A guide to castles in Moray

Written by Chris Thornton | 13th of September 2022
Castles in Moray

Moray in the northeast of Scotland is home to many fine castles and palaces, many are ruined, but a few are still as grand as the day they were originally built. I live in Moray and have visited all of the castles on this list; often overlooked by tourists, there are some stunning examples of castle architecture for you to discover.

From the classic motte and bailey castle complete with a moat to the large tower houses and the classic baronial castles, Moray has it all.

Please read on to find out more about the best castles in Moray.

Auchindoun Castle

This impressive castle just south of Dufftown flew under my radar for a long time. For such an impressive ruin, I'm not sure why I had not visited Auchindoun Castle until earlier this year.

Obscured by forest from the small car park, the short walk down the farm track soon reveals the castle, perched on a hill with the impressive countryside surrounding it. The site is well signposted, and a dedicated path leads you directly to the castle.

The most impressive sight within this ruin is the large L-plan tower house, now ruined; it shows a cross-section of floors from its exposed side. The vaulted cellar ceiling is still fully intact and is a testament to the castle builder's skills.

Views from the castle are spectacular, with rolling hills as far as the eye can see.

At the time of writing Auchindoun was closed for repairs. You can still visit but the castle is fenced off.

Year of construction: 1470 by Thomas Cochrane.
Car parking: Yes.
Free entry: Yes.

Auchindoun Castle as seen by drone.  Castle houses.
Auchindoun Castle from the air.

Ballindalloch Castle

Ballindalloch Castle is unique in that it is still occupied by the family that originally built the castle in 1542. Twenty-three generations of the Macpherson-Grant family have lived here since 1546!

Within the castle grounds are beautiful gardens, including a walled garden and rockery. There is an option to visit the gardens only or the gardens and castle. There is a nice tearoom and gift shop and exceptionally clean bathrooms.

Also of interest nearby are the Marionburgh Cairn, Porter's Lodge and Bridge of AvonInveravon Pictish Stones, and the Lagmore Stone circles. Ballindalloch Estate also has its very own whisky distillery, which is well worth the tour.

Year of construction: 1542.
Car parking: Yes.
Free entry: No, £13.50 for adults, £7 for children. Access to the grounds only costs a little over half price.

Ballindalloch Castle a medieval stronghold.
Ballindalloch Castle.

Balvenie Castle

Based near Dufftown and the historic Glenfiddich Whisky Distillery, Balvenie Castle has been a focal point in Scottish history since the mid to late 13th century.

Once home to the Earl of Atholl, the castle projected power between Elgin, Keith, Huntly and Cullen and protected the Glens of Rinnes and Fiddich.

The unusual thing about this castle is the addition of the Atholl lodging within the castle walls in the 1500s. This private lodging included a tower and a private apartment for the Earl and his household staff. The castle was eventually abandoned in the early 1700s for a more comfortable house but was still used by troops during the Jacobite rebellions.

The castle remains under the stewardship of Historic Environment Scotland.

Highland cows can often be seen in the field directly next to the castle.

Balvenie is a great castle to visit and can easily be explored in addition to nearby Auchindoun Castle mentioned above or after touring the local distilleries. Linn Falls in Aberlour is also a nice detour if you fancy a forest walk and waterfall.

At the time of writing Balvenie was closed for repairs. You can still visit, just not access the castle. You can see a lot of the castle from the outside.

Year of construction: 1244.
Car parking: Yes.
Free entry: No, £4.50 for adults, £2.70 for children.

Balvenie Castle. King David II.
Balvenie Castle.

Blervie Castle

Once owned by the Dunbar family, the ruined tower of Blervie Castle stands 5 miles from Forres, the largest town in west Moray.

It's said that the Castle replaced a much older castle from the 1200s named "Ulern", where Malcolm the 1st was recorded as having met his death. The castle was destroyed by fire in the 1760s, and most of its stone was taken to build the nearby Mains of Blervie farmhouse.

Although very ruined, some original features can be seen in the remnants, including a beautiful carving above the hearth.

Year of construction: 1595.
Car parking: Yes.
Free entry: Yes, but it is an unsafe ruin, just view from a distance.

Blervie Castle
Blervie Castle, image by Craig Anderson.

Brodie Castle

The ancestral home of the Brodie Clan for 400 years, Brodie Castle is a Z plan castle not far from Forres in Moray. It's an impressive-looking castle with well-kept grounds, the pink walls of the castle really make it stand out against the treeline.

