With its thrillingly dramatic setting – it’s located on a high, rocky headland jutting out into the sea – it’s no surprise that Dunnottar was always strategically important and, as a result, has had a long and bloody history going back over 1000 years. Which partly explains why it’s now in ruins. King Domnall II was killed here by Vikings in 900; William Wallace captured it from the English in 1297; James IV and James VI both visited (as did that inveterate sofa surfer Mary Queen of Scots); Oliver Cromwell’s troops laid siege in 1651; a sizeable number of Covenanters were imprisoned there 30 years later; and it featured in the Jacobite risings of both 1689 and 1715. Is that enough history for you? Even William Shakespeare has been to stay – sort of, anyway. Franco Zeffirelli filmed parts of his 1990 film adaptation of Hamlet here, starring Mel Gibson and Glenn Close. Warning: there’s a 160ft drop from the cliffs, so if you’re scared of heights, this probably isn’t the castle for you. Otherwise, it’s well worth its place on the Cool List.
Castle Fraser, Aberdeenshire
Ancestral home of the Frasers of Muchalls, Castle Fraser was begun in 1575 and finished in 1636 but is thought to sit on the site of a fortified tower from at least century earlier. It’s constructed to the so-called Z-plan format – a central rectangular keep with smaller towers on diagonal corners – though the castle was modernised in the late 17th century and again in 1820 and 1850, when twin gatehouses and a new entrance were added. In 1921 ownership finally left the Fraser family when Castle Fraser was bought by Yorkshire-born industrialist and oilman Wheetman Pearson, later Viscount Cowdray and at one time the Liberal MP for Colchester. Much of the 19th century work was removed in 1950 and in 1976 the castle was handed over to the National Trust for Scotland (NTS). The library, the stone-vaulted Great Hall and the walled garden are the main draws though if you’re lucky you may also catch sight of the castle’s resident ghost – a young woman who was murdered while she slept in the Green Room and dragged down a flight of stone stairs from which (so the story goes) the bloodstains could never be removed. True or not, the steps were covered with wood panelling which remains today.
Blair Castle, Perthshire
You probably have to be a certain age – around eight, say, and probably no older than 14 – to think it’s cool to have your own army. But if that’s you then you’ll love whitewashed Blair Castle. It’s home to the Atholl Highlanders, a ceremonial infantry regiment under the command of the Dukes of Atholl. The current commander in chief is South Africa-born Bruce Murray, the 12th duke, who returns “home” every year to inspect his troops. As for the castle itself, it’s steeped in Jacobite history. John Graham of Claverhouse – or Bonnie Dundee, to give him his nickname – held his council of war here before the Battle of Killiecrankie on July 26, 1689 and is buried in the grounds (his Jacobite troops won the day, but he took a bullet in the armpit and died almost immediately). History aside, it’s a grand old place, with magnificent walled gardens, one of the tallest trees in the UK and a tremendous collection of portraits, military knick-knacks and other esoterica. The café isn’t bad, either.
Craigievar Castle, Aberdeenshire
With an interior every bit as eye-catching as its wonderful exterior – a sort of pinkish, crenelated structure that looks like it was wished into being by a fairy tale princess – the traditional seat of Clan Sempill and of the Forbes family has looks as well as pedigree on its side. Previous residents have included Danzig Willy, the nickname of William Forbes, the man who completed the building of the seven-storey castle in 1626, and if you tour it today you’ll get a flavour of how it was in his time – there’s no electric lighting above the first floor. What he didn’t have, however, is two paintings by the great Scottish artist of the late Georgian period, Sir Henry Raeburn, though today’s visitors can see the pair – a portrait of the fifth Baronet, Sir William Forbes, and the Honourable Janet Sempill. And talking of fairy tale princesses, Craigievar is reputed to have been the inspiration for the iconic Cinderella Castle at the heart of the Walt Disney theme parks after Walt Disney himself saw photographs of it. Believe that if you will.
Muness Castle, Shetland
Muness Castle was built on the island of Unst in 1598 by Laurence Bruce of Cultmalindie, half-brother of the powerful Robert Stewart, 1st Earl of Orkney, a fact commemorated by an inscription extolling Bruce’s virtues which is still visible above a doorway. Not that the Shetlanders thought him virtuous: Bruce was notorious for exploiting and demeaning the Locals. Constructed to the traditional Z-plan design, it withstood a mini-siege in 1608 when Bruce finally fell foul of Robert Stewart’s son Patrick, the 2nd Earl of Orkney, but took a battering in 1627 when it was attacked and burned by pirates from the French port of Dunkirk. The Bruce family leased it to the Dutch East India Company in the early 18th century – it was used to store goods rescued from a shipwreck – and it had fallen into complete disrepair by 1775. Today it’s a roofless ruin, albeit an evocative one, but as Scotland’s most northerly castle it fully deserves its place on the Cool List. But if you can’t make the trip to Unst, a fine carved oak panel from the castle’s main hall is held by the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.
