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Fortresses and Castles
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Fortresses and Castles
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Fortresses and Castles
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Castles Page 2
  Caelaverock
Solway Firth, Scotland
  Tioram
Loch Moidart, Scotland
  Urquhart
Lock Ness, Scotland
  Inverlocky
Ben Nevis, Scotland
  Borthwick
Borthwick, Scotland
  Braemar
Braemar, Grampian, Scotland
  Dunvegan
Isle of Skye
  Castle Campbell
Clackmannanshire, Scotland
  Drum Castle
Aberdeanshire, Scotland
  Dunstaffnage
Loch Etive, Scotland
Dunollie
Oban, Scotland
Dundonald
Dundonald Hill, Scotland


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Updated: June 13, 2004


The formidable and impressive castles of castles of Scotland that were created and built to protect and control peoples and areas, and as bases for expansion. Some have seen horrendous action and seiges, some fell some invincable. The castellation of Scotland falls into several categories: (1) There were the prehistoric and Roman-age places: Brochs, Traprain Law and Eildon Hill Bronze Age hill forts, etc. (2) The strongholds of the ancient British and Pictish kingdoms (Dumbarton, Stirling, Edinburgh, Dunadd and Dundurn); (3) the fortresses of the conquerors (Argyll Scots: Dunstaffnage, Tioram / Normans: Duffus, Dirleton, Bothwell, Kildrummy); (4) the Great Barons (Doune, Tantallon); (5) the Bishops and Earls and Kings (Kirkwall, Falkland, Dunfermline); (6) the Lairds (a multitude ranging from mansions like Cawdor to simple tower houses like Smailholm); (7) the military (Blackness, Fort George); and finally (8) the Georgian and Victorian Baronial style (Glamis, Balmoral, Culzean)

Caerlaverock Castle - The lands of Caerlaverock were granted to the Maxwells about 1220. Situated near the salt marshes of the Solway Firth, the Maxwells began construction of this castle in 1270. It's proximity to England brought the castle into frequent conflict throughout its existence. A contemporary poem, Le Siege de Karlaverock, vividly recorded the events of the great siege of 1300. The castle is basically triangular in shape with strong towers at each corner. It is double-moated, with the outer moat now dry. The walls and towers have been altered to take account of siege damage and fashion, but Caerlaverock remains the epitome of medieval stronghold. Caerlaverock Castle is surrounded by a double moat and hundreds of acres of flat marshy willow woods (known in Scotland as a "moss"), Caerlaverock was built to control the South-West entrance to Scotland which in early times was the waterway across the Solway Firth. Building began in about 1277, and by 1300 it was besieged by Edward I during his war against the Scottish king John (Balliol), a war still remembered for the brave resistance put up by the Scots under Sir William Wallace.

