Scotcrest Blog

Ardencaple Castle, Helensburgh – Clan MacAulay

ardencaple castle clan macaulay

Now survived only by a sole navigational tower overlooking the Firth of Clyde, Ardencaple Castle is the historic seat of the Scottish MacAulay Clan.

Situated near the picturesque riverside town of Helensburgh, the castle is thought to have originally been built during the 12th century and its name is said to be derived from the Gaelic ‘Ard na gCapull’, meaning “cape of the horses”.

During the early years of the castle, the Macaulay clan would control vast lands to the north of the River Clyde, from Ardencaple to Portincaple on Loch Long, and while they would originally avoid controversy and fame as one of the smaller Scottish clans, this would change during the 16th century as the castle was strengthened and the clan aligned with other local families.

With the clan chiefs becoming more involved in local affairs, the fortunes of Ardencaple would soon change as the eighth laird, Aulay, used the estate as a method for paying off his gambling debts, selling it bit by bit as he slowly ended up in more trouble. This led the castle to fall into disrepair and – by the time the last laird died in 1787 – the castle wasn’t much more than a ruin. This would soon change though as the caste was purchased by the Duchy of Argyll and the building was expended into the grand castle that can be seen in many older photos.

Ardencaple would eventually fall back into MacAulay hands at the start of the 20th century as it was taken over by Henrietta MacAulay-Stomberg, who had aimed to turn the structure back into a centre for the MacAualay family. However, she would sadly pass away in 1935 and part of the estate was sold to a consortium of developers who would develop the land into a housing estate.

The castle would finally perish after it was requisitioned by the Royal Navy during the Second World War, eventually giving way to a naval housing complex for the workers at the nearby Faslane Naval Base as it was demolished in 1957. Today, all that remains of the old castle is a single navigational tower that was used by submarines returning to the base as a marker until the early 1990s. It can still be visited today and is now the only reminder of a time gone by when the area was ruled by the MacAulays rather than the Royal Navy.

Castle Grant, Grantown-on-Spey – Clan Grant

castle grant clan grant

Sitting on a hill near the town of Granton-on-Spey known as ‘Freuchie-hillock, the eponymous Castle Grant is the historic clan seat of the Scottish Grant family.

Originally constructed in the 11th century, the main building at Grant Castle is thought to have been erected during the beginning of the 14oos and would originally be called Freuchie Castle, Freuchie meaning ‘heathery place’. It would eventually be renamed ‘Castle Grant’ in 1694 to reflect its reputation as the ancestral seat of the clan despite them being in charge of the stronghold since the 1450s.

It is believed the Grants acquired the castle after a conflict with the Comyn Clan as they and the MacGregors fought the Comyns to gain control of the surrounding land. According to legend, during this battle, the chief of Clan Comyn was killed and his skull was taken as a trophy with it remaining under the Grant’s control as a place to keep their important documents for hundreds of years.

The Grants would then take over the castle and would continue to live there throughout a tumultuous period in history as the 1690 Battle of Cromdale took place on the grounds of the stronghold as the Grants fought against the Jacobites. It is after this battle that the name of the castle would be changed as Ludoivc Grant, the clan chief, obtained a charter from the crown to rule his lands officially. Subsequently, Ludovic would go on to make various improvements to the castle and commissioned a number of paintings of the family to show their new status.

Grant Castle would then enjoy a visit from the renowned poet, Robert Burns in the year 1787 as the bard travelled around the country before an even more distinguished visitor arrived in 1860 in the form of Queen Victoria. During her visit, the Queen is said to have humorously described the castle as looking like a small factory.

In more modern times, the building was eventually left to fall into disrepair as it was abandoned before being restored by Sir Robert Lorimer in 1912. It would, sadly, fall into disrepair again and has only been restored again in the last 30 years as it was turned back into the grand country home that it once was. The former stronghold has been in the news again in recent times as it was purchased in 2006 by the future owner of Rangers Football Club, Craig Whyte, and was seized by the Bank of Scotland in 2012 after Rangers entered administration and liquidation. It was then sold to Russian businessman, Sergey Fedotov, in 2014, who was also involved in the news after being arrested for fraud and sentenced to a 5-year prison sentence in 2020.

