Drive the Castle Trail in Aberdeenshire :
Apparently, there are more castles per square acre in Aberdeenshire than anywhere else in the UK. It seems a little odd to measure local castle density by the square acre, but hey who am I to judge. And we are talking castles so however you introduce the subject, well we’re still talking castles and that’s a good thing.
Indeed, visitors can now navigate this treasure trove of Scottish castles by traveling a marked self-driving tour. This self-driving tour is known as the Castle Trail. It’s itinerary includes 19 of the best sites and includes medieval ruins, imposing fortresses and haunted palaces.
Do part of the Castle Trail or do the whole thing. Do it fast or slow. It’s all up to you. However, the following six day itinerary works well, whether you are doing the whole trip or just a day while in Aberdeenshire.
Castle Trail Day 1
Stop 1 – Dunnottar Castle in Stonehave
In Scottish Gaelic, Dunnottar Castle is known as Dùn Fhoithear or “fort on the shelving slope”. Today, Dunnottar Castle is on every traveler’s Scottish bucket list. Thus beautiful ruin sits upon a rocky outcrop along the North See just south of Stonehaven.
Stop 2 – Crathes Castle in Banchory
Crathes Castle was built by the Burnetts of Leys and held in the family for 400 years. Pronounce as “Crath-es” for extra points!
Stop 3 – Drum Castle in Drumoak
Drum Castle was the seat of the chief of Clan Irvine. It is considered one of the three oldest tower houses in Scotland.
Castle Trail Day 2
Stop 1 – Castle Fraser near Inverurie
Castle Fraser is the most elaborate Z-plan castle in Scotland. The castle was passed down through the Lords Fraser.
Stop 2 – Tolquhon Castle near Ellon
This ruined Tolquhon Castle was built in the 15th Century for Sir William Forbes, 7th Laird of Tolquhon. Pronounce that “Toh-hon” for extra points.
Stop 3 – Haddo House near Ellon
Built in 1732, Haddo House sits at the site of Kellie Castle, the Gordon’s previous dwelling. Fun fact – Kellie Castle was burned by the Covenanters.
Castle Trail Day 3
Stop 1 – Fyvie Castle near Turriff
Fyvie Castle (or parts thereof) date from the 13th century, although some claim it was built originally in 1211 by William the Lion.
Stop 2 – Delgatie Castle near Turriff
Delgatie Castle was built between 1570 and 1579, although a stronghold has existed here in some form from the year 1030.
Stop 3 – Kinnaird Head Castle in Fraserburgh
Kinnaird Head Castle, also known as Fraserburgh Castle and Kinnairdshead Castle, was begun in March 1570. It was later converted into a lighthouse and houses the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses.
Castle Trail Day 4
Stop 1 – Duff House in Banff
Duff House is a Georgian estate house built in 1735 and now in the care of Historic Scotland. It is also part of the National Galleries of Scotland.
Stop 2 – Huntly Castle in Huntly
Huntly Castle is a ruined castle. It was the ancestral home of the chief of Clan Gordon.
Castle Trail Day 5
Stop 1 – Leith Hall near Huntly
Leith Hall was built in 1650, on the site of the medieval Peill Castle. It was home to the Leith-Hay family for three centuries.
Stop 2 – Kildrummy Castle near Alford
This ruined castle is one of the best preserved 13 century castles surviving in eastern Scotland. It was the seat of the Earls of Mar.
Stop 3 – Corgarff Castle
Corgarff Castle was built in the 16th century by the Forbes of Towie. In 1571 Corgarff Castle it was burned by enemies. Lady Forbes, her children, and a number of others died in the fire. The event is made famous by the ballad Edom o Gordon.
Castle Trail Day 6
Stop 1 – Braemar Castle, near Braemar
Braemar Castle was built in 1628 by as a hunting lodge and to counter the power of the Farquharsons.
Stop 2 – Balmoral Castle, near Ballater
Balmoral Castle is a large estate in Royal Deeside near the village of Crathie. Balmoral is one of the residences for members of the British Royal Family. In 1852, the estate and its original castle were purchased privately by Prince Albert, consort to Queen Victoria.
Stop 3 – Craigievar Castle, near Craigievar
Craigievar Castle is a pinkish harled castle. It was the seat of Clan Sempill and the Forbes family until 1963.
To get the most cost effective castle chasing experience planning ahead is recommended. In part, this is because Scottish castles are managed by multiple heritage organizations and discount passes work differently with each. Check out my guide to visiting Scottish castles here for more information. I also explore and provide tips for photographing castles here as well.
Aberdeen makes a great base for exploring Aberdeenshire. We stayed at the Jury’s Inn while we explored Aberdeenshire. It’s not a luxury hotel but it is well located next to the train station in the centre of Aberdeen. Also, its new and clean. And that’s not a bad thing.