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Castle Tioram (pronounced cheerum) sits on a tidal island in Loch Moidart dates from the 13 th century. Castle Tioram's primary importance is as a principal stronghold of the Kingdom/Lordship of the Isles and seat of Clanranald for over 500 years from the late fourteenth century onwards. The earliest dated reference to the Castle is in a confirmation by Robert II in 1373 of a charter with  a date some time after 1346, granted by John, Lord of the Isles, to his son Ranald.It was the principal seat of the Clan Ranald MacDonalds until 1715, when it was burned on the orders of Allen of Clan Ranald, to discourage any attacks by Clan Campbell keeping it out of the hands of the Hanoverian forces, whilst Clan Ranald was involved in the Jacobite uprising.. It has been unoccupied since that time. It was modified by Amy (or Amie) MacRuari, wife of John, 7th Lord of the Isles, who was divorced from her husband so he could marry Margaret, daughter of Robert II. The Clan Ranald branch of the MacDonalds came through her. The earliest record of the castle is in 1373. Ranald, son of Lady Amy, became the first chief of Clan Ranald. From 1373, when Ranald received his charter, until 1715 (when fire brought the castle into a state of ruin) there were fourteen successive chiefs who resided at Tioram. In 1554 it was attacked by a force under the Earls of Huntly and Argyll, and Cromwell's forces occupied the castle in 1651 after a siege. During the Jacobite Rising of 1715 the castle was torched so that Hanoverian forces could not use it, and the chief of Clan Ranald was killed in the battle of Sheriffmuir. It was never reoccupied. Lady Grange was imprisoned here for a few weeks in 1732 before being taken to the outer isles. The word 'tioram' means 'dry' and refers to islet which can be reached across a sandy strand (except at high tide). It consists of a 14th century curtain wall, surrounding an irregularly shaped courtyard, in which a tower house and ranges of ranges of stone buildings were added in the 16th century. The walls were given open rounds and a corbelled-out parapet. The entrance is defended by a machiolation. The basements are vaulted, but the upper floors have gone. The enclosing curtain wall is over 2m (6ft) thick and rises an average height of 10m (33ft) (but to twice that along the seaward wall). The wall is almost entirely featureless - there are neither windows nor slits - and only two entrances (one, the old postern, now blocked) and the embattled parapet relieve the grey severity of the curtain.

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Urquhart Castle at Strone Point is almost in the middle of Loch Ness's west shoreline and dates from the 12th century. This was the site of a hill fort before the castle was built. The dating for the fort is not very good but seems to indicate about 2000 BC. During the Wars of Independence Edward 1st of England occupied the castle. The castle was pulled down, repaired, taken and retaken by various fractions, including Lord of the Isles the Earl of Ross. There has been a fortress on this point since Iron Age times, but after the victory of the English at the battle of Dunbar in 1296, Edward 1st of England, known also as Longshanks and the Hammer of the Scots, reinforced his hold on Scotland by securing fortresses across the land, including fortifying and enlarging the fort now to become Urquhart Castle. There were uneasy times to come for Edward, for the Scots were not put down so easily. In the South of Scotland, William Wallace (Braveheart) rose against the forces of Edward 1st and in the Highlands, Andrew Moray attacked Urquhart Castle. With Wallace moving north to Aberdeen and then west to Cromarty, the Highlands were secured from the English. Finally Edward lost all patience and through a mixture of betrayals, treaties with the French and a massive army he marched north virtually unopposed to the Moray Firth. Here he sent out units to quell the Scots and in many cases his savage reputation was enough to ensure compliance, except at Castle Urquhart. The current keeper, Sir Alexander Forbes refused to comply. A siege ensued with the king's army determined to starve the occupants into submission. Forbes managed to smuggle his pregnant wife out of the castle disguised as a peasant and she later fled to Ireland but not before seeing her husband and his men killed as they fought to their death at Castle Urquhart as she watched from the neighbouring hill. The castle remained in the hands of the English until 1306 when Robert The Bruce became King of Scotland and they were ejected once again. For nearly four hundred years the castle changed hands many times. It was held by Robert the Bruce against Edward 3rd and was subject to various local and national battles and although having been sacked by the Lord of the Isles in 1513 when he laid the entire area to waste, its end came with a bang in the final years of the 17th century when it was packed with explosives and blown up to render it useless to the Jacobites. Finally following the pillage of the rafters and other portable items, a great storm in February 1715 blew down the south west wall which toppled into the dark and timeless waters of Loch Ness. The first recorded Nessie story is from the sixth century. Saint Columba was journeying to see King Brude (Pictish king) and discovered a man being attacked by a water beast. He drew the sign of the cross and ordered the monster to leave. Of course the beast turned and fled.