Drum Castle, Aberdeenshire – Clan Irvine

drum castle clan irvine

Drum Castle is one of Scotland’s oldest tower houses and the historic home of Clan Irvine.

Known as one of the oldest castles in the country, the building can trace it’s origins back to the 13th century when the castle’s tower was designed by the medieval architect, Richard Cementarius. Having been built during such an early period, the Drum Castle is thought to be the third oldest tower house in Scotland and is said to have originally been constructed under the orders of King Alexander III.

The castle would pass to its most famous owners, the Irvines, during the 14th century when William de Irwyn was given control by Robert the Bruce in 1325 after helping the Scottish monarch during his struggles against England throughout the Scottish Wars of Independence. It would remain in the family’s possession for the next 600 years and would later become infamous after the Invine clan used it as a place to hide the outlaw, Gilderoy, as he was on the run from the authorities following crimes committed in the north-east of the country during the 17th century. After being caught, the Irvine family would be censured but would remain in control of their historic seat despite the charges brought against them.

Later that century, the castle would play an important role in the covenanting rebellions as it was raided and sacked three times. It would eventually be restored by the Irvines during the 19th century as Alexander Forbes Irvine of Drum brought the castle back to its former glory and added an arched entrance to the front of the building. He would be the last in the family to make any significant changes to the structure as it was sold by the family in 1975, shortly after a railway service which had connected the castle to nearby Aberdeen, ceased operation in 1951.

Today, the castle is owned by the national trust and is designated as a category-A listed property. It is open to visitors during certain months of the year and was visited by almost 50,000 people during 2019.

Towie Barclay Castle, Aberdeenshire – Clan Barclay

towie barclay castle clan barclay

Situated in the heart of the Aberdeenshire countryside, Towie Barclay Castle is a 16th-century clan seat which previously served as the ancestral home of the Scottish Barclay family.

Thought to have been completed in 1593, the building was originally occupied by the ‘Tollie de Berkley’ family who had been living in the area since it was given to them in the 11th century by Malcolm III.

However, despite living there for so long, it appears the clan never settled in the region as, even after constructing a castle there and occupying it for another 200 years, the family were always spooked by a curse which was said to have been cast against them in response to a raid on a nunnery in the 12th century. According to legend, the curse was created by Thomas the Rhymer, a Scottish laird, who claimed that the male line of the family would be cursed if they stayed on their lands in Aberdeenshire. This curse is said to have been one of the main reasons why the family would eventually sell the castle in 1753 as it passed to the Earl of Findlater, whose son is said to have been affected by the curse as he passed away shortly after the sale.

For this reason, the Earl himself would soon sell the castle to the governors of Robert Gordon’s hospital in Aberdeen for £21,000 in 1792, a sale that would ultimately lead to its demise as it suffered from abandonment and fell into a state of disrepair.

The castle would continue to decay until the 1970s when it was finally rescued by the musician Marc Ellington and his wife, Karen. The couple would then spend the next 7 years restoring the castle with Karen becoming the project manager of the build and Ellington’s music career funding the necessary improvements. Today, the castle remains under the family’s ownership and is split into two levels; a more modern upper level and a historic lower level which contains the building’s original sixteenth-century masonry.


Edzell Castle, Angus – Clan Lindsayedzell castle clan lindsay

The now ruinous Edzell castle was once the grand home of the Scottish Lindsay clan and still features a beautiful walled garden.

First coming under the control of the Lindsays in 1357, Edzell was originally a ‘motte and bailey’ style castle; a small keep located on top of a large grassy mound, however, the Lindsay family would eventually move 300 metres to the north-east and it is here that the current structure stands today.

This move would occur at the beginning of the 16th century, meaning that while the current castle stands in another location, the mound upon which the original Edzell Castle stood is still visible today. The Lindsays would then enjoy a relatively quiet period in control of the area until it received a visit from Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1562 when she held a privy council meeting in the castle before staying there. Edzell would then enjoy further royal visits in 1580 and 1589 as James VI visited on two occasions.

