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Top 5 Famous Scottish Castles

5. Eilean Donan Castle


Eilean Donan island is situated at the merger of three lochs (Loch Duich, Loch Long and Loch Alsh) and goes back to the Iron Age. For hundreds of years it was positioned in a hotly contested area; first between the Scots and the Vikings (who both raided and settled around the North of Scotland and the Western Isles) and later between the self styled ‘Lords of Isles’ versus the King of Scotland. With its strategic location at the intersection of the lochs (the arteries of communication for medieval Scotland), the island was fortified no later than the thirteenth century.  

The first known fortification was built for Clan MacKenzie. This structure was a fortified enclosure encompassing approximately two-thirds of the island. By the early fifteenth century rebuilding had been conducted with the castle being significantly reduced in size; probably due to the manning/garrison requirements.

In 1504 the castle was attacked by the Earl of Huntly, allegedly acting on behalf of James IV, prompting the appointing of Clan MacRae as Constables of the castle. The castle was attacked again, this time by members of Clan MacDonald, in 1539 and this may have prompted the sixteenth century upgrades that added a horn shaped extension that led to a hexagonal bastion on which artillery was installed.

The Macraes became Constables of the Castle in 1599, which they defended for over 200 years. In the early eighteenth century, the Mackenzies were involved in the Jacobite rebellions, which led to the castle’s destruction by government ships in 1719. The Jacobites supported James VII, the Old Pretender, and Spanish supporters of the Jacobite cause were quartered in Eilean Donan. The English sent a small fleet to bring the rebellion under control. Outnumbered by the English troops, the Spaniards surrendered, and the building was left in ruins thanks to the English artillery rounds.

4. Glamis Castle


In 1034 King Malcolm II was murdered at Glamis, which at the time was a Royal Hunting Lodge. By 1376 a castle had been built at Glamis and it was granted by King Robert II to Sir John Lyon, Thane of Glamis, who was the husband of the king’s daughter. Glamis has been in the Lyon family since this time.

There are several legends associated with Glamis Castle. Supposedly there is a secret room somewhere in the castle that contains a dreadful secret. At one time a towel is said to have been hung from every window in the castle, but from the outside a window without a towel was visible, suggesting a hidden room. The secret room allegedly held a monster. In 1821, the first son of the eleventh Earl is said to have been born horribly malformed. To hide this fact, the story was circulated that the boy had died and the infant was locked up in a secret room within the castle. The malformed boy was kept here as he grew up.

The Earl Beardie, a Lord Crawford, supposedly lost his soul to the Devil while playing cards. One Sunday, Earl Beardie was guesting at the castle. After a heavy drinking session with the Earl of Glamis, he was returning to his room in a drunken rage shouting for a partner to play cards with him. Nobody wanted to play on the Sabbath and finally he raged that he would play with the Devil himself. Inevitably there was a knock at the door and a tall man in dark clothes came into the castle and asked if Earl Beardie still required a partner. The Earl agreed, and they went away to a room in the castle and started to play cards. Swearing and shouting was heard coming from the room and one of the servants peeped through the keyhole. A bright beam of light blasted through, and blinded the servant in one eye. The Earl burst from the room and rounded on the servant for spying on him. When he returned to the room the stranger, who was the Devil, had disappeared along with the Earl’s soul, which he lost in the card game.

The castle supposedly has a famous ghost named The Grey Lady. She is thought to be the ghost of Lady Glamis (Janet Douglas), who was burned at the stake for being a witch in 1537. Her first husband was John Lyon (Lord Glamis), with whom she had a son also named John. She was accused of poisoning him upon his death in 1528, but she was cleared of the crime and was free to marry her second husband Archibald Campbell of Skipness. However, in July 1537, she was accused of planning to poison King James V of Scotland and communicating with her brothers, who were part of several conspiracies against the King. James could not find any evidence to convict her, so he tortured her family and servants. Janet was later convicted and burned at the stake on July 17, 1537 at Castle Hill, Edinburgh.

3. Dunnottor Castle


Dunnottar Castle is a ruined medieval fortress located on a rocky headland on the north-east coast of Scotland. This flat, red sandstone island is surrounded by the choppy North Sea and was once connected to the mainland by a natural causeway called the Fiddlehead. This pathway across the Fiddlehead was deliberately destroyed and a new access route was cut into the cliffs.

In 1297, William Wallace lead the Scottish rebellion against the English invasion of Edward I and besieged Dunnottar Castle which was held by English troops. Terrified by the progress of Wallace’s troops, as many as 4,000 English soldiers holed up within the stone chapel inside Dunnottar Castle. They naively believed that hiding in a church would spare them from death. Unfortunately, they were to meet a grisly end. Wallace’s army ransacked the castle and torched the church, burning alive those inside. The few that were able to flee had no choice but to leap off the steep cliffs into the sea.