Brodie Castle, Moray
Another colourful castle – this one comes in a pleasant rose hue – Brodie Castle has been the seat of Clan Brodie since the 12th century though the building as it is today isn’t that old: the Gordons burned much of it to the ground in 1645, though parts of the modern building, such as the guard chamber, date from that period. Inside there’s an exquisite art collection featuring everything from Dutch Old Masters and Scottish Colourists to ceramics and antiques, as well as an extensive library of over 6000 books. There’s also a Blue Bedroom, a magnificent Red Drawing Room and a wonderfully ornate ceiling in the Dining Room. And don’t miss Rodney’s Stone, an 8th-century Pictish monument located in the castle’s main driveway, or nearby Macbeth’s Hillock, which is where Shakespeare’s murderous thane had his encounter with the “weird sisters” – the three witches who prophesy that he will become king.
Culzean Castle, Ayrshire
Sitting on a cliff top overlooking the Firth of Clyde, Culzean is the traditional home of Clan Kennedy and, should you be lucky enough to have one in your pocket, you’ll find a representation of it on the reverse of a Royal Bank of Scotland fiver. The building itself was constructed in the late 18th century for David Kennedy, the 10th Earl of Cassilis, by renowned architect Robert Adam on the site of a smaller house, and Adam’s magnificent, sweeping Oval Staircase forms the castle’s centrepiece. A few architectural nips and tucks were undertaken a century later by another Kennedy, the 3rd Marquess of Ailsa, and the grandness of the building is matched by the extravagant grounds – 260 hectares of beech, conifers and palm trees strung along some stunning coastal scenery. There’s also a deer park, a swan pond and any number of rambling follies. There are ghosts too, though a castle on the scale of Culzean couldn’t have just one could it? Of course not. Here you’ll find seven.
Threave Castle, Dumfries and Galloway
It isn’t the prettiest, the biggest, the oldest or even the pinkest castle on our Cool List – it’s squat, ugly and ruined and its defiantly stone-coloured – but it’s the only one you have to climb into a rowing boat to reach, a fact which gives this 14th century wreck a charm all of its own. Raised in the 1370s on an island in the River Dee by the wonderfully-named Archibald the Grim, 3rd Earl of Douglas, it was the stronghold of that branch of the family known as the Black Douglases until the mid-15th century when it was taken away from them by James II on account of their persistent bad behaviour and gifted to the Maxwells instead. Over the centuries it has been the sight of a notorious murder and withstood a couple of sieges, one by a force of Covenanters and one by James II himself, who may have had on his side the famous bombard cannon which now resides at Edinburgh Castle – Mons Meg. It’s a great story and like many great stories it’s probably too good to be true. File under folklore. The castle, though, is an out-of-the-way treat.
Eilean Donan Castle, Highlands
Well known to fans of cult 1986 film Highlander thanks to its starring role as the home seat of Christopher Lambert’s Connor MacLeod, Eilean Donan Castle can claim to be one of Scotland’s most recognisable landmarks. Founded in the 13th century on an island in Loch Duich, it was a stronghold for Clan Mackenzie and Clan Macrae until it was destroyed in the wake of the 1715 Jacobite uprising. A near-ruin for two centuries, it was bought in 1911 by Lieutenant Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap and restored for him by Edinburgh-born architect George Mackie Watson, who also added the iconic bridge. Today it’s a little too popular with the tourists – it notched up well over half a million visitors last year – but no Cool List would be complete without it.
Braemar Castle, Aberdeenshire
Now in its 11th year as a community run enterprise and recently the recipient of a £100,000 award from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Braemar Castle was the traditional stronghold of the Earls of Mar and the current building – a confection of castellated turrets that looks for all the world like a space rocket sticking out of the ground – was built in 1628. Restoration is ongoing but there are 12 rooms on view, including the grand dining room, and castle geeks and fans of historical trivia will enjoy learning about the unusual right-winding spiral stone staircase. Among the other curious exhibits are a Bronze Age sword which was found nearby, graffiti from government soldiers stationed in the castle in the years after the Battle of Culloden, and a segment of scorched timber from the fire-raising done by one not very careful owner – John Farquharson, aka The Black Colonel, who fought for the Jacobites at the Battle of Killiecrankie and burned the castle in 1689 to prevent it falling into the hands of the government forces.
Source : HeraldScotland