Despite enjoying relative peace up until this point, the castle would then become involved in conflict after it was used to garrison the troops of Oliver Cromwell during his invasion if Scotland during the 1640s. The Lindsays would side with Cromwell during this conflict and John Lindsay would be captured at the castle by the opposing Royalist forces in 1653 before being rescued by his allies.

The family would then continue to control Edzell Castle until the year 1715, when they were forced to sell it in an attempt to pay off huge debts. It would pass to the Maule Earl of Panmure, although he only held the castle briefly as he was forced to forfeit his estates due to his part in the Jacobite Rising of 1715 and it was once again given to government forces as a place to garrison troops.

Abandoned soon after the rising, Edzell would eventually find its way into the hands of the Earl of Dalhousie, who would construct a cottage on the site for use by the castle’s caretaker. Today, this building acts as a visitor centre and both the castle and gardens are maintained by Historic Environment Scotland as a Scheduled Ancient Monument. The site can be visited by the general public all year round.

Dalhousie Castle, Midlothian – Clan Ramsay

dalhouse castle clan ramsay

Originally given to the Ramsay family during the 13th century, Dalhousie Castle would remain under the ownership of the clan until the year 1900.

In fact, the Ramsay’s association with Dalhousie is so long, the first castle built on the land is thought to have been constructed by the clan’s founder, Simundus de Ramesie.

Starting from humble beginnings, Dalhousie would remain under the Ramsay’s control throughout a tumultuous period in the history of Scotland with clan chiefs becoming involved in significant moments of Scottish history including the signing of the infamous ‘Ragman Roll’ of 1296 and the important ‘Declaration fo Arbroath in 1320.

Throughout this time, the castle is believed to have remained intact, although it did briefly become involved in the Scottish War of Independence when Edward I of England stayed there briefly on his way to fight the forces of William Wallace at the Battle of Falkirk in 1398. The castle would not get off so lightly in 1400, however, when Henry IV would unsuccessfully attempt to take the structure from the Ramsays during a siege which lasted 6 months.

After defeating the siege, Dalhousie would then enjoy a brief period of repite as its next notable moment would not arrive until the remodelling of the structure during the 17th century, a moment which was unfortunately followed by the besiegement and capture of the building by the forces of Olliver Cromwell in 1650 as he used it as his base for an invasion of Scotland.

Cromwell would eventually be defeated and the castle’s sole ownership returned to the Ramsays as they stayed in the building until their eventual move to Brechin Castle in 1900. Despite this, the castle would remain in a good state and would then briefly be used as a school before being bought over to be ran as a hotel in 1974. Today, it remains a hotel and is a popular wedding venue for many a happy Scottish couple.

Castle Menzies, Aberfeldy – Clan Menzies

castles menzies Clan Menzies

Serving as the stronghold of the chief of Clan Menzies for centuries, Castle Menzies is a wonderfully restored building located near the town of Aberfeldy in Perth and Kinross.

Thought to have been originally built in the 16th century, the Menzies family had already been living on the land where the Castle Menzies now sits for hundreds of years before and would originally control another castle at Comrie, four miles to the west.

It would be after a fire at their original home in 1488 that the chief of Clan Menzies, Sir Robert Menzies, 11th Baron, would choose to build a fortified mansion known as the ‘Palace of Weem’. This property would also be destroyed but the remains would be used as the base for the current castle which would be completed over the course of the 1600s.

The castle would see its first conflict in 1644 when the clan chief, Sir Alexander Menzies of Menzies, was attacked by royalist forces during the war of the covenant, the castlw would survive the damages, however, this would not be the end of the castle’s involvement in warfare, as it was captured and occupied in both 1715 and 1745 by Jacobite forces with Bonnie Prince Charlie sleeping there for two nights on the way north to his infamous last stand at Culloden.

It is around this time that the castle was expanded further as a new western wing was constructed using stone from a nearby quarry at Loch Tay and it would remain the family home until 1910 when it was sold to a selection of different buyers.

