Castles are everywhere in Scotland–some restored, some rebuilt and some in ruins in the hills. While there wasn’t enough time to follow the entire castle trail, I’ve explored five castles–all of them charming, beautiful, and full of stories and history: Stirling, Edinburgh, Eilean Donan, Urquhart, and Inverlochy Castles. The weather, landscape, and stories gave each a unique feel and distinct personality. With beautiful tapestries, elaborate stonework, elegant courtyards, royal palace rooms and bedrooms, chapels, green gardens, and autumn light, the charm of Scottish castles will stay with me.
We visited Stirling Castle on a grey-sky afternoon, where the courtyards and gardens were filled with mist and rain, and the view was clouded in thick fog, giving the castle and countryside a mysterious and dramatic feel. When we arrived, we walked up a steep cobblestone path through town, with little gardens, roses, and shops dotting the way. Stirling Castle had intricate square ceiling patterns, blue and purple tapestries lining the walls for beauty, warmth and sound barriers, and large four-post covered beds in the King and Queen’s royal bedrooms. My favourite places were the Grand Kitchens where you could almost smell the meals, stew, and royal desserts being prepared, as well as Douglas Garden, where most of the garden was under the umbrella of one large autumn tree, and you could see for miles over a patchwork of green fields and villages, from the stone-edged walls of the garden. The privacy within the garden walls connected with the wider world of Edinburgh and Scotland was unforgettable, and I could have spent hours there reading and writing if time had allowed.
When I visited Edinburgh Castle (symbol of the Scottish nation) in late afternoon, the sun was out and setting, and the backdrop of the castle and surrounding views of Edinburgh were orange, warm, and romantic. As I walked up the Royal Mile, a long mile-long cobblestone road lined with shops, cafes, and restaurants, I could see the castle in the distance, lit up with late afternoon sun turning to sunset. Knowing it rains so many days of November, the good weather was a large blessing. My favourite moments in this castle included the Palace Clock, Royal Crown and Jewels, St. Margaret’s Chapel (an intimate place still used for baptisms and weddings), the bedroom where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to her son James IV, and the amazing views of the old town and new town of Edinburgh as day was turning to a dusk-lit cityscape.
Seeing Eilean Donan Castle as part of my three-day Highlands tour was an unforgettable experience and one of my favourite places in Scotland–bright and sunny, we had a gorgeous morning for the visit, leaving me with a sense of glorious light and bright clear waters surrounding the castle, as well as a clear view of where we were headed next: the Isle of Skye. A special castle filled with secrets, our tour guide pointed out a secret passageway in the walls above the main gathering room and dining room, where conversations and visits were monitored and listened to. Perhaps this is where we got the phrase “the walls have ears.” Also, seeing the unique and tiny spaces between the stone bricks that allowed for peep-holes to spy on husbands and guests, the framed photographs of the present castle owner’s family, and the courtyard view of the Isle of Skye in the distance made this castle one of my favourite stops along the way.
Inverlochy Castle was the only castle in ruins, giving both a romantic, abandoned, and countryside-feel. Being in the country, the castle was surrounded with a cemetery, grassy fields, two old bridges with “Weak Bridge” signs, and my favourite: grazing Scottish sheep (nothing sweeter than little sheep with black faces and black feet). With partial walls in ruin and small windows built into the stone, you could see through the castle and out towards the bridges, hills, and surrounding red and orange leaves. The tour I was traveling with included a very warm and friendly group of seven tourists from Hong Kong, all of whom were thrilled to have their pictures taken with the red autumn trees behind the castle (they told me they don’t have red trees in Hong Kong), and instead of saying “cheese,” the photo word of the day was “Whiskey!”
The fifth castle I saw was Urquhart, highly photographed and loved. With the days getting dark early, and Loch Ness tucked inside a blue-black sky, we could only get a few quick pictures of charming Urquhart, before we made our way to our final destination, Fort Augustus, with light hearts and happy songs (literally).