Scottish Highlands’ top 3 castles to visit

What better way to compare the stately grandeur of Aldourie Castle than to depict some of the most famous and intriguing castle ruins of the Scottish Highlands. Make more of your exclusive use stay in one of Scotland’s most beautiful castles. Experience, up close, the past of these mesmerising buildings. Take a read of Aldourie’s personalised guide to the Scottish Highlands’ top 3 castles to visit.

Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness

Urquhart Castle sits on Stone Point on the north-western shore of Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands. It is relatively close to water level and inland you can imagine where the gardens and orchards would have stood. It is the epitome of a Scottish castle ruin featuring a dry moat which would have once, before its excavation, defended the castle. A stone-built causeway provides access and would have featured a drawbridge at one time. The castle is a popular tourist spot for those visiting the Highlands or more specifically the quaint, lonely village of Drumnadrochit.
Scottish Highlands' top 3 castles

What is the history of Urquhart Castle?

The present ruins of Urquhart Castle date from the 13th to the 16th centuries. The castle played a substantial role in the Wars of Scottish Independence during the 14th century. It was thereafter considered a royal castle, and was raided on several occasions by the MacDonald Earls of Ross. Urquhart was granted to the Clan Grant in 1509, though endured further raids by the MacDonalds until it was abandoned during the mid-17th century. Urquhart was partially destroyed in 1692 to prevent its use by Jacobite forces, and subsequently decayed. It was opened to the public in the 20th century and is one of the most-visited castles in Scotland today. As a result it resides in our list of Scottish Highlands’ top 3 castles.

Why does Urquhart Castle appeal to tourists?

It’s all about size. The castle, situated on a headland overlooking Loch Ness, is one of the largest (in area) in Scotland. Like any castle ruins Urquhart Castle is a spectacular sight to witness. But what draws the crowds is its particularly scenic, famous and unique location: on the banks of Loch Ness. Loch Ness is famed for being the second largest lake in Scotland next to Loch Lomond, which is saying something. Not only that, but Loch Ness holds more water than any other lake in the British Isles. The appeal to holidaymakers is the combination of its historical beauty set against the dramatic scenery of the world famous Loch and the majestic Scottish Highlands. This alone makes it and Aldourie favourite and puts it in the Scottish Highlands’ top 3 castles.

Special fact or feature of one of the castle

Urquhart Castle’s historic files go way back. The first documentary record of Urquhart Castle occurs in 1296, when it was captured by Edward I of England. Edward’s invasion marked the beginning of the Wars of Scottish Independence, which would go on intermittently until 1357.
Scottish Highlands' top 3 castles

Why is this considered as one of Aldourie’s Scottish Highlands’ top 3 castles?

The stunning castle ruins on the edge of Loch Ness is relatively local to Aldourie Estate, only 40 minutes’ drive away. When you’re driving through the Scottish Highlands, time seems to disappear anyway. The roads are so easy to drive along as they sweep past the spectacular mountains and lochs and there’s little traffic intervention. There’s also so much to see and appreciate; before you know it you’ve reached your destination.

Another pull for guests staying at exclusive use Aldourie Castle is that it is also located on Loch Ness. House parties can experience a private chartered cruise from Aldourie’s private marina to the beautiful ruins of Urquhart Castle. To travel from one castle to another and back again is a unique opportunity for any holidaymaker. This is why Aldourie Castle rates Urquhart as one of the Scottish Highlands’ top 3 castles

Eilean Donan  – a magnificent castle ruins of the Scottish Highlands

This attractively named landmark is one of the most recognised castles in the whole of Scotland. You may have seen it one shortbread tins, tea towels and scenic calendars if you have ever before visited a gift shop in the Highlands.  Eilean Donan itself is a small island in the western Highlands and the meeting point of three sea lochs. The castle was restored in the early 20th century and now a footbridge connects the island to the mainland granting easy access to a somewhat untouchable Scottish landmark.

What is the history of Eilean Donan Castle?

Eilean Donan was named after Donnán of Eigg, a Celtic saint around in 617. The castle itself was founded in the 1200s, and became a stronghold of the Clan Mackenzie and the Clan Macrae. The castle was destroyed in 1719 because of the Mackenzies’ involvement in the Jacobite rebellions. What you see is the castle in its reconstructed form in the twentieth-century.