The castle would then slowly fall into disrepair, even being used a a store by the Polish Army during World War Two, before it was purchased for a mere £300 by the Clan Menzies Society in 1957. The society would spend the next 50 years restoring the now dilapidated castle into a worthwhile centrepiece for the Menzies Clan and it is now owned by the Clan Menzies Charitable Trust who run it as a visitor attraction which is open to the public.

Rowallan Castle, Kilmaurs – Clan Muir

rowallan castle clan muir

The traditional seat of the Muir Clan, Rowallan Castle is located to the north of the East Ayrshire town of Kilmarnock.

Thought to have originally belonged to the Comyn family, Rowallan passed by marriage to the Muirs and is said to have been the birthplace of Elizabeth Mure, the first wife of King Robert II. The family would continue to live there for the next 200 years and would eventually construct the castle that stands there today during the 16th century.

Consisting of two buildings and a cylindrical gatehouse, the castle is thought to have originally been surrounded by marshland. It would remain under the control of the Muir family until the beginning of the 18th century when it was passed to David Boyle, Earl of Glasgow, and would change hands on a number of occasions before it was restored by the architect, Sir Robert Lorimer at the beginning of the 20th century.

Rowallen then remained open to the public under the control of Historic Environment Scotland until 1989 when it was controversially purchased and turned into a wedding venue. The castle is now available for private hire and the castle grounds now include a golf course which was designed by professional golfer, Colin Montgomerie.


Closeburn Castle, Dumfries and Galloway – Clan Kirkpatrick

closeburn castle - clan kirkpatrick

Known as one of the oldest continuously inhabited buildings in Scotland, Closeburn Castle is the former clan seat and stronghold of the historic Clan Kirkpatrick.

Originally built by the Kirkpatrick family after they were granted the lands surrounding the castle in 1232, Closeburn would finally be constructed in its current form during the 14th century after it was built on a high piece of land surrounded by a drained loch.

By this point in history, the Kirkpatrick family were already well respected within the Scottish nobility and their clan chief, Sir Rodger Kirkpatrick, had accompanied Robert the Bruce during the infamous killing of his rival, John Comyn, in 1306. Roger would later capture the castles of Dalswinton and Caerlaverock from the English in 1355 before being murdered after a quarrel with Sir James Lindsay in 1357

After this unfortunate event, the history of the Kirpatricks in Dumfries and Galloway remains rather quiet until the year 1672 when Thomas Kirkpatrick of Closeburn was involved in a ratification stating that he was the owner of the property at Closeburn. The family would then be made Barotets of Nova Scotia 13 years later before the castle was damaged following a fire in 1748.

In the years succeeding the fire, the family would sell Closeburn to Reverend James Stewart-Menteith before it was passed to the Bairds in 1852. It remains occupied to this day and was purchased back by a branch of the Kirkpatrick family in 1981 when Luis Kirkpatrick gained control of the tower. Today, it is still under the family’s ownership and is the home of Luis’ son, Patrick. It can be rented out as holiday accommodation and would be the perfect holiday accommodation for any Kirkpatrick looking to pay a visit to their ancestral home.

Castle Varrich, Tongue – Clan MacKay

Castle Varrich - Clan Mackay

Located at the top of a prominent hill overlooking the beautiful Kyle of Tongue, Castle Varrich is the traditional seat of the historic Clan MacKay.

Now a crumbling old tower house, the castle is located in the far north of the Scottish Highlands and is said to have been constructed 1000 years ago by the Bishops of Caithness.

It would be the MacKays, however, who would become the castle’s most famous residents and they are believed to have constructed a stronghold on the site around the time of the 14th century, replacing the old Norse fort which had previously stood there.

In its heyday, the castle had two floors plus an attic and it is believed that there are caves located under the structure which were also inhabited by the MacKays in times of danger.

Today, all that is left of the once important castle is it’s ruined tower and the MacKay family have long since moved on to other properties.

Despite this, Varrich is still a fantastic destination to visit for anyone with an interest in Scottish history and is easily accessible by a specially built path which leads to the castle from the village of Tongue. In recent years, a mental staircase has even been added to the inside of the castle to allow visitors access the fantastic views across the Kyle of Tongue and back towards the mountains Ben Loyal and Ben Hope.