The Tailor-Made Top Ten Best Castles to Visit in Moray, Scotland


The region of Moray, and Scotland in general, has often had a tumultuous and bloody history, and the proliferation of castles are testament to this. Many of these castles are in great condition and others are ruins, but they are all fascinating in their own way. They tell the story of kings, alliances and vendettas, wars, and families who have made Moray and Scotland. Castle visits are perfect for history buffs, architecture-lovers or those just love a captivating story. Read on and find out which are our favourite castles to visit in Moray. Can you guess which castle tops our list?



At Tailor-Made Itineraries we delight in creating bespoke self-guided tours. So, if visiting Moray appeals to you, reach out to us by email. We would be more than happy to design a self-guided tour around your requirements incorporating Moray’s attractions and its imposing castles, or indeed, a general tour of Scotland.


10. Drumin Castle


Drumin Castle is sited on a ridge above the confluence of the Rivers Livet and Avon. It is likely that the present castle is constructed on the site of previous fortifications and may originally have been an Iron Age Dun. There is little written history on the castle, but it is known that King Robert II granted the lands of Strathavon (including Drumin) to his son Alexander Stewart on the 17th July 1372. Alexander Stewart (1342-1406), referred to as the "Wolf of Badenoch" was noted for his temper and harsh justice. It is thought that Sir Walter Stewart, the Wolf's Grandson, built the current castle in the late 1400's, replacing an earlier fortification.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: The easiest way to access this fortification is by parking in the carpark below the castle, just at the bridge over the River Livet, then walking up the steep pathway to the ridge above.



9. Elgin Castle


Elgin Castle is sited on a natural hillock and is where the story of Elgin begins. Most who drive through Elgin cannot avoid the tall Duke of Gordon’s monument perched atop the summit of Lady Hill, but few realise that a castle once dominated the hill. There is little to see of the castle nowadays, just some reduced walls and foundations, but the view over Elgin is worth seeing. There would have been wooden fortifications here for some time, with King Duncan (of Macbeth fame) having died there in 1040, but it was not until 1130 that the stone castle was built on this site, by King David I. The castle became a key stronghold during the struggles for Scotland’s independence, with Edward I of England staying at the castle in 1296. However, the castle was seized for the last time by Robert I in 1308 and subsequently destroyed.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: Approach the hill from the interesting entrance on the High Street (A96).


If you are enjoying this top ten, remember and subscribe to our mailing list to receive our latest blog posts.



8. Dunphail Castle


Dunphail Castle is a ruined 14th-century tower house, about 6.5 miles (10.5 km) south of Forres. The Comyn family owned Dunphail Castle, and the Regent Moray besieged them there in 1330, after their flight from Darnaway Castle. Moray beheaded five of the garrison, whom he had captured when they had been foraging. He had the heads flung over the walls, supposedly saying, “Here’s beef for your bannocks”. (Five skull-less bodies were discovered buried near the castle, in the 18th century.) The remnant of the garrison were killed by the Regent's troops when attempting to escape. The castle is now reputed to be haunted by five headless ghosts, while groans, and noises of fighting, have also supposedly been heard. The slopes up to the castle are quite steep, so this may be one for the surer footed of us.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: The castle is accessible only via a private road, so we parked to the north just before this road (57°31'19.5"N 3°39'37.3"W) and walked down the private road. The walk takes about 20-minutes to the castle and takes in some stunning forest views.


Read on to find out which Moray attraction tops the list!



7. Castle Hill Cullen


Castle Hill is a motte, encircled by a wide ditch and outer rampart. Elizabeth de Burgh, the wife of Robert the Bruce died here, although it has been suggested this was at an earlier castle. Vestiges of the castle remained until the 19th century, but today there is nothing to see of the stonework. However, the view over Cullen is spectacular, making this a perfect stop while walking the old railway line route.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: Make sure you walk along the old railway line route to get a chance to traverse the Cullen Viaduct.



6. Balvenie Castle


Balvenie Castle, although ruined, remains a commanding presence. Built in the 13th century as a heavily fortified stronghold for the Earls of Buchan, its imposing curtain wall is one of the few surviving examples of 13th century military architecture in Scotland. Redesigned by the then Earl of Atholl in the 1500s, Balvenie was also a genteel Renaissance home equipped with all manner of civilised amenities for the time, traces of which can still be seen today if you look carefully enough.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: The castle is next door to the Glenfiddich Distillery and a couple of minutes from the Balvenie Distillery, both of which have visitor centres and offer tours (although during Covid restrictions, the tour of Balvenie is virtual).


Balvenie Castle, Dufftown
Balvenie Castle, Dufftown

5. Auchindoun Castle


Auchindoun Castle is a picturesque, hilltop ruin, just outside Dufftown. It evokes memories of the turbulent history between warring clans. Built in the 1400s, Auchindoun Castle may have been commissioned by Thomas Cochrane, a favourite of King James III.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: It is a pleasant ten-minute walk from the main road (A941) up to the castle.