Interestingly, in the thirteenth century, during the reign of Alexander II, a large curtain-wall castle was constructed enclosing most of the island of Eilean Donan. At this time the area was at the boundary of the Norse-Celtic Lordship of the Isles and the Earldom of Ross: the island provided a strong defensive position against Norse expedition.Scottish Highlands' top 3 castles

Why does Eilean Donan Castle appeal to tourists?

Eilean Donan is a picturesque castle which has frequently appeared in films, television dramas and documentaries so is fabulous landmark to pose a selfie against. Eilean Donan is part of the Kintail National Scenic Area; not surprising considering its postcard worthy setting against a shimmering water floor and lush green hills. Remarkably, in 2001, the island had a recorded population of just one person – even for Scotland that’s a pretty low land-person ratio! No wonder it’s on Aldourie’s list of the Scottish Highlands’ top 3 castles.

Special fact or feature of the castle

Records suggest that there was a small Christian church on the island of Eilean Donan in the 6th or 7th century. Although no actual remains survive to this day fragments of stone do suggest an Iron Age or medieval history. This astonishing castle ruins has been redeveloped and reconstructed around six times; no wonder it looks tired now.

Why is this considered as one of Aldourie’s Scottish Highlands’ top 3 castles?

Eilean Donan is one of the most important attractions in the Scottish Highlands. It beholds a significant tapestry of history since its beginnings in the 6th century, all of which is well documented. Amongst its ongoing association with invasion and feuding, the castle has seen many a clan stay within its walls over the centuries. This resonates with Aldourie’s very own family history. It’s little wonder despite the nearly three hour journey that many of Aldourie’s exclusive use guests like to pay a visit.

Dunnottar Castle – castle ruins of the Scottish Highlands on ancient ground

Dunnottar Castle is the ruins of a medieval fortress situated on scenic rocky peninsula, elevated from the mainland. It’s on the north-east coast of Scotland just outside of Stonehaven. The ruins of the castle are surrounded by steep cliffs that drop to the North Sea, 50 metres below. A narrow strip of land joins the headland to the mainland, along which a steep path leads up to the gatehouse. This dramatic and evocative ruined cliff top fortress was the home of the Earls Marischal, once one of the most powerful families in Scotland.

Scottish Highlands' top 3 castles

What is the history of Dunnottar Castle?

The surviving buildings of Dunnottar are largely of the 15th and 16th centuries, but the site is believed to have been fortified in the Early Middle Ages. For example, a pictish fort was built nearby in the 3rd century and in the following century a place of worship. Vikings attacked the castle in the 9th century and it was captured by William Wallace in the year 1276. So much happened at Dunnottar Castle, (its dedicated website makes an interesting read of chronological historical events) that it barely got time to rest. It was finally rescued from ruin in 1925.

Dunnottar has played a prominent role in the history of Scotland through to the 18th-century Jacobite risings because of its strategic location and defensive strength. Because of its sheer perseverance  through history we have named it one our the Scottish Highlands’ top 3 castles.

Why does Dunnottar Castle appeal to tourists?

Dunnottar Castle is an iconic tourist destination for visitors the world over. The rock that the castle sits on formed some 440 million years ago; that’s enough to bring anyone to an historic landmark in Scotland. Tourists visit Dunnottar Castle for their own unforgettable experience; there is so much to see and do here. Try walking or cycling to the Castle from the nearby town of Stonehaven, itself a tourist attraction. The route to the castle is very picturesque.

Special fact or feature of the castle

When you visit this special historic landmark you will soon discover the importance of Dunnottar. It is in simple form an invincible fortress that holds important secrets of Scotland’s colourful past. Dunnottar is best known as the place where the Honours of Scotland- the Scottish crown jewels- were hidden from Oliver Cromwell’s army, which invaded in the 17th century.

Why is this considered as one of Aldourie’s Scottish Highlands’ top 3 castles?

