Castles are just one of the great Scottish icons and in Royal Deeside you are spoiled for choice. Early tower houses, fortified homes and grand castellated mansions, that proliferated during the reign of Queen Victoria, are all represented in this now tranquil corner of Scotland. Northeast Scotland is considered Castle Country and the castles here are strongly linked to the great families of the area, Burnett, Erskine, Farquharson, Forbes, Gordon, Irvine in addition to Royal connections.
Our top ten list concentrates on the castles that can be visited. Links to further details form part of the brief description. A number of sites are in the care of conservation bodies Historic Scotland and the National Trust for Scotland, both of whom offer value combination tickets for multiple visits to their properties.
Balmoral Castle: Originally built in the 1850s by Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, Balmoral, remains the private home of the Royal family in Scotland. A free audio guide enhances your visit with tales of Royals past and present and background to the estate workings. Daily land rover safaris of the estate can be booked in advance for an even more memorable experience to this 'dear paradise'.
Open daily April to end July, after which time the Queen makes her annual visit and attends the Braemar Highland Gathering. Balmoral is open at other times so do check if you would like to visit.
Braemar Castle: The first tower was built here in 1628 by the Earl of Mar, family name Erskine. Changing hands after the Erskines led highland rebellion, it has been the clan seat of the Farquharsons of Invercauld for over two centuries. Now leased to the local community, the castle is maintained by volunteers and displays furniture and personal memorabilia of the Farquharson family and has several resident ghosts!
Corgarff Castle: A wonderfully restored 16th century tower house that was converted into barracks for government troops following the Jacobite uprising of 1745. Apparently set in splendid isolation at the head of remote Strathdon, the castle nestles in an important junction of valleys. Drive beyond the castle and uphill to the viewpoint above the castle to fully appreciate its unrivalled location.
Craigievar Castle: Said to be the inspiration to Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom castle, Craigievar will not disappoint! Noted for its painted and plaster ceilings and its magnificent woodlands, Craigievar is one of the best preserved Scottish tower houses, virtually unchanged since it was built in 1610. A great place for a walk or a picnic there is year round access to the grounds, The castle, itself, reopens on 1st May 2010 after more than a year of conservation work.
Crathes Castle: A stunning 16th century tower house that was owned by the Burnett family for over 350 years until its care was entrusted to the National Trust for Scotland. Concerts and events occur throughout the summer season and it is open year round. Its spectacular gardens have won awards and it is a great red squirrel spotting location.
Drum Castle: The oldest intact building in the country in the care of the National Trust for Scotland, Drum was originally built in 1323. 17th and 19th century additions almost give you three or four castles in one. Drum was home to the Irvine family from 1323 to 1975. Its famous Garden of Historic Roses was opened in 1991 to mark the diamond jubilee of the National Trust for Scotland. Portraits by Henry Raeburn are amongst the jewels that abound in this delightful home. Year round access to the extensive grounds.
Glenbuchat Castle: A fine example of a Z-plan castle built in 1590, Glenbuchat is now semi ruined and roofless above the first floor, but otherwise well preserved. Local people secured the surrounding land to preserve the castle and its quiet location is an ideal place to sketch or listen to nature!
Kildrummy Castle: Described as "the noblest of northern castles", Kildrummy is a magnificent ruin dating back to the 13th century. It was a fortress of the Earls of Mar and played an important role throughout the medieval history of Scotland and in particular during the Wars of Independence between Scotland and England. A castle of enclosure, Kildrummy, is quite different from its local counterparts and will enchant those interested in castle evolution.
Kindrochit Castle: Little remains of Kindrochit Castle, which was originally built by King Malcolm Canmore as a hunting lodge in 1059. Kindrochit was a royal castle for almost 500 years and hosted many kings of Scotland. Today all you'll see are a few walls and grassy mounds close to the car park in the middle of Braemar village. Its location was strategic at the junction between two pass routes.
Knock Castle: A former stronghold of the Gordon family on Deeside, Knock Castle lies on the south side of the River Dee opposite Ballater. Dating from the early 17th Century, it guarded the entry to Glen Muick. It is possible to walk to the castle from Ballater, it is on the Seven Bridges circular walk which takes around 3 hours [9kms long]. The ruins are said to be haunted!