MANY of Scotland’s castles are top tourist destinations. Sofiane Kennouche looks at the nation’s most popular
Whether immortalised through folklore, historical significance or showbiz fame, castles are magnets for attention from both the public and tourists alike. We’re pored over Historic Scotland’s most up-to-date figures to identify the country’s most visited castles.
Scotland’s tenth most visited castle is Dumbarton Castle, which has the longest recorded history of any castle in Scotland. With 17,150 visitors to the River Clyde-based site in 2013-2014, Dumbarton Castle has enjoyed a year-on-year increase since 2012. See it for the White Tower Crag and its unusual location atop a volcanic plug active 350 million years ago.
Craigmillar Castle welcomed 19,601 visitors to its medieval setting in the same period. Its 15th century construction was the site of the plot to kill Mary, Queen of Scots’ husband Henry Stuart, the Lord of Darnley, and features a dovecote, chapel and a spectacular courtyard wall. With close proximity to Edinburgh, it’s possible to visit this castle and still have time to see another one from this list on the same day.
Beating Craigmillar into seventh place is Dirleton Castle, with parts of the East Lothian castle dating back to the 13th century. For the 24,512 people who visited the fortress, its proximity to the sea was a strategic necessity to defend the country from English invaders during the Wars of Independence. In use until approximately 1650, Dirleton was handed to Historic Scotland in the 1920s and lies partially ruined today.
For an introduction to medieval castle building, the moated Caerlaverock Castle in Dumfries is an excellent example incredibly photogenic setting thanks to its towered gatehouse and triangular layout. Just under 31,000 people visited this castle in the year 2013-2014, with the castle’s own tea room and an adventure park for children broadening its appeal to families.
Also located in East Lothian, the North Berwick-based Tantallon Castle was enjoyed by 35,958 people. Beseiged by King James IV and his successor James V twice in the space of 40 years, the former Douglas family base is perched atop cliffs with views to the Bass Rock - a volcanic structure that lies 1.2 miles off the coast.
Eight miles away from Stirling lies Doune Castle, another 14th century stronghold that was badly battered in the Wars of Independence. Famous to some as the setting for the BBC’s Monty Python and the Holy Grail, it has recently enjoyed a surge in visitor numbers thanks to its use as Castle Leoch in Scotland-set TV drama Outlander. With its television connections, grand hall and ruined charm, Doune Castle had 38,054 visitors pass through its gates.
ST ANDREWS CASTLE
Just outside the top three most-visited castles is St Andrews Castle, with 62,680 visitors. Its ownership changed several times between the Scots and English during the Wars of Independence, with Bishop Walter Trail rebuilding it to its current form in the 1400s. Like several of the castles on this list, the Fife-based fortification enjoys a spectacular sea view.
Comfortably earning its third place billing is Urquhart Castle, with the Highland stronghold offering uninterrupted views over Loch Ness. With 307,803 people attracted to the Grant Tower, the stunning backdrop of the Drumnadrochit region adds to the castle’s historical allure.
With a little over 100,00 more visitors in the same time frame, Stirling Castle has welcomed 407,434 guests into its preserved collections of 16th century opulence. Once home to numerous Stewart kings and queens, visitors can recreate aspects of medieval life through guided tours and dressing in period outfits. Besieged several times in its life, the last attempt was made by Bonnie Prince Charlie in the 1740s.
As Scotland’s most popular paid-for tourist attraction, Edinburgh Castle’s visitor numbers are impressive. As a prominent feature in the city’s UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Old and New Towns, Edinburgh Castle dealt with 1,417,434 visitors between 2013 and 2014. The castle is home to Mons Meg, Scotland’s Honours and the Stone of Destiny, while also being one of the few castles worldwide that happens to be located within a vibrant city.