Meet the ‘castle hunter’ exploring Scotland’s fortresses

Skipness Castle, which dates from the 13th century, lies on the east coast of Kintyre. Picture: Wikicommons
Skipness Castle, which dates from the 13th century, lies on the east coast of Kintyre. Picture: Wikicommons
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Scotland is world famous for its castles. But the question of just how many there are is not easy to answer.

Some fortresses are now so ruined they consist of little more than rubble, while others could be more accurately described as spacious family homes rather than fortified tower houses.

The mysterious 'Goblin Ha' at Yester Castle in East Lothian. Picture: David Weinczok

The mysterious 'Goblin Ha' at Yester Castle in East Lothian. Picture: David Weinczok

For those who dedicate their life to exploring them, it’s generally accepted there are around 2,500 castles north of the border - ranging from world famous landmarks like Edinburgh to lesser known urban examples such as Haggs in the southside of Glasgow.

David Weinczok knows more about the subject than most. He has visited more than 300 Scottish castles so far, documenting each expedition on his popular blog and tweeting under the name of the @TheCastleHunter, as well as contributing to a variety of magazines.

What makes this number more impressive is the relatively short time in which it was achieved. Born in Nova Scotia and raised in Toronto, Weinczok arrived in Scotland six years ago to study international relations at the University of Edinburgh.

READ MORE: A guide to the castles of Glasgow

Moving to the capital was a deliberate plan. “It was the history that brought me here,” he told The Scotsman.

“I’ve had an interest in Scottish history since I was six or seven. I was inspired to find out more by reading Lord of the Rings. I was also, slightly embarrassingly, a fan of Braveheart - but I now know that it’s factually rubbish.”

The 28-year-old wasted no time in hitting the road to explore when he arrived in Scotland, taking a coach trip to the Highlands within days of moving to Edinburgh.

“After I had visited around 10 castles I thought I could begin writing about them,” he added. “More than 300 later, here I am.

“You could spend a lifetime visiting every castle in Scotland - and some people have done just that, devoting 40 or 50 years to the subject.”

Weinczok was partly inspired to start his blog as a way of promoting Scotland’s lesser known castles. While thousands flock to Stirling, there are many other scheduled monuments which attract a handful of visitors at best most days.

Among his favourites is Yester Castle in East Lothian. “I’ll be talking about Yester on BBC Radio Scotland’s Out for the Weekend on October 27 as part of a talk about Scotland’s spookiest castles,” he said.

“Yester definitely tops my list in that regard. A deceptively cavernous ruin hidden in the woods, it has every hallmark of a horror film set – rusted iron bars guarding ominous doorways, a secret entrance under a hill, and stairway that leads into pure darkness. Every irrational instinct tells you there’s more lurking around Yester than just history.

“The highlight of the castle is the Goblin Ha’, supposedly built by a legion of goblins under the thrall of Hugo de Giffard, known as the ‘Wizard of Yester’. You can only get inside by crouching through a small, dark corridor which emerges suddenly into the rib-vaulted chamber. My breath was further cut short when I saw yet another passage in the corner of the Ha’ descending into utter darkness.”

He also highly recommends Skipness Castle, on the east coast of Kintyre, as worthy of a visit.

“Built by the MacSweens, a powerful Norse-Gaelic family whose chief seat was Sween Castle in Knapdale, the only reason Skipness isn’t one of the most popular Scottish castles is because of its relative isolation,” he said. “If you like castles such as Loch Leven or Castle Tioram, Skipness should definitely be on your list.”

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