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09/09/2016

A guide to the best Scottish castles across the west coast and islands

breachacha castle

 

Scotland's castles are monuments to a turbulent past, and a great way to explore the history of the west coast and islands. Clamber over remote cliff top ruins, or play soldiers on damp battlements, in dungeons and arsenals.

Then, of course, there are the opulent ballrooms and towering libraries of the Victorian mansions to explore. And because almost all of these castles were built for their strategic locations, you're pretty much guaranteed a good view.

Take a look at our list of the best Scottish castles dotted across the west coast and island. Have you visited any lately?

 

Inveraray Castle

The seat of Clan Campbell, and former star of the TV series Downton Abbey - Inveraray is the kind of fantasy castle that draws visitors from across the world. There's plenty to do once you get here - it's not called the jewel in the crown of the west coast for nothing. Inside you'll find exceptional interiors - with plenty of gilt-framed portraits of past dukes in fine silk breeches - while the immaculate gardens host a rhododendron festival each year. If music's more your thing, book a spot at Best of the West Festival in September. 

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Dunstaffnage Castle

Climb up to the battlements, and you can see why this castle - one of Scotland' oldest - was so important. It guards the Firth of Lorn, the Pass of Brander, and from there the heart of Scotland. Built before 1240 and captured by Robert the Bruce in 1308, Dunstaffnage played a dramatic role in Scottish history, and will have you reaching for your broadsword.

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Culzean Castle

A dramatic cliff top castle on the Ayrshire coast, Culzean is packed with things to do. Follow waymarked paths through the 600-acre estate, or admire the gardens in full bloom; head to the beach, hunt out the ice house, or admire the oval staircase - one of Robert Adam's architectural masterpieces. It's managed by the National Trust, and free for members.

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Ardvreck Castle

A haunted ruin on the shores of Loch Assynt, Ardvreck is remote and beautiful. It's about 25 miles north of Ullapool, and the views from the promontory are some of the best you'll find of the Sutherland mountainscape.

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Kisimul Castle

Keep an eye out for Kisimul Castle on the ferry to Barra - you'll see it from the deck as you approach Castlebay. Perched on a rock in the middle of the bay, you can catch a little boat out to it and stride along the battlements like a true clan chief.

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Eilean Donan Castle

Built on a rocky outcrop at the meeting of three great sea lochs, Eilean Donan makes a great stop on the way to Skye. Its strategic location may no longer be needed to guard the lands of Kintail, but its picturesque location now makes it one of the most visited attractions in the Highlands. There's a visitor centre, and cottages you can stay in.

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Duntrune Castle

Thought to be the oldest continually occupied castle in Scotland, Duntrune sits on the shore of Loch Crinan. Roughly half way between Oban and Tarbert, it makes a great stop-off for island hoppers. Stay in one of the holiday cottages, or explore the gardens - which are inland, sheltered from the salt spray coming in off the sea.

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Dunvegan Castle

A trip to Skye wouldn't be complete without a visit to Dunvegan Castle, once a stronghold of the Clan MacLeod. Take a tour of the house and gardens to get a feel for the history of the place - or head out on one of the loch cruises to get a little closer to the wildlife.

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Duart Castle

A 13th century castle on the Isle of Mull, look out for Duart from the ferry. Inside the castle you'll find an excellent exhibition on the history of the Clan Maclean of Duart, and the castle's role as protector of the island. Stop off at the café for a thick wedge of homemade cake.

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Kames Castle

A secluded mansion on Bute, Kames Castle is a bit special. You'll need to book a night or two at one of the cottages that surround the 14th century keep to enjoy it - it's not open to visitors. The walled garden is spectacular in summer and autumn.

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Brodick Castle

This Victorian Highland castle on Arran is popular with families: there's plenty to see and do. With Goatfell in the distance, there are landscaped gardens and woodland trails, ponds, waterfalls, and plenty to explore outside. Inside, you can discover the castle's 800-year history in the formal rooms, then retire to the tearooms for refreshments.

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Breachacha Castle

Coll might be small, but it has two castles: the Old Breachacha and the New Breachacha. The first is a 15th century tower house built by the Macleans of Coll, the second hosted Samuel Johnson and James Boswell on their tour of the Hebrides.

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Armadale Castle

Sitting in a 20,000-acre estate on Skye's Sleat peninsula, Armadale Castle is the home of Clan Donald Skye. The gardens and woodland are spectacular, with walks for everyone, and you can explore the history of the clan in the Museum of the Isles. It's popular with families, and the Stables Café has a good selection of cakes and coffee.

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Lochranza Castle

You can't miss the ruined castle at Lochranza: it sits at the head of the bay, overlooking Kintyre. Perfect for a quick explore while you wait for the ferry to Claonaig, it's said that Robert the Bruce landed here in 1306 to claim the Scottish crown. There's a great dungeon, if the kids have been playing up.   

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Rothesay Castle

You'll find this one right in the middle of Rothesay - just a few minutes' walk from the ferry terminal. It's unusually round and well preserved, so much of what you see dates back to the 13th century.

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Dunollie Castle

See a 19th century loom at work in the Weaver's Cottage, or explore the history of Clan MacDougall at the 1745 House Museum. Dunollie Castle is just north of Oban, with superb views over Lismore and the Inner Hebrides. And once you've explored the castle itself, head for the Willow Hall - a living dome of willow.

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Castle House Museum

Delve into the local history of Dunoon, from Neolithic times to the present. The Castle House Museum is on the hill above Dunoon Pier, worth it for the gardens and brilliant views alone. Inside, you can explore the exhibits, and the history of the house from Victorian schoolroom to the wartime activity on the Clyde.

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Gylen Castle

Hop over on the ferry from Oban to the Isle of Kerrera for a walk around the southern half of the island, and you'll see the dramatic ruins of Gylen Castle. Go for the views over the Firth of Lorne and the Inner Hebrides, and explore the castle's brief but dramatic role in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms.

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Dunyvaig Castle

If you're looking for the perfect shot of the Lagavulin Distillery, walk out along the promontory to Dunyvaig Castle. It was once a naval base for the Lord of the Isles, but it's real draw now is the great views over the rocky bay and the whitewashed buildings of the distillery.

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Have we missed your favourite? Let us know in the comments. 

 

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