In the 1650’s, Dunnottar Castle was thought to be the most secure castle in all of Scotland. As a result, it was the perfect place to guard the Scottish crown jewels – protecting them from the advancing English army of Oliver Cromwell. Most of the treasures of Scotland were held in the castle, including the full Scottish Regalia, which encompasses the ceremonial crown, sceptre, and sword of state. In 1651, Cromwell’s army laid siege to the castle. With just 69 men inside the castle, and a puny 42 guns, their chances of holding out against the English onslaught were hopeless.

The Reverend Grainger of nearby Kineff parish concocted a daring plan. His wife Christine was a close friend of the wife of Governor Ogilvy, the commander in charge of the siege inside the castle. Christine Granger was heavily pregnant at the time and rode up to the English troops bombarding the castle. She appealed to the better nature of the English commander, General Overton, saying that English gentlemen should naturally spare women from war. She told him she would like to visit her close friend inside the castle for moral support. General Overton let Christine Granger pass into the besieged castle. When inside, she proceeded to wrap the Scottish crown in her skirts, and conceal the orb and sceptre in her distaff (a tool used for spinning wool). She then managed to smuggle all the items from the castle back to her husband’s parish. They buried the crown jewels beneath the pulpit of their church for safe-keeping. It was only some ten years later, during King Charles’ Restoration, when the jewels of Scotland were finally unearthed.

2. Stirling Castle


Stirling Castle is one of the largest and most important castles in Scotland. The castle sits atop Castle Hill, an intrusive crag, which forms part of the Stirling Sill geological formation. It is surrounded on three sides by steep cliffs, giving it a strong defensive position. Its strategic location, guarding the River Forth, made it an important fortification.

The first record of Stirling Castle dates from around 1110. In 1296, Edward I invaded Scotland, starting the Wars of Scottish Independence, which would last for the next 60 years.The English found Stirling Castle abandoned and empty, and set about occupying it. They were dislodged the following year, after the victory of Andrew Moray and William Wallace at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. The castle changed hands again the next summer, being abandoned by the Scots after the English victory at Falkirk. King Robert the Bruce met Edward II’s forces at the Battle of Bannockburn, within sight of the castle walls. The resulting English defeat was decisive and the Scots reclaimed Stirling Castle.

Many killings took place here, none seem as violent as that of William, 8th Earl of Douglas. In 1452, James II had the Earl assassinated with the help of his courtiers. He was stabbed 26 times and then his body was flung from a castle window down into the gardens.

In 1507, the first record of an attempted flight took place on the castle walls. An Italian alchemist by the name of John Damian was at the court of James IV. He believed that with the aid of feathered wings, he would be able to fly, and jumped from the battlements. Of course, this failed spectacularly and instead, John landed in a dunghill and broke his thigh bone.

Stirling Castle is supposed to be haunted by two phantom females. The Pink Lady, attired in a pink silk gown, is thought by some to be the spirit of Mary, Queen of Scots, who was crowned at the castle in 1543. The other ghostly female is known as the Green Lady, Stirling’s most famous ghost, whose sudden appearances are believed to portend disaster. She recently surprised a cook in the castle’s kitchens who promptly fainted upon witnessing her. The Green Lady is thought to have been an attendant of Mary, Queen of Scots, who once saved the Queen from a fire in her bedchamber, although she herself died from wounds incurred in the blaze.

1. Edinburgh Castle


Edinburgh Castle rests on volcanic rock (known as Castle Rock), more than 250 ft. above the city of Edinburgh. The volcano itself is actually a 70 million year old extinct volcano. The castle has existed on this site since the rein of David I in the 12th century.

In 1174, King William “the Lion” (1165–1214) was captured by the English and forced to surrender Edinburgh Castle to the English King, Henry II. The castle was occupied by the English for twelve years, until 1186, when it was returned to William as the dowry of his English bride, Ermengarde de Beaumont, who had been chosen for him by King Henry. By the end of the 12th century, Edinburgh Castle was established as the main repository of Scotland’s official state papers.

In 1561, the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, returned from France to start her reign, which was marked by conflict with the powerful Protestant Scottish nobility. In 1565, the Queen wed Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, and the following year, in a small room of Edinburgh Castle, she gave birth to their son James, who would later be King of both Scotland and England.

There are several dark dungeons at Edinburgh Castle where prisoners have been locked up and forgotten. Some can still be entered today as a tourist. One very deep pit is hidden below the floor of King James’ birth chamber. No one knows who may have been thrown down there.

The castle is also one of the most haunted places in Scotland with one famous ghost being the Lone Piper. According to the story, a few hundred years ago secret tunnels were discovered deep underground, running from the castle to other places in the city. A piper boy was sent down to investigate, instructed to constantly play his pipes, so those above could track his progress through the tunnels. When the playing suddenly stopped, they searched for the piper boy but he had vanished. His ghostly pipes can still be heard playing in the castle to this day, as he eternally walks the dark tunnels beneath.




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Rick Mac
Student and author of History. The study of History is the beginning of wisdom.

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