The Great Scottish Castle Trail – Part Two
–A Battlemaster’s Guide to Doing Scotland Right–
(Continued from Part One)
A short jaunt east of Edinburgh near the coastal retreat of North Berwick sits Tantallon Castle. Its towering walls rise to over 100 feet and provide picture-perfect views out to Bass Rock and the Firth of Forth (HS, All Year). The castle’s dovecot, which held pigeons for winter feasts, is of especially fine quality, its hundreds of tiny chambers creating an optical feast reminiscent of a labyrinth or ziggurat. If, however, you arrive in Glasgow, Bothwell Castle is a must-see (HS, All Year). A stronghold of the mighty Moray and Douglas families, Bothwell was the site of one of the most terrific sieges in Scottish history. When King Edward I of England, known as ‘the Hammer of the Scots’, invaded Scotland in 1301, he had to build a special siege tower specifically to tackle Bothwell’s massive keep. It stands a ruin today, but look out for special features such as an engraved Douglas heart emblem and graffiti carved into the keep’s bottom floor stonework carved by a young David Livingstone.
Swooping south to Dumfries, Caerlaverock Castle is the UK’s only triangular fortress, and is the kind of castle that medieval romantics dream about (HS, All Year). Surrounded by a moat, Caerlaverock had its own 300 moment when 68 Scots held out against over 6,000 English soldiers also under the command of Edward I in 1300. There is even a replica of a mangonel, a siege engine used by Edward, on the site along with an excellent interpretation centre that walks you through what a medieval siege looked and felt like.
Veer now back north to Perthshire and join the wonderfully silly pilgrimage to Doune Castle, filming location for much of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. An audio guide is narrated by Python alumnus Terry Jones, and reception will provide you with coconuts to clack through the corridors upon request (HS, All Year). Aside from that, it has a brilliantly restored great hall and one of the most imposing tower houses anywhere in Scotland, standing at an intimidating 95 feet in height. Doune also featured as Winterfell in the premiere episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones, and takes centre stage in the upcoming Starz series Outlander.
From Doune, turn northeast and make way to the most jaw-dropping natural location for any castle in the UK. Dunnottar Castle, just outside Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire, has been a fortified site since at least the 7th century AD (Independent, All Year). Here ancient wars in the time before Scotland or England existed came to a head, and William Wallace forced the English garrison into the castle’s chapel, burning it to the ground with all the souls inside. Dunnottar placed in the Top 10 list to establish the 8th Wonder of the World in 2013. Aberdeenshire provides a wealth of castles of all kinds, not least of which is Crathes Castle (NTS, All Year, November to March Sat & Sun only). The castle boasts excellent interior displays and stunning painted ceilings, and its grounds recently revealed the world’s oldest calendar in the form of a set of ditches dated to 8,000 BC.
Continued in Part Three
Article contributed by: David Weinczok
Picture of Bothwell Castle supplied by David Weinczok