It’s not just the ruins of a castle alone, and in that sense it’s much like that of a castle estate, like Aldourie. There a various buildings/structures within the castle walls including:
Scottish Highlands' top 3 castles

Gatehouse and Benholm’s Lodging
Tower house
Waterton’s Lodging
Postern gate
Whigs’ Vault
Bowling green
Sentry box

There’s so much more to Scotland’s historic castle ruins than initially meets the eye. No matter how much you read about them, however, nothing can compare to visiting them and being inside those castle walls. Each castle in Scotland has its own history, its own mysteries and its own charm. Step outside the luxuries of a private hire property in Scotland’s beloved Highlands and really experience the ghosts of Scotland’s past with a visit to Aldourie’s highly recommended Scottish Highlands’ top 3 castles.

Take the high road with a North Coast 500 Road Trip

Plan your trip of a lifetime around one of Scotland’s most beautiful coastal routes. Book two exclusive use stays during a life-changing North Coast 500 Road Trip.

We want to tell you about a new driving route through the western Highlands of Scotland. One that is full of adventure and scenic views. It’s called the North Coast 500 a 516-mile (830.4 km) route, and takes you around the north coast of Scotland. The route both starts and ends at Inverness Castle and in this blog we suggest how best to enjoy Scotland’s very own Route 66. For instance why not start your journey with a luxury stay at the resplendent Aldourie Castle. It is the perfect opportunity to stop partway through your drive and relax and recharge. Both Aldourie and Kinloch estates are part of the Wildland group of property and what’s more, each is available all year round for private hire as luxury group accommodation.

When you take this trip you really do experience 500 miles of the best scenery that the North Highlands has to offer. The route itself runs from and to Inverness, and takes you through the heart of the Highlands heading up to the west coast and back via the rugged north coast.

How many miles is do-able in a day on the North Coast 500 Road Trip

Well it’s all about personal preference really and it depends on what kind of experience you want to have. For the sightseers amongst you, you may prefer to stop every 50 miles to appreciate the various famous landmarks. Whereas, if you are a keen motorcyclist or driver you might be interested in just racking up those miles in either your vintage car or your Harley!North Coast 500 Road Trip

Stay in your own castle on Loch Ness

Whatever mode of transport you’ve chosen to travel in along the North Coast 500 Road Trip, there’s plenty of outdoor space at Aldourie Castle to park up your vehicles. Ideally situated just six miles from Inverness, why not make Aldourie Castle your starting point for this epic adventure? After all, the 500 acre Highlands Estate is accessed off the main road into Inverness.

A warm welcome will greet you here at the castle with our dedicated hospitality team helping you settle in. They will take your luggage whilst you can then sit and enjoy a drink in the drawing room. Or, if it’s nice weather you might wish to sit out on the terrace. Aldourie is designed for exclusive use rentals only, so the property and immediate grounds are solely yours for the duration of your stay. Enjoy these first few days of your North Coast 500 Road Trip in your own luxurious holiday setting on Loch Ness. The Castle can accommodate up to 30 guests in 13 bedrooms. However, larger groups can spill into the four holiday cottages on the estate where necessary.

House party before road trip

Off site at Aldourie Castle Estate there are various ways to spend your days before you begin travelling up to the Highlands. For instance, there are the ruins of Urquhart castle, which can be easily reached by boat. Then there’s the numerous famous whisky distilleries where you can taste a wee dram of the good stuff. If you would rather head out in the car or on bike, you could visit Fort Augustus for its winding walks and hikes. At Dores Beach on Loch Ness and nearby, you’ll find quaint market towns and villages a short drive away – visit Beauly for a spot of local culture and shopping.North Coast 500 Road Trip

Back at your luxury base at Aldourie Castle you can organise any type of outdoor sport or activity. So there’s plenty for your exclusive use group to enjoy. Take advantage of being so close to Loch Ness and book onto the Nessie Hunter or a canoe ride against the magnificent Highlands backdrop. A stay at Aldourie is complemented by our five star catering cooked in house by the Castle’s chef. Why not book your own House Party Experience at Aldourie before setting off from Inverness to start your North Coast 500 Road Trip.

The Black Isle

The Black Isle is located just north of Inverness. Eathie Road is one of the most scenic roads of the North Highlands and from here you can actually see Ben Nevis. There are many sightseeing opportunities on the Black Isle including wonderful views of Fort George, bright green fields above the deep blue waters of the Moray Firth, and not to mention the chance to see dolphins at Chanonry Point. The Muir of Ord distillery is a must-see. Designated drives can take their whisky tasting samples with them to enjoy that evening. This is a great Scottish Highlands experience; read more about whisky tasting in the Scottish Highlands.