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Inverlocky Castle built in 1863 near the site of the original 13th century fortress, nestles in the foothills of Ben Nevis, sitting amidst some of Scotland's finest scenery. The battle of Inverlocky in February 1645 was fought between the Kings Army of the Marques of Montrose with 1,500 men and the Covant Army of between 2,500 and 3,000 men under the command of the Duke of Argyle. The army of Montrose at the time consisted maily of Scottish clans of Clan Donald, Clan Cameron, Irish MacDonald's under 'Colkitto' and a small contingent of other clans. The convent army was beaten, with 1,300 casualties. The fight was very much a clan battle between Clan Donald and Clan Campbell who were old enemies in the highland,

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Borthwick Castle built in 1430, is unique and exclusive. Once the refuge of Mary Queen of Scots and the Earl of Bothwell and besieged by Oliver Cromwell in 1650. Borthwick Castle stands as one of the most important historic buildings in Scotland, indeed in Europe. A twin towered baronial keep, built by the first Lord Borthwick in 1430, whose sepulchre can still be seen with that of his lady in the old village church. It was to this castle in 1567 that Mary Queen of Scots, surely one of the most tragic and enigmatic women of all time and her third husband, the Earl of Bothwell, fled from Edinburgh to seek sanctuary in this impregnable fortress. It was here that she and Bothwell spent their final days of freedom before being separated for ever. She was to die upon the scaffold and he to die in a Danish prison after leaving the safety of Borthwick. Nearly a century later it was besieged by the forces of Oliver Cromwell, leader of the Roundheads in the Civil War, which led to the unique event, the dethronement, trial and beheading of a Stuart King, Charles 1. The castle walls still bear the scars caused by the bombardment of Cromwell's cannon. The early Borthwicks were warriors and this is reflected in the castle's history. On occasions they were not well disposed towards prisoners and legend has it that a popular sport at the castle was inviting them to jump the twelve foot gap between the towers with hands tied behind their backs. Those who succeeded were granted their liberty.

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Braemar Castle, near Braemar in the Grampian region of Scotland,was built in 1628 by John Erskine the 7th Earl of Mar to replace the older Kindrochit Castle. It was built over the top of an older fortification site. Braemar Castle has been the ancestral home of the Clan Farquharson for over 200 years. It is an L-plan castle of fairy-tale proportions, with star shaped curtain wall -plan, central round tower and spiral stair. Barrel vaulted ceilings, and underground prison. Remarkable star-shaped defensive curtain wall. .This fairy-tale Castle has seen its share of troubles over the years since it was built in 1628. The "Black" Colonel of Inverey, the enemy clan leader, attacked and burned the Castle in 1689 and after being rebuilt the L-shaped Castle with its remarkable star-shaped defensive curtain. Braemar Castle was an important garrison during the Jacobite uprising, and has been a centre of Jacobite resistance, used as a seat of Hanoverian authority after the Jacobite Rising of 1745 and later transformed by the Farquharsons of Invercauld into a residence of unusual charm. Braemar was ttacked and burned in 1689 by the Black Colonel (John Farquharson of Inverey), killing John Erskine.. Repaired by the Government and garrisoned with Hanovarian troops after the Rising of 1745.

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Dunvegan Castle, Isle of Skye, sits on a rocky outcrop, between the sea and several acres of beautifully maintained gardens. The seat of the Clan MacLeod since the 13th century, the present fortress was remodelled in the 1840s on the basis of the massive 14th-century keep and a 15th-century tower - the Fairy Tower. In medieval times the castle could only be entered from the sea. Dunvegan Castle is an evocative symbol of endurance. Whether this endurance is due to the magical powers of the Fairy Flag, which resides inside, or to the remarkable perseverance of Clan MacLeod's chiefs is not important. What matters most is that Dunvegan Castle has withstood the stresses of time and conflict with little physical consequence. This powerful fortress has been the seat of the equally enduring MacLeods for well over 700 years. Having housed 20 generations of chiefs, Dunvegan Castle is Scotland's oldest continuously inhabited structure. Bounded on three sides by treacherous rocky cliffs and the waters of Loch Dunvegan, and protected on the landward side by a deep-cut ditch, Dunvegan Castle was virtually invulnerable to attack. Its only entrance was through the ancient sea-gate, which faced into the loch, a strategically intelligent site for a gateway. Only in 1748 was the gate superseded by a bridge spanning the ditch. The castle itself existed in a rudimentary form as early as the 13th century.

