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Moray Council

Cawdor Castle, Scottish Highlands

Location: Nairn, Scotland, IV12 5RD (map and directions)

Set in the parish of Cawdor, Cawdor Castle lies 10 miles east of Inverness and 5 miles southwest of Nairn. This 14th century tower house belonged to Clan Calder and continues to serve as the home of the Cawdor family.

Cawdor Castle, Scottish Highlands copyright David Plotzki
Cawdor Castle © David Plotzki

History of Cawdor Castle

Cawdor Castle is most often associated with Shakespeare’s tragedy, Macbeth, as the lead character is named Thane of Cawdor. The castle was built years after the events of the play, and so this association is based in fantasy only.

For many years it was thought that the castle was built around the year 1454. However, despite muddy historical accounts, it is now thought that the castle was built as early as the mid-1300s. An older, crumbling Cawdor Castle needed replacing, and William, 3rd Thane of Cawdor, set out to find a replacement location to re-construct Cawdor. William rode his donkey through the nearby countryside, and directly at the spot where the donkey laid its head to rest is where Cawdor was built. This spot lied was under a holly tree, and Cawdor was constructed around this tree. Results of testing conclusively indicate that the holly tree died in 1372, suggesting that the castle was first built before that date. Ironically, it may have been a starvation of sunlight due to the construction of Cawdor around the castle which eventually killed the holly tree.

This original structure would have just been a large four-storey tower, or keep. The castle was expanded several times throughout history, mainly in the 17th and 19th centuries.

Cawdor Castle, Scottish Highlands copyright Kathi Overton
Cawdor Castle © Kathi Overton

Clan Campbell obtained control of Cawdor Castle in 1511 when the (12 year-old) daughter of the 8th Thane of Cawdor was made to marry John, the son of Archibald Campbell, the 2nd Earl of Argyll.

In the 17th century, Sir Hugh Campbell, the 15th Thane, declared support for the Jacobites. This position caused the family to leave their estates for nearly a century. Upon their return, Cawdor remained as they had left it, and no 18th modernisation was undertaken in the same way that other castles fashionably re-modelled during that era.

The gardens at Cawdor Castle include a Walled Garden, originally built in the 17th century, a Flower Garden, built in the 18th century and a Wild Garden, built in the 1960s.

Map and directions

Cawdor Castle is open daily to the public from 10am – 5:30pm from 1 May to early October each year. Visitors to Cawdor Castle have access to reception and living rooms, bedrooms, the Thorn Tree Room and the dungeon.

View Cawdor Castle in a larger map

Other castles in Scottish Highlands

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