Wester Ross

This is your next stop along the stunning highlands route boasting amazing scenery. Wester Ross is famous for its stunning mountains, glorious lochs and white sandy beaches. Travel along the Bealach Na Ba, a steep and winding stretch of road. This is a truly exciting route for experienced drivers and riders. Extravagant sights will ignite your senses for the start of a memorable road trip. Here you will find some useful information if you are planning to bike along the North Coast 500.

Ullapool is the main town of Wester Ross, a lively and friendly spot with a varied music scene. If you like your music festivals it’s well worth stopping here. Another great pit stop is the picturesque village of Aultbea located on the shoreline of Loch Ewe. Adrenaline junkies will revel in Wester Ross; take advantage of the varied outdoor activities strewn across the region.North Coast 500 Road Trip


The next leg of your journey will take you to Caithness; a hive of history, nature and landscapes. Its dramatic flat lands and skyline give it an otherworldly feel. The district itself has an adventurous soul being home to the village of John O’Groats, the starting point to the UK’s famous end-to-end journey to Land’s End.  Once you arrive here you are well established into your North Coast 500 Road Trip. So, take some quality time to relax and discover, and devour some dramatic scenery on the very edge of Europe.

Caithness is an escapist’s dream. A fascinating heritage will enthral curious minds that want to learn as they travel whilst a breath-taking coastline will capture imaginations. If you’re interested in royal connections visit the Castle of Mey, the official holiday home of the late Queen Mother. On a clear day nature lovers may like to take the nice stretch of 71 miles in one go – Cape Wrath to Duncansby Head. Make sure you get off your bike/out of your car to witness the magnificent Dunnet Head, the northern tip of the UK.


This region makes up a significant portion of your North Coast 500 Road Trip and is full of beautiful jaw-dropping scenery. Northwest Sutherland boasts unspoiled natural landscapes and world famous beaches. Particularly seek out Achmelvich and Clachtoll for some scenic strolling. You can not the spectacular mountain ranges of this part of Sutherland.North Coast 500 Road Trip

The east coast is a real treat for golfers and here is home to the 18-hole championship Royal Dornoch golf course. Luxury lovers will meanwhile enjoy visiting the fairytale castle Dunrobin, the seat of the Earl and Clan of Scotland. Spend a few hours if you wish admiring the stunning formal gardens and experiencing falconry up close. If nature is one of the reasons for your luxury North Coast 500 Road Tripwildlife can be found at the RSPB Forsinard Flows Nature Reserve, which serves to exhibit and preserve the peatlands of Scotland.

Kinloch Lodge, Sutherland – group catered stays

This exclusive use location offers solitude and comfort in the wild, magnificent setting of Sutherland. Kinloch Lodge is available all year round for private rental by one group/booking. A private holiday here is best enjoyed with a group of family or friends. It is all about appreciating nature, good food and company. Whilst at the same time, residing in a remote, rural paradise. Laidback luxury and tranquility come hand-in-hand, making it easy to nurture friendships or spend quality time. There is no need to lift a finger as the lodge has a private chef. Here we sourc only fresh, local produce. There is also a hospitality team as well as a head keeper to help organise any outdoor experiences.

Kinloch was originally the private lodge of the Duke of Sutherland. It’s a classic sporting property that has been newly refurbished in a Scandi-Scot style. The interior has been inspired by its outdoor setting with lots of wooden furnishings, natural colour schemes and open stone fireplaces. Generous, light living spaces allow for time alone with a good book whilst cosy corners invite fireside chats over a glass of wine. You can also, admire the rugged open landscape of Ben Loyal during dinner in the conservatory. Then again you can make yourself at home in beautifully decorated spacious bedrooms as well.North Coast 500 Road Trip

The unspoiled landscape of Sutherland

This hideaway from the real world is ideal for your second exclusive use stay during your memorable North Coast 500 road trip. You are surrounded by miles of land to roam and explore. So, whilst you’re on foot make the most of your idyllic setting. This area is vast and full of landmarks and attractions, history, shopping and culture. Before you take the last leg of your NC500 road trip why not spend some quality time in Sutherland and enjoy the remoteness of Kinloch Lodge?

