The Colorful History of Scottish Highlands Castles


Away from the hustle and bustle of Glasgow and Edinburgh lies the Scottish Highlands. The vast, mountainous territory to the north has a rich culture and history – visibly especially in its centuries-old castles. Check out this great photo-essay for a taste of the land’s beauty, including the castles hidden among its lochs and glens.

Not surprisingly, the castles’ stern stones have tales to tell. We’ll start at the far reaches of Scotland. The Isle of Skye is home to the Dunvegan Castle and Gardens, ruled by the Chiefs of Clan MacLeod for 800 years.  Their crest is a bull’s head with the motto, “Hold Fast.” This originates from Malcolm the third chief (1296-1370) who while returning from a clandestine visit to the wife of Fraser of Glenelg, was confronted by a mad bull in Glenelg. Armed only with a dirk he slew the beast. As a souvenir of his prowess, he retained one of the bull’s horns. This horn is on display in the castle today.


In the small former fishing village of Dornie, nestled in the breathtaking western Ross-shire Highlands of Scotland, you should pay a visit to one of the most recognized castles in Scotland. The Eilean Donan Castle is an iconic Scottish monument that overlooks the Isle of Skye and is  surrounded by the majestic splendor of the forested mountains of Kintail, which gave it some protection from invading forces.

Photo by: Jack Torcello

Cross the bridge to the tidal island where the fourth version of the castle  stands. You will understand why Bishop Donan chose the serene spot back in 634 AD to settle on and create a monastic cell. The first castle was established in the 13th century by Alexander II, King of Scots,  to protect the area from Viking incursions. Over the centuries, the castle’s fortunes rose and fell until 1719, when it was destroyed in one of the Jacobite uprisings. The castle that visitors enjoy today was reconstructed as a family home between 1912 and 1932, incorporating  many  of the 18th-century ruins. Visitors can wander through  the castle’s interior and enjoy the elaborate displays of weapons and fine art.

To find other castles, fortresses and tower houses, drop by Visit Scotland, the online presence of Scotland’s National Tourist Organisation.


Keep in mind that there’s more to the Highlands of Scotland than castles. Sightseeing is thirsty work, so plan to stop at one the region’s famous whisky distilleries, for a fiery smooth single malt with just the right peaty, smoky undertones. Many distilleries have visitors’ centres and offer tours and tastings.

For thrill seekers, the area offers activities such as mountain biking, kayaking, golfing and skiing.  Perhaps you’ll even be lucky enough to spot Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster, in Scotland’s largest loch, located east of Inverness. Keep in mind chances of a spotting increase according to how much whisky you have consumed.


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