Easter time is particularly beautiful as a national daffodil collection will be in full bloom.

Items of interest:

  • A letter from Robert the Bruce is on display within the castle.

  • Dutch Old Masters art collection

  • Library containing 6000 books.

  • Rodney's Stone, an ancient Pictish monument, exists within the castle grounds.

Brodie Countryfare is a few minutes away from Brodie Castle, perfect if you are looking to purchase some high-end Scottish clothing, souvenir or if you just fancy a good cup of coffee.

Year of construction: 1567.
Car parking: Yes.
Free entry: No, £11 for adults, £6.50 for children. Family ticket £35.00.

Brodie Castle
Brodie Castle.

Burgie Castle

While called a castle, all that remains Burgie Castle is a large 6-storey square tower that was originally part of a Z-plan fortified house. Located around 3.5 miles east of Forres, it's worth the short detour to include it in your Moray castle bucket list.

It's unusual for a tower of this age to still have its roof, it also still has original plaster in the interior and contains the coat of arms of the Dunbars.

You cannot go within the tower as it is currently at risk; it requires urgent repairs to preserve it for future generations.

Year of construction: 1602.
Car parking: Yes.
Free entry: Inaccessible.

Burgie Castle
Burgie Castle.  Photo by Mike Bradley.

Coxton Tower

This 16th-century tower house can be found near Lhanbryde in Moray. It's not possible to enter the castle, but it's an interesting tower to view externally and an ideal stop while cycling in the area.

It received renovation work in 2001 and is designated as a Category A listed building.

Year of construction: 1584.
Car parking: Yes.
Free entry: Inaccessible.

Coxton Tower
Coxton Tower. Photo by Mark Aldridge.

Drumin Castle

A short drive south from Ballindalloch Castle, Drumin Castle can be found atop a natural hill. Known as one of the many strongholds of Alexander Stewart, the Wolf of Badenoch, but was never his permanent residence.

It's possible to walk directly to the castle via the gate, but there is also a longer walk that takes in some countryside views and circles back to the castle.

Year of construction: 1480s.
Car parking: Yes.
Free entry: Yes.

Drumin Castle
Drumin Castle.

Duffus Castle

Duffus Castle is my favourite castle on this list. Perhaps one of Scotland's finest motte and bailey castles, its ruin is perched atop a man-made hill on the flat plains of the Laich of Moray.

Originally a wooden structure, the earlier timber fortress, was upgraded to stone, and a large curtain wall was added around the perimeter of the site around 1270. Unfortunately, the earth mound was not suitable for the additional weight of the stone castle, and part of it detached itself from the castle and slipped down the hill, but strangely still keeping its form. This gives Duffus Castle a very unique look amongst the ruined castles of Moray.

The site is still surrounded by the original moat, complete with water, now filled with wildlife, including dragonflies and frogspawn.

Recently Duffus Castle has received some upgrades to its car park, including a coffee hut and shaded seating area. Due to being the only high ground in the area, the castle is also popular with plane spotters keen to spot aircraft taking off from nearby RAF Lossiemouth.

Year of construction: 1270.
Car parking: Yes.
Free entry: Yes.

Duffus Castle
Duffus Castle, the fences are just to restore the wild grass, the castle is still fully accessible.

Dunphail Castle

On the very west side of Moray, the ruin of Dunphail Castle languishes in a state of disrepair. It is an interesting ruin, but a bit overgrown and with much of the upper masonry ready to fall.

Legend has it that the powerful Comyn family owned this castle in 1330. Under siege by the Earl of Moray, five men bravely tried to fight their way out of the castle to get food for their starving comrades. Unfortunately, they failed and were beheaded on the spot. The Earl threw the five severed heads over the wall causing mass panic within the castle. The castle is said to be haunted by five headless ghosts.

Year of construction: 1270.
Car parking: Not really, but you could try the nearby farm.
Free entry: Yes.

Dunphail Castle
Dunphail Castle.  Photo by Kevin Mould.

Elgin Castle

Yes, Elgin has a castle, but not much of it is left, unfortunately. If you have been to Elgin, you have probably noticed the large monument to the Duke of Gordon atop Lady Hill; this is also the location of the meagre remains of Elgin Castle.

Only small walls survive, giving the slightest hint to the layout of this once great hall-house used by the Earl of Moray.

While the castle ruin is not that impressive, the short hike up Lady Hill is worth it for the fantastic views over Elgin, where you can see the town centre, Cooper Park and even Elgin Cathedral.