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Castle Campbell, standing on an elevated position overlooking Dollar in Clackmannanshire, is situated in Clackmannan, north of Edinburgh and east of Stirling - the tower house was built in the late fifteenth century and was called Castle Gloom until 1489 when it was renamed Castle Campbell. The castle was burned in 1654 and its use as a residence ended. Traditionally known as the "Castle of Gloom", Castle Campbell was held by the Stewarts until the late 15th Century when it passed by marriage to the Campbells. In 1489 an Act of Parliament was passed permitting the four-storey tower house built by its new owners to be called Castle Campbell. Held by them for nearly three centuries, it was the principal Campbell stronghold in the lowlands. The castle was extended in the 16th century but in 1654 it was attacked and badly damaged, making it unfit to be used as a garrison by Cromwell's English soldiers. Castle Campbell is beautifully sited in a wilderness setting at the head of Dollar Glen.Below are the rushing waters of the Burn of Care and the Burn of Sorrow in a steep ravine alive with the scent of ransom (wild garlic). The castle was originally a property of the Stewarts, but passed by marrriage to Colin Campbell, 1st Earl of Argyll, and Chancellor of Scotland. He had the name of the castle changed by an act of Parliament to Castle Campbell in 1489. The Marquis of Montrose tried to take the castle in 1645, but failed. Despite his failure, the 8th Earl of Argyll had Montrose hung, drawn, and quartered in 1651 for the attempt. Cromwell's forces occupied the castle in 1653, and only part of the castle was restored after it was burnt by Monck in 1654. Shortly thereafter, the 9th Earlof Argyll was condemned for treason. He escaped to start a rebellion, but was captured and executed in 1685.

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Drum Castle in Aberdeenshire was probably built by Alexander III in the late 1200's (1280). Robert the Bruce gave it to William de Irwin in 1323 for his part in the War of Independence and was home to the Irvine family for more than six and a half centuries, a full twenty-four generations of nearly unbroken succession. In 1619 an L-shaped wing was added to the old keep. In 1876, the courtyard was restored and an arched entrance added. Two years later, it underwent several modifications. While the architect of the Tower of Drum is unknown the work is generally attributed to Richard Cementarius, the first provost of Aberdeen. This castle was owned by the Irvine family of Drum for 653 years. It is very special because it combines a medieval keep, a Jacobean mansion house and a later Victorian extension. The keep is one of the three oldest tower houses in Scotland, probably dating from 1290. The castle is a Jacobian Mansion house and the additions of Victorian lairds make Drum Castle unique among Scottish Castles. The original tower keep, standing seventy feet from base to battlement and fifty feet on a side with walls twelve feet thick at the base is thought to have been built during the reign of Alexander III in the mid-thirteenth century. Several prominent interior features of the tower are identical to other structures that are known to be the work of Cementarius and so Drum Tower is credited to him as well. The rambling stone mansion and Jacobean house that now surround the original tower were built during the reign of Alexander, the 9th Laird of Drum and completed in 1619.The family name was changed from Irwin to Irvine. The family were Royalists during the troubled 18th century. One branch or another of the Irvine family has been involved in nearly every major event in Scots history over the past 1,000 years. Their story begins with three brothers Erivine - Erinus, Grim and Duncan. They were the grandsons of Duncan 'the first of the Eryvine' who was killed at Duncrub in 965A.D. The eldest brother, Erinus, inherited his family's titles as Seneschal of King's Rents, Athbane of Dule and Abbot of Dunkeld, and stood second in rank only to the King. As such he was wed to the eldest daughter of King Malcolm II, who was himself the great great great grandson of Kenneth MacAlpin, in 1004. When Malcolm Erivine raised an army to challenge MacBeth. With the aid of Lord MacDuff, Thane of Fife, he defeated and executed the Usurper that same year. Malcolm defeated MacBeth's stepson, Lulach, two years later, regained his father's throne and became Malcolm III. This succession included David I (The Saint) who created all the offices of the royal court and William 'The Lion of Justice' who created the lion rampant as his battle crest and coat of arms. The line ended with Alexander III when he rode his horse over a cliff in pitch darkness in March of 1286.

