It’s hard to believe that a small country nestled in the north of Europe can be such an incredible photography destination. Even harder to believe is that there are so many picturesque castles that are just perfect for any photographer. It’s almost as if these castles were built all those centuries ago for today’s photographers. It is estimated that once there were 3,000 castles in Scotland. How many there are today is debatable as some estimates include houses where the tag castle was added and ruins which are no longer visible. What is for certain is that there are plenty of castles to satisfy your photography needs. So here are the 10 most picturesque castles in Scotland to photograph.
1. Eilean Donan Castle
Probably the most photographed castle in the whole of Scotland and seeing it with your own eyes, you’ll understand why. It has appeared in countless movies over the years and is visited by hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. Legend has it that the castle was founded by the warrior blessed with the ability to talk to birds due to him taking his first drink as a baby from a raven’s skull.
The more likely explanation is that the castle was founded in the 1200s due to its strategic position to defend from Viking invaders. Seeing the castle now, you may not believe that it was completely destroyed in 1715 by the British Navy. For 2 days they bombed the castle to suppress an uprising. It wasn’t until almost 200 years later (after WWI ended) that the castle was rebuilt by Major John MacRae-Gilstrap and was finally re-opened to the public in 1955. It is a truly beautiful castle that deserves its rightful place amongst the most picturesque in Scotland and the world.
2. Kilchurn Castle
Sitting at the head of Loch Awe, this castle is another of the famous spots where you’ll often find photographers, especially at sunrise. The castle was built by Sir Colin Campbell in the mid-1400s. But later (in 1689) the main tower house was converted into accommodation for officers while barracks were built in the courtyard for the soldiers. The castle was eventually abandoned late in the 17th century.
Today, even though the crumbling facade of the castle doesn’t have the same majestic presence that it once did, it arguably adds to its photographic appeal. The famous spot for taking photos of this castle is from across the loch next to the A819. If the conditions are right early in the morning, you will be treated to a beautiful light and mist across the lake.
3. Dunnottar Castle
One of Scotland most spectacular castles, Dunnottar translates from Scots Gaelic to “fort on the falling slope”. It is one of the most important castles in Scotland history. It was besieged by William Wallace and was once the resting place of the Scottish crown jewels. The castle is around 20km south of Aberdeen next to the town of Stonehaven. It is perched on a clifftop surrounded by the North Sea and was once connected to the mainland by a causeway. This was deliberately destroyed and replaced by a route along the cliffs to make it more difficult for invading armies.
The position of the castle on the east coast means it can be photographed throughout the day from various angles. Sunrise and sunset can produce stunning results if the conditions are right. If you own a drone and the fierce Scottish wind allows you, aerial shots from the sea can also look magnificent.
4. Castle Sinclair Girnigoe
Situated on the east coast of northern Scotland near the town of Wick, this castle ticks all the boxes for photographers. From its stunning location to the crumbling ruins of the castle itself, the effort of getting to this castle is worth it. It is believed that the castle was built by William Sinclair who was the 2nd Earl of Caithness in the late 1400th century. The castle was repeatedly extended until it was damaged beyond repair in a siege in 1680 and was never inhabited again.
The best shots of the castle are from the east side of it along the clifftop. But you can also get some nice, closer shots from before the footbridge and even underneath it looking up. But this castle is another that can be photographed throughout the day.
5. Castle Stalker
It is believed that Castle Stalker in its present form was built by Sir John Stewart in the mid-14th century. It is a four-story tower house that sits on an Islet on Loch Laich. The name “Stalker” comes from the Scots Gaelic word “Stalcaire” which means “hunter” or “falconer”. Over the years the castle changed hands many times and was finally abandoned in 1840 when it lost its roof. In 1908 Charles Stewart of Achara purchased it and carried out some conservation work. It wasn’t until 1965 when Lieutenant Col. Steward Allward bought the castle that it was fully restored.
Unless you are on a boat, there is only really one area that you can capture good photos of Castle Stalker from. That is from the bank of the loch along the A828. As you are looking west, sunset is a natural time to be photographing the castle if the conditions are right. But sunrise and early morning will allow you to take photos of the castle as it’s being lit by the sun behind you.