Year of construction: Around 1160.
Car parking: Yes.
Free entry: Yes.

Elgin Castle and the Duke of Gordon monument.
Duke of Gordon monument, Elgin Castle remnants below.

Spynie Palace

The only palace on my list, Spynie Palace was home to the Bishops of Moray for over 500 years and was also the location of the first cathedral in Moray before the more impressive Elgin Cathedral superseded it in 1224.

Sometimes known as Spynie Castle, the ruin is very impressive, and includes David's Tower, the largest surviving tower house in Scotland. Fine details such as the bishops coat of arms, and the corbels adorning the great hall extole the grandeur of this once great building.

Duffus Castle mentioned above is a short drive from Spynie Palace and worth visiting on the same day.

Year of construction: 1150.
Car parking: Yes.
Free entry: No, £7 for adults, £4 for children.

Spynie Palace
Spynie Palace.

Rothes Castle

Very little remains of Rothes Castle, only a single large wall remains overlooking the town. If you are a completionist, then a quick visit to Rothes Castle would be in order, but the view is better than the castle.

Glen Grant gardens nearby is a lovely walk, especially in Autumn.

Year of construction: 1200.
Car parking: Yes.
Free entry: Yes.

Rothes Castle wall.
Rothes Castle. Photo by Mark Aldridge.

Other amazing castles in Moray

Some castles are not publicly accessible; let's look at a few of them in this section.

Darnaway Castle - 1250s

South west of Forres is the huge Darnaway Castle built by Sir Thomas Randolph (of Randolph's Leap fame) in the 13th century. The castle today looks vastly different to the earlier castle after it was rebuilt in 1810.

However, it does retain features of the original castle, including the banquet hall, which is capable of accommodating 1000 people. The hall ceiling is a work of art.

The present castle is home to the Earl of Moray (John Douglas Stuart) and his family.

Darnaway Castle
Darnaway Castle.  Photo by Norman Mackenzie.

Gordon Castle - 1470s

This private estate near Fochabers has much to offer, from walled gardens, salmon fishing, weddings, accommodation and a Cafe.

The Castle itself is a private residence and not open to visitors, but it is possible to visit the walled garden, and the cafe is lovely and serves excellent food.

Gordon Castles's annual highland games are well worth a visit in mid-May.

Gordon Castle
Gordon Castle and pipers at their highland games.

Other great castles not far from Moray

It would be a crime not to include some of these great castles just over the Moray border.

Findlater Castle - 1300s

There isn't much left of this cliffside fortress, but it's still a very interesting ruin nonetheless. Its romantic location perched on the rugged coastal rocks wouldn't look out of place in Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones.

It's possible to go into Findlater Castle (at your own risk) and also walk down to the beach below, great for photos. A restored Doocot (Dovecot) exists near the fields above the castle, the primary food source for the castle.

Findlater Castle is within walking distance of the seaside town of Cullen; the coastal route is fantastic and also takes in Sunnyside Beach.

Findlater Castle
Findlater Castle.

Boyne Castle - 1580

A true hidden gem off the beaten path, not far from Portsoy, just to the east of Cullen and Moray. Boyne Castle has been forgotten by time; it is not maintained and is quite a dangerous ruin (visit at your own risk), which is a shame considering it is such an impressive ruin.

Boyne Castle
Boyne Castle.

Lochindorb Castle - 1290

Just to the southwest of Moray and not far from Forres and Nairn is the island castle of Lochindorb. It's not possible to visit this ancient castle unless you bring your own boat, but if you do, it would be a great wild camping spot if you're looking for an adventurous place to camp.

King Edward I of England used Lochindorb Castle as his headquarters in 1303 while fighting the Scots.

Lochindorb Castle
Lochindorb Castle.

Conclusion - the best castles in Moray

Moray has such a rich history, and the castles peppered over the landscape are an enduring reminder of our past. Why not complete a tour of Moray castles if you are in the area? Kids love it, and you will get some exercise too!

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Comments:


ChrisLBS
13th of September 2022 @ 18:54:33

Hi Iona, thanks for your comment. Yes, those castles are closed; I'll add a note about it. Pity that Auchindoun has been closed for so long. That would be great if you can share the article; many thanks.

Iona
13th of September 2022 @ 18:48:20

Hi Chris, Well done on a concise article with some great photos! I'd love to share your Twitter post, but just want to make sure before I do... I was under the impression that Auchindoun and Balvenie are closed for repairs. I suspect this is still the case but am happy to be advised otherwise. Best wishes, Iona