If you are enjoying this top ten, remember and subscribe to our mailing list to receive our latest blog posts.



4. Spynie Palace


Spynie Palace was for 500 years the seat of the bishops of Moray, having been established in the late 1100’s. During that time, the palace stood on the edge of Spynie Loch, a sea loch with safe anchorage for fishing boats and merchant vessels. A thriving settlement developed nearby, but today, nothing remains of either sea loch or medieval settlement. Still, the ruins of Spynie Palace are very impressive and you will soon realise that Spynie was more of a castle than a palace, with a history of conflict belying its religious purpose.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: The ashes of the first British Labour Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald, were scattered at Holy Trinity Church, Spynie, which is just a 5-minute walk from the Palace’s car park.


Have you guessed yet which hidden treasure tops our list?


Spynie Palace, Elgin
Spynie Palace, Elgin

3. Brodie Castle


Brodie Castle has been the ancestral home of the Brodie clan for over 400 years, although their family seat has been here since the 12th century. The impenetrable 16th-century guard chamber is flanked on one side by a cosy 17th-century wing and on the other by a sprawling Victorian extension. The castle houses a magnificent collection of furniture, ceramics, and artwork, including works by 17th-century Dutch masters and 20th-century Scottish Colourists. It also boasts an impressive library containing over 6,000 volumes. The Playful Garden is located near the castle and is full of excitement for all the family. We had a couple of hours fun playing with Ythan in this imaginative garden, so make sure to factor this in when visiting.

Tailor-Made Top Tip: Watch out for Rodney’s Stone, which is at the side of the road as you drive into the castle grounds. This impressive two-metre high Pictish cross slab is over a thousand years old!



2. Duffus Castle


Duffus Castle was the medieval stronghold of the Moray family and is one of Scotland’s finest motte and bailey castles. Duffus Castle was a fortress–residence for more than 500 years, from the 1100s to the 1700s. The stone castle we see today was built in the 1300s, replacing an earlier timber fortress. Once one of the strongest castles in Scotland, it was reduced to a decaying ruin by the time of its abandonment in 1705. But the castle remains an impressive sight, situated on a mound rising out of the flat Laich of Moray.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: Pay attention to the skies! The castle is near the start of RAF Lossiemouth’s runway and you might be lucky enough to see a plane land.


Duffus Castle
Duffus Castle

1. Ballindalloch Castle


Ballindalloch Castle, known as the "pearl of the north", has been the family home of Macpherson-Grants since 1546. The first tower of the Z plan castle was built in 1546. Extensions were added in 1770 by General James Grant of the American Wars of Independence (whose ghost is said to haunt the castle) and in 1850 by the architect Thomas MacKenzie. The castle houses an important collection of 17th century Spanish paintings. The dining room of Ballindalloch is said to be haunted by a ghost known as The Green Lady. The castle grounds contain a 20th-century rock garden and a 17th-century dovecote, and the outdoor scenery is enhanced further by the rivers Spey and Avon flowing through the grounds. The castle is open to tourists during the summer months.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: Ballindalloch now has its own whisky distillery, with tours and tastings being available.


Ballindalloch Castle
Ballindalloch Castle
Ballindalloch Castle
Ballindalloch Castle
Ballindalloch Castle
Ballindalloch Castle

Conclusion


The region is bursting with history and a visit to Moray’s castles is a great way to discover its fascinating stories. In truth, there were other castles that would not have looked out of place on this list, but we hope that you enjoyed our pick of the best. If you think there was a more deserving castle that should have been included, let us know in the comments below.


At Tailor-Made Itineraries we delight in creating bespoke self-guided tours. So, if visiting Moray appeals to you, reach out to us by email. We would be more than happy to design a self-guided tour around your requirements incorporating Moray’s attractions and its imposing castles, or indeed, a general tour of Scotland.


Accommodation Suggestions


A great day trip can be enjoyed in Moray, but to really appreciate this region and its castles, we would always recommend spending three to ten days. We have been lucky enough to stay at three great properties in Moray and can highly recommend them:

**Disclosure: We have been guests of all three properties. Regardless of this, please be advised that our recommendation is genuine and authentically our own.**


Join us next time when our family adventures continue as we explore the Moray area of Scotland, discovering its lovely fishing villages. Until then, happy reading and safe travels.


Barry

Contact Us: tailoritineraries@gmail.com


Tailor-Made Itineraries creates one-of-a-kind bespoke self-guided travel itineraries for adventurous and curious travelers.


Our self-guided tours deliver a personalised and exciting holiday experience that takes the effort out of trip planning.