A cottage holiday on Loch Ness: Part 2

Welcome to the second part of our Pier Cottage guests’ holiday blog. Read Part 1 of their Scottish Highlands holiday cottage adventures and discover your own Loch Ness experience.

Exploring Loch Ness

On the second morning waking up to a stunning view of Loch Ness we were compelled to experience in more depth the most famous expanse of water in the world. We drove to Fort Augustus, our starting point, via the scenic route so as to take in the spectacular and majestic sights of the Highland hills towering over lakes and forests. This was not without its own set of events, however. Just ten minutes from our destination we came to an abrupt halt; the strong winds that had taken Scotland by storm (pardon the pun) over the past few weeks had resulted in thousands of tall trees being lifted from their roots and strewn across forest floors, woodland and even roads. One absolutely huge tree seemed strategically placed across the B road we were travelling on stopping any major access. Although the van on the other side of its path was forced by logistics to turn around we decided there was just enough room to drive underneath the felled tree, and we were soon on our way again after taking some photos of this unusual sight.

trees A cottage holiday

Once at Fort Augustus we realised that March was a quieter time for tourists and we looked forward to a peaceful trip on the cruise boat, Nessie Hunter, to take in the wonders of Loch Ness. It just so happened a coach load of tourists turned up for the 1pm ride and we were part of a crowded but highly enjoyable boat cruise led by an expert team, who kept reminding us not to feed Nessie!

After an hour of high winds, fresh air and a good old traditional hunt for the Loch Ness Monster we ticked off another exhilarating experience in the Scottish Highlands. A boat ride on Loch Ness certainly works up an appetite so an exceptionally tasty sandwich lunch by fireside at cosy Lochside Inn was most welcome and it prepared us for a serene but steep three hour walk in the Fort Augustus hills.

Later, entering the Aldourie Estate by moonlight, we spotted three Roe deer playing in Pier Cottage garden, a wonderful sight for tired eyes and an almost magical moment as they scampered off into the trees as we approached. The warmly lit country kitchen was a welcoming tonic from the cool air outside so we settled in for the night reminiscing and planning over a romantic candlelit dinner.

A cottage holiday boat

A day of culture

Another day of activities ahead, after a hearty breakfast we set off to visit the historic Fort George, a large 18th Century fortress near Ardersier to the north-east of Inverness. Fort George is still in use today as army barracks and a popular visitor attraction of the Scottish Highlands. We parked up at the Fort, just across the road from the shoreline, with the roaring tides even late morning crashing up the stone walls below. This wind was incredible! We enjoyed a few hours here experiencing the recreations and exhibits before heading to Glen Ord Distillery for a whisky tour and a few tastes of the Highlands’ famous malt.

So, we travelled to the west of the Black Isle through bracing winds but with a beautiful blue sky above. The tour was interesting, starting in the visitor centre then heading in and out of large spaces to see the distilling process step by step; we had been on two whisky tours before but Glen Ord was the most insightful; the tour even taught us about cooperage, the making of the whisky barrels, and the profession of a cooper. After the detailed tour we had a whisky tasting of a 12, a 15 and 18 year old whiskies, which warmed our cockles and sent us on our way to our final destination, Beauly.

Beauly, meaning “beautiful place” is a Scottish town in Inverness-shire. It’s quite a small town but perfectly formed and there we enjoyed a delicious deli coffee and a walk around the picturesque Beauly Priory ruins.  Later that evening, it was back to Dores Inn for a fish dinner and some local beer.

A cottage holiday

At one with nature

On our final morning we took Aldourie Castle’s pet dog, Loch Ness Lizzie, for a walk in the Castle grounds. Lizzie leading the way we explored the Estate more thoroughly, starting in the forest-thick arboretum she climbed up the treehouse, swam in Loch Ness and showed us the family graveyard. We then ran across the parkland to the marina and back to the greenhouses where Sarah the gardener was hard at work putting into place plans to create a new look for the gardens. From fruit trees to rose arches and topiary lined paths to tending clusters of snow drops and developing a mini orchard, there were big plans afoot for Aldourie’s gardens. Lizzie tried to help but really only managed to make a mess. Sarah, patting her gently, was evidently used to her regular (possibly daily) contributing efforts in the garden and seemed unfazed by the soil that came flying her way as Loch Ness Lizzie tried to bury her stick.

