls of Lorn, and would have been a key site for the clan.

One of the most beautiful castles in Scotland, the fairytale-like Eileen Donan Castle is located on a small island which shares its name in Loch Duich.

Brochel Castle, built by the MacSweens in the 15th century sits proudly atop the Isle of Raasay, which lies between the Isle of Skye and mainland Scotland. The castle then became a base for the MacLeod of Lewis’ pirate activities.

Coll, an island west of the Isle of Mull, is home to sandy beaches and Breachacha Castle, near the village of Aringahour. This stately castle was built in the 14th century and served as a stronghold of the Macleans for centuries.

Colonsay House on the island of Colonsay in the Inner Hebrides is a privately- owned Georgian-style country house set on 20 acres of this 15 square mile island.

The island of Kerrera is home to Gylen Castle, built in 1582 by Clan MacDougall on land which juts out onto the Firth of Lorne. The castle was restored in 2006 by donations in part by Historic Scotland and with money raised by worldwide members of Clan MacDougall.

Outer Hebrides castles

Located on the Isle of Barra, Kisimul Castle is a small medieval castle located off the village of Castlebay. Completely surrounded by sea, the castle can only be reached by boat and was the home of the MacNeil clan until it was abandoned in 1838 when the island was sold. The chief of Clan MacNeill purchased the castle in 1937 and Historic Scotland have now leased the property from the MacNeills for the price of £1 a year and a bottle of whisky!

Isle of Lewis and Harris is the largest island of the Outer Hebrides, and the ancestral homeland of the MacLeod Clan. Amhuinnsuidhe Castle on the Isle of Harris side of the island is a luxurious and picturesque private castle built in 1865 for the 7th Earl of Dunmore. Today it is a venue for hire. The Isle of Lewis is home to Lews Castle in Stornoway. This grand Victorian castle is owned by the local council and is a category A listed building. Benbecula is a 32 sq mile island where the ruins of the 14th century Borve Castle are located. Borve was occupied by the Macdonalds until the early 17th century and then abandoned, and is currently protected as a Scheduled Monument.

Dunvegan Castle, Hebrides & Isles copyright Gernot Keller
Dunvegan Castle © Gernot Keller

South Uist, with a long and exciting history that even includes the discovery of prehistoric mummies, is also home to Ormacleit Castle, an 18th century ruined mansion house built by Allan Macdonald, chief of Clanranald. Ormacleit served as the seat of the Clan, though it was abandoned after only ten years’ occupation. The ruins are now listed as a Scheduled Monument and a category B listed building.

Hebrides & Isles castles

Bullet Point Amhuinnsuidhe Castle
Bullet Point Balfour Castle
Bullet Point Bishop's Palace
Bullet Point Borve Castle
Bullet Point Breachacha Castle
Bullet Point Brochel Castle
Bullet Point Castle Coeffin
Bullet Point Colonsay House
Bullet Point Cubbie Roo's Castle
Bullet Point Duart Castle
Bullet Point Dunvegan Castle
Bullet Point Dunyvaig Castle
Bullet Point Earls Palace
Bullet Point Eileen Donan Castle
Bullet Point Gylen Castle
Bullet Point Kisimul Castle
Bullet Point Lews Castle
Bullet Point Moy Castle
Bullet Point Muness Castle
Bullet Point Ormacleit Castle
Bullet Point Scalloway Castle
Bullet Point St. Magnus Cathedral
Bullet Point St. Mary's Chapel
Bullet Point Torosay Castle

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