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Dunstaffnage Castle guards the entrance to Loch Etive and the Lynn of Lorne from a rocky point sheltering a small bay which once offered anchorage and a beach for galleys. Built on the level top of a natural platform of conglomerate rock, the walls are extensions of the cliffs which fall sheer to the greensward on all sides. Of all the castles in Argyll, this has likely seen the most stirring events of history. The presence of a castle built so close to the MacDougall stronghold of Dunollie but built by the same family seems curious. However when it is understood that Dunollie, as it stands today, was only built by the chiefly line of the Clan Dougall after Dunstaffnage had passed to the Stewart Lords of Lorne, this can be understood. The high walls of the original 13th century fortification ring the plateau with masonry over ten feet thick and crowned by a continuous walkway. There are towers to the north, east and west and a rounded bulge in the wall to the south. The west tower now contains the late 16th century gatehouse, the only section still roofed, which was originally remodelled shortly after the castle came into the hands of the Argyll family in 1470. Towards the end of the 16th century, another phase of rebuilding took place when alterations were undertaken to the gatehouse and the whole northwest courtyard range of buildings was constructed in place of an older, less elaborate structure on the same site. The castle dates from the first quarter of the 13th century when it was probably built either by Duncan MacDougall, Lord of Lorne, or by his son Ewen who died before 1275. The family would hold Dunstaffnage for only 80 to 90 years before losing it to Robert the Bruce in 1308 who later installed a Constable, Sir Arthur Cambel ancestor of Strachur. In 1308 Robert the Bruce had defeated the MacDougalls at the Pass of Brander and subsequently rewarded his Campbell and MacDonald allies with many of the Clan Dougall lands. Sir Arthur Cambel, a senior first cousin of Sir Neill of Lochawe, was granted the Constableship in 1321-22. However after his death and by 1338, many of their former lands in Lorne were re-granted to the MacDougalls, including Dunstaffnage. Possibly the grandson of the Ewen or John MacDougall who had escaped to the English court after the battle of the Pass of Brander returned to Scotland in the train of the English princess who was to marry David II King of Scots, and so found royal favor. However he had no son but two daughters and, rather than leave the castle to his less cosmopolitan MacDougall cousins, he left the Lordship to his heiresses, both of whom married Stewarts, one becoming Lord of Lorne and owning Dunstaffnage. On the murder of John, the second Stewart Lord of Lorne, in 1463 by a renegade MacDougall in the pay of the English, the Lordship and castle passed to his brother Sir Walter. There was a dispute, since the murdered man was on his way to be married to his mistress so as to legitimate his natural son. Local sympathy seemingly favored the boy and for six years there was conflict in Lorne. Sir Walter, perhaps finding the lands more trouble than they were worth, exchanged the Lordship with Colin Earl of Argyll for richer and more peaceful lands in eastern Scotland. The exchange was ratified by royal charter in 1470. This acquisition of the Lordship of Lorne by the Earl of Argyll was a most notable event in the history of Argyll and in the fortunes of Clan Campbell. Apart from the very strategic castle of Dunstaffnage, the charter of the lands of Lorne provided better westward and northward sea-access from landlocked Lochawe and more fertile valleys for oats and grazing than were offered by the rocky shores of Lochawe. The castle of Dunstaffnage has remained in Campbell hands for over five hundred years. The Campbells of Dunstaffnage lived in the castle until a disastrous fire in 1810. However most of the historic belongings of the family were saved, only to be lost in another fire at Dunstaffnage House before the Second World War. The castle is the seat of the Campbell Captains of Dunstaffnage who are hereditary Captains of the Castle for the Earls and Dukes of Argyll. The Captain spends one night each year in the Gatehouse as symbolic occupancy. The 13th century chapel can be found in the woods to the west of the castle and is also worth a visit. The last Stewart Lord of Lorne is said to have died on the threshold while reciting his marriage vows.