6. Ardvreck Castle
Driving along the A837 in whichever direction, you will soon see ruins of yet another beautifully positioned castle on a loch. Ardvreck Castle dates back to around 1490 when the region was owned by the Macleods of Assynt. The castle is infamous for the ultimate betrayal of “Highland hospitality”. In 1650 the Marquis of Montrose lost the battle of Carbisdale and fled to Ardvreck Castle where he sought sanctuary. Neil Macleod of Assynt was away so his wife tricked Montrose and locked him in the castle dungeon. She notified government troops who took Montrose to Edinburgh and executed him. The castle changed hands many times and was replaced by the more modern Calda House a stone’s throw away. Calda House itself burnt down in 1737 and before it could be rebuilt, the Mackenzie estates were seized by the Crown in 1745 for their support in an uprising. The castle has been in ruin ever since.
All of the photography locations for this castle are along the A837. There are several places that you will be able to stop to capture shots of the castle and Calda House throughout the day.
7. Urquhart Castle
Around 2km south-west of Inverness is perfectly perched, Urquhart Castle. Sitting on a cliff, overlooking the most famous of lochs in Scotland – Loch Ness, it would understandable if this castle would shy away and play second fiddle. But instead, it is another great old Scottish castle that deserves to be photographed. The castle was founded in the 13th century and played a significant part in the Wars of the Scottish Independence in the 14th century. It was even held as a Royal Castle and was further strengthened until in the middle of the 17th century when it was abandoned. In 1692 the castle was partially destroyed to prevent the Jacobite forces using it and subsequently decayed until it was placed in state care as a monument in the 1900s.
Due to its position and the fact that it is a managed site (in that there is an entrance fee and there are opening times), it can be difficult to photograph the castle. Your best bet might actually be to book a cruise on Loch Ness to capture photos in the morning. Photographing the castle from land will be best done late in the afternoon when the sun will be behind you. Morning shoots will mean you will be looking directly into the sun so you will have to be creative or use filters to suppress the contrast.
8. Old Keiss Castle
This old castle now in ruin was built by George Sinclair (5th Earl of Caithness) in the late 16th or early 17th century. It was one of the three fortifications that controlled this territory along with Ackergill Castle and Girnigoe Castle. As with many Scottish castles, Old Keiss Castle was in many battles and was badly damaged in the 1600s and while some restoration work was carried out, it wasn’t extensively rebuilt to its current form until 1860. During World War II Keiss become an important military location and its defence was a priority for the UK. Due to the German occupation of Norway, Caithness was particularly vulnerable to invasion. So the long flat beach was supplemented with anti-tank obstacles, machine-gun pillboxes and mines. The remnants of these pillboxes are still visible today.
As for photographing the castle, the best spots are from the beach. Try to get there during high tide where the water meets the coast and can create a beautiful silky effect. Also, be on the lookout for seals that often rest on the rocks on the foreground that can be used for added interest.
9. Dunrobin Castle
While the other castle above are all relatively small or in ruins, this mighty castle stands proud and as beautiful is it did in its heyday. It has been the home to the Earls and Dukes of Sutherland since the 13th century. The Sutherlands were one of the most powerful families in Britain. The Earldom of Sutherland was created in 1235 and it is believed that the castle was built around that time. The original castle wasn’t as big as additions were made over the years.
The best shots of the castle are from the gardens or further back along the coast. Depending on the time of year the shots from the garden can be taken throughout the day. Also, be on the lookout for the falconry show that takes place daily in the gardens.
10. Edinburgh Castle
No list of Scottish castles will be complete without the mightiest of them all. There has been a Royal Castle here on Castle Rock since the 12th century. But from the 15th century, the castle began to be used less as a residential place and in fact, by the 17th century it was used primarily as a military barracks. It is an icon of the city and of Scotland and dominates the city skyline. Photos of the castle are possible from all around the city, but the classic shot is from Calton Hill where you can capture the city skyline and Edinburgh Castle in the background.
These are just some of the amazing castles that Scotland offers photographers. There are plenty more such as Sterling Castle, Balmoral, Inverness and more. The one thing that you will be sure of in Scotland is that there will be a castle close enough to you wherever you are.
Photo credits: Kav Dadfar – All rights reserved. No usage without permission. Dreamstime.