Fairy-tale castles, historic castles, haunted castles, battlefield castles – Scotland has them all! On a recent road trip up the Scottish West coast, I decided to make the most of things and explore the castles in West Scotland. There are literally thousands of these buildings across my home country – so many that I haven’t even managed to get through all of the ones around my hometown of Edinburgh! With that in mind, here’s my list of the best castles on the West coast of Scotland …
Heading North? Don’t forget to check out my 1-day itinerary for the Best things to see in Skye.
Eileen Donan – the most photographed castle in Scotland
Even if you weren’t sure of its name, you’ll most likely have seen Eileen Donan’s magnificent silhouette plastered across Scotland promotional websites and travel material. Thought to be the most romantic castles in the country, it is also one of the most photographed castles in Scotland … and it’s not hard to see why. Perched at the centre of where 3 Scottish Lochs meet, this glorious West Highland castle sits in impressive condition, complete with a bridge over to the fairy-tale islet.
I once had a very strong affection for Eileen Donan. As the former stronghold of the Mackenzies of Kintail, my family roots throw themselves way back to this clan and Scotland’s oldey times. In the evening, the castle looks glorious surrounded by under-lighting, giving it a dream-like eerie glow that’ll give you shivers. However, visit it by day and you’ll now find it difficult to savour a quite moment. With its links to the Highlander movie, the castle sees tons of tour buses come and go every day. There’s now a big parking bay and visitor centre just outside, it costs £10 to get into and it’s lost a little bit of the authentic flair for me. In theory, my heart is still with it. In practice, not so much.
“I one more time-a unclog my nose in your direction, sons of a window-dresser! So, you think you could out-clever us French folk with your silly knees-bent running about in dancing behaviour! I wave my private parts at your aunties, you cheesy lot of second hand electric donkey bottom biters”.
Sound familiar? Monty Python fans will delight in a visit to Castle Stalker, where they filmed the famous scene of the French solider taunting King Arthur for a second time.
Alongside being a popular movie location, this castle is actually one of my favourites along the West Coast of Scotland. Given its fame, it’s a lot quieter than the likes of Eileen Donan. It’s not uncommon to find that you have the entire beach looking across to it to yourself (in lower seasons). It sits beautifully on a tidal islet on Lock Laich, with the islet being accessible (with difficulty) from the shore at low tide. Castle Stalker is owned privately, and often tours can be arranged, if booked in advance.
I’m cheating a bit here. Castle Ewan is technically not a castle, but a rock formation that looks like one. Its possibly one of my favourite things to see on the Isle of Skye, so much so that I included it in a blog post on the subject. As well as it’s medieval tower resemblance, Castel Ewan also has a sloping trail which could be confused for an entrance way, finishing off it’s fortress-like appearance.
Kelburn Castle – One of the most unusual castles to see in Scotland
With a mixed reception from the native Scots, Kelburn Castle is like Marmite; you either love it or hate it. Originally built in the 13th century, it is one of the oldest castles in Scotland and still has its original keep at the core of the building. After discovering the concrete facade would soon need replacing in 2007, the owners commissioned an incredible make-over by a team of Brazilian artists. The graffiti project was supposed to eventually be removed but, at present, remains a fantastic example of history merged with modern art.
Ardvrek Castle – Haunted castles in Scotland
Up along near NC 500 (Scotland’s answer to Route 66), Ardvrek Castle is a broody little ruin waaaaay up in the North Scottish Highlands. There’s not much left of it, but what remains is pretty impressive, with some of the structure being 3-4 storeys high! I love this castle for its haunting ghost tales; it is said that Ardvrek is the home to 2 spirits: the weeping daughter of a MacLeod chief and tall grey man. The story goes that the girl threw herself out of a window after being promised to the Devil. Creepy stuff, made only more eerie by the castle’s remote loch location.
A visit to Gylen castle on the Isle of Kerrera will involve a super easy 5-minute ferry from Oban. The ferry’s ‘port’ is a simple ramp and if you blink you might well miss it! I got the boat at 2ish and got the last one home at 5.30pm, leaving me more than enough time to head down to the castle and explore it surroundings.
Built in 1582, it was only occupied for 70 years before it was attacked and fell into ruin. Despite its lack or residents, Gylen Castle is in extraordinary condition. The small structure stands proudly overlooking the rocky coastline of the Island and a lot of its original inscriptions can still be made out above the doorways. The castle is a fascinating place to throw yourself back to how people would have lived; my favourite part being the remains of the original spiral staircases.
Culzean Castle looks a little out of place amongst all of Scotland’s heavy stone, fortress-like structures. The architect behind the design (Robert Adam), had embarked on a lengthy tour around Europe, returning with inspiration from Rome and Greece. This explains the fairy-tale appearance of Culzean Castle; the grand styling making it one of the most romantic castles in Scotland. Don’t be fooled by its enchanting exterior, like Ardverk Castle, this place comes with a terrifying twist. Tales of ghostly pipers, phantom mists and child spirits all haunt the corridors of Culzean, making the place a ghost hunters dream!
Looking for more unusual things to see in Scotland? Take a look at ’10 unusual things to see in Scotland that you probably haven’t heard of’.