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Dunollie Castle, Oban, was built on a in the 12th century, probably by Ewan MacDougall, 3rd chief of the MacDougalls. The MacDougalls who occupied this castle were descended from King Somerled. The site was originally used in the 7th century, as Dun Ollaigh, and abandoned in 1746. From the bay, you can barely see the castle.ree years). Otbert plundered the churches and monasteries of his own diocese to obtain the money to enable him to meet the outlay of the first crusade. The Duke conquered Jerusalem and died there in 1 1 00 with the title of "Defender of the Holy Sepulchre" after having refused to wear the gold crown of a king "where Jesus Christ had worn a crown of thorns". The site on which the remains of Dunollie stand has been fortified from an early date. A fortress, Dun Ollaigh, which stood here was captured and destroyed by Irish enemies of the Kings of Dalriada in 698 A.D. The oldest part is the north curtain wall which dates to 1150 and was built by Somerled, father of the first MacDougal. The courtyard had two entrances, one on the east, and one which zigzagged through the north wall but is now blocked. The four storey tower dates to the early 15th century and has walls up to 10ft thick. It is entered at ground floor level, there was another door above this which has been converted into a window. The entrance passage leads straight into the vaulted cellar. On the right of the passage a mural stair leads to the first floor, which was not the principal floor here. The hall was on the second floor, that also reached by a second mural stair. The ascent to the parapet was the by a turnpike stair. Only traces remain of the buildings which once lined the courtyard. The castle was besieged in 1647. The Chief of Clan MacDougal supported the the Old Pretender during the '15 and was forfeited but the lands were restored to his son in 1745, for loyalty to the crown.

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Dundonald Castle is a fortified tower house built for King Robert II on his accession to the throne of Scotland in 1371 and it was used as a royal residence by the early Stewart kings for the next 150 years. It was said to be Robert II's favourite residence and it was here that he died in 1390. Recent excavations by Historic Scotland revealed the remains of a succession of settlements and fortifications on the Castle Hill dating back to the Stone Age. It also appears that the present Castle was built on the remains of an earlier stone castle built in the 13th century by the High Steward of Scotland as part of the country's defences against the Vikings. Remnants of that earlier castle can be seen in the fabric of the present building. The High Stewards occupied Dundonald Castle from the mid 12th century and with the accession of Robert II this family gave rise to the Stewart Dynasty that ruled Scotland and later Great Britain for 350 years. Although the Great Hall on the top floor is now roofless, the Lower Hall features a fine example of a medieval barrel-vaulted ceiling, and there is a small dungeon with an obliette below it. Outside, the western wall of the castle features 5 stone carved heraldic shields which are among the oldest in the country. The prominent hill at Dundonald was first occupied well before 2000 BC. Then a hill fort was built between 500 and 200 BC and the site was occupied on and off until about 1000 AD. The hill has not one but three medieval castles built on it, covering a period from the early 12th century to 1647. Three noble families are linked with the place, but it is the castles associations with the Stewart's that gives the castle its special importance. In 1482, the castle and estates were passed to the Cathcart's, and in 1526, it came into ownership of the Wallace's. By the end of the 17th century it was in ruins. The first castle on the site, of which nothing survives, was a 'motte and bailey' of timber construction built around the mid 12th century, probably by Walter Stewart, first Steward of Scotland.
It was replaced in the late 13th century by a much larger stone castle consisting of two large blocks facing each other across a circular courtyard and four round towers at intervals in a high curtain wall. 

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