History and Heritage for miles
Embarking on a journey along the North Coast 500 (NC500) in Scotland is an unforgettable experience.
This stunning route, renowned for its breathtaking landscapes, takes you through the rugged Highlands, with its dramatic coastlines, pristine beaches, and majestic mountains. Along the way, you will encounter a wealth of our history and heritage, including some of the best castles in Scotland.
If you're a castle enthusiast, the NC500 is a treasure trove of ancient fortresses, and one of the must-visit castles on this route is Lochinver Larder favourite, Ardvreck Castle. But that's just the beginning!
In this blog we will explore our 5 favourite castles on the NC500.
1. Ardvreck Castle
Located on the shores of Loch Assynt, just ten miles from Lochinver, Ardvreck Castle is a dramatic ruin that dates back to the 16th century. Once a stronghold of the MacLeod clan, this castle is now a hauntingly beautiful sight to behold. Its crumbling walls stand against the backdrop of the picturesque Loch Assynt and the imposing Quinag mountain range, making it a photographer's dream.
Ardvreck Castle has a rich history, replete with tales of clan warfare and political intrigue. It is said that the castle was the site of the capture of the 2nd Marquess of Montrose in 1650, during the English Civil War. With free parking and an easy walk, visitors can explore the ruins, read the information boards, and imagine what life was like in this ancient fortress.
2. Dunrobin Castle
Nestled on the coast of the Dornoch Firth, Dunrobin Castle is a fairytale-like castle that exudes grandeur and elegance. This stately home, which has echoes of a French chateau and boasts a staggering 189 rooms, dates back to the 13th century and is one of the oldest continuously inhabited houses in Scotland.
With its turreted towers, ornate gardens, and impressive falconry displays, Dunrobin Castle offers a captivating experience for visitors. Explore the opulent rooms, including the grand ballroom and the library, which houses an extensive collection of rare books. Don't miss the beautiful gardens, featuring a formal rose garden, a lily pond, and a cascading waterfall, where you can take a leisurely stroll and enjoy the stunning coastal views.
3. Castle of mey
Continuing along the eastern coast of the NC500, you'll come across the Castle of Mey. This 16th-century historic fortress lies just west of John O’Groats and has a truly unique story. Originally known as Barrogill Castle, it was purchased by Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother in 1952 after the death of her husband, King George VI. She lovingly restored the castle and transformed it into her beloved summer residence. Fans of Netflix show ‘The Crown’ might remember this storyline in episode eight of the first season.
Visitors to the Castle of Mey can explore the beautiful interiors, which are preserved just as they were during the Queen Mother's time, and get a glimpse into the life of the royal family. The castle is surrounded by picturesque gardens, including a walled garden that produces fresh fruits and vegetables for the castle's kitchens. The castle also offers stunning views of the Orkney Islands and is a perfect spot for watching seals and seabirds.
4. Castle Sinclair Girnigoe
Perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the North Sea, Castle Sinclair Girnigoe is a dramatic ruin with a history that spans over six centuries. Located in Caithness and dating back to the 15th century, this fascinating castle is known for its unique architectural features, including its distinctive cylindrical towers.
Explore the remains of the castle's towers, walls, and courtyards, and imagine what life was like in this once-mighty fortress. The castle has a fascinating history, including stories of clan feuds, political intrigue, and even smuggling. Visitors can also enjoy breathtaking views of the rugged coastline and the crashing waves.
The castle is accessible via a footbridge and offers stunning panoramic views of the North Sea and the surrounding coastal landscape. Keep your camera handy for the dolphins that are known to favour this stretch of coastline.
5. Castle Leod
Located near the stunning spa village of Strathpeffer, this unspoilt castle is the ancestral home of the Clan Mackenzie, one of the oldest and most distinguished clans in Scotland. Castle Leod dates back to the 16th century, and has been owned by the Mackenzie family since the 17th century.
The Mackenzies have a rich and complex history, with many notable members over the centuries, including Sir Roderick Mackenzie, who played a key role in the Jacobite rebellion of 1745. Castle Leod opens its doors to the public on designated days from May to September when visitors can explore its fascinating history and learn about the Mackenzie family's rich heritage. Don’t miss the beautiful woodland walk, where a Spanish or Sweet Chestnut was planted in 1550 for Mary Queen of Scots’ mother, Mary of Guise. Behind the castle lies a pair of Giant Sequoia, one of which is deemed to be Britain’s largest tree.
Castle Hopping is hungry work!
We think the best cure is a luxury Lochinver Larder pie. One of our legendary Venison and Cranberry pies would really hit the spot, but we’ll let you decide; after all, there are seventeen other pies to choose from! If you find yourself at Ardvreck Castle, pop in and see us for a well-deserved comfort break, or if you’re further afield, buy the pies of your choice via our handy Pies By Post service.