We spotted Garden Cottage peeking through the trees and as we walked back to our own private Highlands hideaway to get ready to go home we passed Gate Lodge on the corner, which had an impressive view of Aldourie Castle in all its glory. We hoped the guests staying in each had enjoyed as wonderful a holiday in the Scottish Highlands as we had and experienced their own Aldourie cottage adventure.



Spend Easter break with family and the Loch Ness Monster

Spend Easter break with family and the Loch Ness Monster

What could be more fun than spending sunny spring on the bonnie banks of Loch Ness with your favourite people, surrounded by the magnificent Scottish Highlands and gorging on chocolate eggs? No, we can’t think of anything either. So, why not do something different for Easter 2015 and make a memorable adventure out of this world famous holiday…

Aldourie Castle is used to having people wander through its huge wooden doors, inviting in the new and welcoming back old guests, just as if the unique wilderness-borne mansion house was made for family house parties. Well, actually, it was. Originally a lowly house in the middle of the baron Scottish Highland hills seeing many a boisterous clan battle go back and forth, it was reclaimed and made into something much more special (read our Highland History blog post here). 

Aldourie Castle Loch Ness Monster

Ever since that day, Aldourie Estate has been devoted, give or take a few years during the inevitable refurbishments of the Castle – there’s only so much partying these medieval floors can take – to hosting small family get-togethers, grand parties and even lavish society balls. Aldourie was the Highlands venue of its time and in its heyday enjoyed much more fame than it does now. But that’s the way we like it; nowadays this enchanting and inspiring tucked-away Castle is a secret paradise just waiting to be found.

Now the short history lesson is over, here’s just a few reasons why staying in the wonderland world of Aldourie for a special holiday such as Easter weekend, will bring your family closer and, do not doubt, bring you sheer contentment for your entire stay.

#Adventure and #experiential travel are big trends this year, into 2016 and beyond. But, instead of joining the masses why not do something totally unique and stay in a place where many a celebrity finds sanctuary and where families and groups of friends travel from the other side of the world to stay? Indeed, Aldourie can tell a few stories. Wouldn’t you like to hear them first hand? It would make a change from the usual bedtime reading for the kids. There is so much to experience at Aldourie – let it become a part of their childhood. Don’t miss out on Easter family fun and adventures that can go down in your own family history; after all, Scotland was voted one of the top three places to holiday in the Lonely Planet Awards 2014.

The Grounds - Loch Ness Monster Hunting | Aldourie Exclusive Hire Castle

There are thousands of luxury travel hotels to try out; each better, more unique and luxurious than the next. But think about Easter; a special time of year. A time you want to cherish with your children and their grandparents, see imaginations run wild as they gorge on too much chocolate on Easter morning. A private hire Castle offering everything and more than a hotel, can provide something extra special: luxury bedrooms with four poster beds each with individual character and style, walk in showers as big as most bathrooms, original staterooms with comfort and beauty but with an informal welcoming feel and the largest back garden in the Highlands. Enter Aldourie and the whole castle is yours to enjoy; no time restraints, no set meal times, nothing is out of bounds. Be at your leisure over Easter and enjoy all the fun, beauty and relaxation it can bring.

Over Easter weekend, children can play in the parkland and you can still keep a watchful eye on them through the huge Drawing Room windows. Kids can go out into the woodland exploring the wildlife there with the Castle’s very own pet dog, Lizzie. A private luxury castle can afford to dedicate an entire hospitality team for your needs; we can set up treasure hunts throughout the historic Scottish Highlands Estate, private boat rides on the world famous Loch Ness (which you can actually access from the Castle’s personal marina and pier) to spot legendary Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster, and traditional outdoor fun for all the family from archery to zorbing and even bagpipe lessons. The Estate’s massive home-built treehouse and ancient family graveyard then offer alternate adventures for those with big imaginations.

A Scottish Castle fit for a King that is lucky enough to be available for private hire holidays is somewhere families can go to relax, enjoy good food and fun times in one another’s company.  Multi-generational stays ensure quality time with family and family friends and what better place to spend Easter weekend than a historic, beautiful and homely property with luxury rooms, fresh air and Scottish adventure on its doorstep.

Aldourie Castle Estate’s Easter Weekend special rate stay is available to individual or group bookings for a minimum of 3-nights.