So much to see, so much to do, here in the Scottish Highlands! Today’s journey takes us to Cawdor Castle, a magnificent, and quite old, Scottish castle located a short drive outside the town of Inverness. How old you ask? Why it’s over 600 years old!
Step inside this elegant example of Scottish architecture and step back centuries in time. Cawdor Castle’s legacy is long, it’s history deep, it’s structures impressive. And it’s still home to the Cawdor family today. As in, they actively live within the walls of Cawdor Castle! Let’s check it out, shall we?
⇒ Calling all Outlander Fans! Imagine Jaime and Claire Fraser traversing their beloved Scottish Highlands. They might have crossed these very lands of Cawdor Castle!
Welcome To Cawdor Castle!
Legends have it that in 1370, William, the 3rd Thane of Cawdor, had a dream that he was to follow his donkey, laden with panniers of gold, until the donkey laid down. At that very spot, the Thane was to build his castle. The donkey is said to have laid down beneath a hawthorne tree. So Cawdor Castle was built around that tree. Literally, around the tree!
And yes, there still exists today a castle room built around a tree, aptly named the Hawthorn Room. Though current science indicates that the original tree died centuries ago, and that the current tree is actually a holly tree, it’s still a site to see – a tree right in the middle of a castle cellar! The Hawthorne room is also said to have magical qualities that have saved the castle on several occasions.
That 1370’s castle wasn’t the first building upon this storied land, however. The original fortification was actually founded by William the Lion in 1179. Not much remains of that 12th century fortress. Much of today’s castle has evolved over the more “modern times” of the 14th to 17th centuries as a private fortress by the Thanes of Cawdor.
Cawdor Castle also has a Shakespearian connection. The Tragedie of Macbeth, to be exact. Remember that part about the three witches telling Macbeth that he would become Thane of Cawdor, and then King? And the part where Duncan is killed in his sleep at Macbeth’s castle to fulfill the prophecy? Well, Macbeth was never actually Thane of Cawdor, and this Cawdor Castle wasn’t built during Macbeth’s lifetime. But it’s a fun story nonetheless.
Yes, these lands are steeped in histories and mysteries, indeed! Walk around the castle’s exterior, admiring it’s slated roofs, crow-stepped gables, and towering turrets. Stroll across the castle’s drawbridge and through it’s portcullis, much like the Cawdor family and friends have done for centuries. Find the family emblem – a stag’s head and buckle – high up on the portcullis’ wall, just before entering into the castle proper. Be Mindful, it says, to all who enter this domain.
Imagine life as it once was for well-to-do Highland gentry as you wander through rooms dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries. Rooms like the Drawing Room, the castle’s great hall, where a most impressive display of family portraits is elegantly displayed upon the walls. And the Tapestry Bedroom, where the 4-poster bed is the actual 1662 marriage bed of Sir Hugh Campbell and Lady Henrietta Stuart.
Picture the feasts that might have been served in the castle’s Dining Room, with it’s impressive fireplace and mantelpiece. That very mantelpiece is quite old! It was built in commemoration of the 1510 marriage of Sir John Campbell of Argyll and Muriel Caldor of Cawdor. And last but not least, step through the Old Kitchen, dating back to 1640. Can you imagine cooking a medieval feast in this room?
Meander A Maze of Castle Gardens
Equally impressive are the surrounding castle gardens. Three distinct gardens, to be exact! From pristine, immaculately manicured designs to towering maze gardens, the grounds around Cawdor Castle are a tapestry of colorful horticultural beauty, and as worthy of exploration as the castle itself. One can spend hours meandering along these garden paths.
The oldest of Cawdor Castle’s gardens is The Walled Garden. It’s roots date to the early 1600’s. Now that’s some seriously old roots! The Walled Garden eventually became a kitchen garden, ensuring the Old Kitchen was fully stocked with the necessary green goods and fruity delights to feed hungry castle residents.
Though a very modern addition in 1981, the Walled Garden’s towering holly maze is the perfect place to wander, to dream a little, to capture the ancient essence that permeates the area. Also a great place for a little game of hide and seek. Find me if you can!
The Flower Garden was initially designed in the early 1700’s as a colorful respite for Cawdor Castle residents during late summer and early fall. Over time, the garden was extended to bring additional color and beauty into the spring season as well. We were here in early fall, and the Flower Garden was in full fall bloom. Truly stunning!
Last, but certainly not least, is the aptly named Wild Garden. It’s a much more modern garden, having been planted in the 1960’s. Still a garden most awesome indeed. Compared to the more formal designs of the two older gardens, the Wild Garden is a rambling, winding array of paths through flowering shrubbery set amidst old trees. Alas, I have no photos to share of the Wild Garden. Just this tediously manicured miniature hedge!
Have You Been to Cawdor Castle?
And there you have it. A walk through a wonderful, vibrant piece of Scottish Highlands history, and one that is well worth an afternoon of your time. Cawdor Castle is located about 10 miles (16km) east of Inverness, just southwest of Naim, making it an easy day trip from Inverness. Learn more about Cawdor Castle and how to plan your own exploration of this amazing living legend.
Note to travelers: Cawdor Castle is typically only open to the public from May to October.
Note to Outlander Fans: Cawdor Castle can easily be combined with Culloden Battlefield. But more on that later!
Have you explored the Scottish Highlands? Been to Cawdor Castle? What did you think? Were you impressed with this incredible gem of Scottish history? Is Cawdor Castle now on your list of places to explore one day? Do share in the Comments section!
Read more about our adventures in Scotland:
- In Search of Castle Ruins and Loch Ness Monsters In The Scottish Highlands
- Culloden Battlefield – Haunting Reminders on a Scottish Moor
All images by C.Biederman.