Cawdor Castle

Written by Chris Thornton | 14th of March 2024
Cawdor Castle

Cawdor Castle is somewhere I'm ashamed to admit I had never visited, despite living in neighbouring Moray most of my life... After a spell of warm weather in late June, we decided to visit Cawdor Castle at the start of July.

Unfortunately, the fine weather did not last, and it was thrashing rain, so many of the photos in this article are a bit grey... but it didn't spoil our visit to this fantastic Scottish castle.

Come with us as my wife and three daughters explore the enchanting Cawdor Castle – where history meets myth, where reality intertwines with Shakespearean fiction, and where every stone tells a story of power, betrayal, and timeless grandeur.

What is Cawdor Castle?

Cawdor Castle is a famous Scottish Castle located near the town of Nairn in North East Scotland. Built by the Thanes of Cawdor in 1370 as a private fortress, it gained fame as a location in Shakespeare's "Macbeth". Amazingly, the Cawdor/Campbell family still live at the castle during winter.

Our visit to Cawdor Castle

We arrived from the east, taking the route from Auldearn. We saw Rait Castle in the distance but decided to investigate that castle ruin on another occasion. The route to Cawdor Castle is very well signposted with brown tourism signs and signs placed by the castle owners.

Cawdor Castle car park

Arriving at the car park, there is plenty of room for coaches and cars. The grounds are very well-kept and attractive. You should easily be able to get a parking space. We arrived at about 10 am on the 1st of July, which I guess would be high season, and it wasn't too busy.

Cawdor Castle car park.
The large car park at Cawdor Castle.

From the car park, the signs direct you to the entrance; we passed a lovely old gipsy caravan on the way. There are some retail areas before the ticket booth (including a wool shop) and a locker area if required, as large bags/backpacks are strictly banned from the castle grounds. I had a small camera bag - that seemed to be OK.

Route to the castle from the car park. Gypsy caravan.
The entrance to the caste grounds from the car park.
Cawdor Castle lockers.
The lockers if you take any large bags.

The lovely lady at the ticket booth asked if we would like to do the audio tour - we didn't on this occasion, it would have been difficult with the kids, but the self-guided tour I felt was fine without them.

Arriving at the castle

A short distance past the ticket booth, you get a full and impressive view of the castle. Luckily I had an unspoiled view with no tourists, so I got a few good snaps!

Cawdor Castle front view.
The first view you see of the castle after buying tickets.

The castle is accessed via a small drawbridge (a terrific way to enter a castle); you turn left to access one of the gift shops and cafe or right to get to the start of the tour. We chose to do the tour first; the lady at the door impressively spoke to the tourists in front of us in their own language... We must look Scottish as she instinctively spoke English to us instead of French like the group before! Your tickets get rechecked here, so have them ready.

Cawdor Castle tower.
It's a lovely looking castle, with extensions built onto the original tower.
Cawdor Castle extensions.
Extension to the left of the entrance.
Cawdor Castle drawbridge.
Drawbridge entrance.
A small cannon.
A cannon just as you enter the castle.
Clan Cawdor Heraldry, Campbell Crest.
Clan Campbell family crest - Be Mindful.

The self-guided tour of Cawdor

The tour of the castle interior isn't the longest I've been on when exploring intact castles in Scotland, but it's still great and has some exciting and unique rooms you won't see anywhere else.

Eleven rooms are available to view, including:

  • The Drawing Room

  • The Tapestry Bedroom

  • The Yellow Room

  • The Woodcock Room

  • The Tower Room

  • The Tree Room

  • The Dining Room

  • Two kitchens, the modern and the old kitchen

The rooms display paintings, tapestries, four poster beds and a great deal of fine furniture. Informational boards give an incredible insight into the main features of each room.

Drawing room
The drawing room.
Shakespeare's play
This little balcony inside the drawing room actually reminded me of Shakespeare.
Wen Hu, 4th Class medal.
Wen Hu, 4th Class medal awarded to Colonel Ralph Campbell.
Cawdor drawing room.
The many fine paintings within the drawing room.
Some sections require steps and are inaccessible for wheelchairs.
Tapestry Bedroom
The Tapestry Bedroom is part of the 17th-century additions.
Yellow Room
The Yellow Room - an odd room with an off-centre fireplace used as a sitting room.
Yellow Room Lounge.
The Yellow Room was quite cosy!
Wall-mounted muskets.
Woodcock Room.
The Woodcock Room dates from the 1670s.
Cawdor bedroom.
A beautiful bed cover.
Cawdor lobby
Interesting artwork adorns the walls between rooms.
Tower Room
The Tower Room is within the original old tower of the castle.

The Tree Room

The Tree Room must be one of the most unique rooms I've ever visited in a castle. This gloomy vault with illuminated information boards contains a single dead tree in the centre. There are no lights on the tree, so it's tough to see; I didn't have my flash, so the image below is the best I could get.

The legendary holly tree. The dungeon for unwelcome visitors
A bad photo boosted in Photoshop, but you can make out the holly tree and railing.
Items found in Cawdor Castle.
Archaeological finds.

Legend says the Thane of Cawdor wanted to build a new stronger castle near his existing castle. He was told in a dream to set a donkey laden with gold loose on the district, and where it slept for the night should be the location for the new castle, and it would prosper always. The tree in this room is said to be the same tree the donkey slept beneath. It's an interesting story; it's hard to know if it's true, but the tree was dated to 1372 and found to be a holly tree.

Interestingly, an iron yett exists in this room, taken from the castle on Lochindorb loch, a good distance to the southeast in Moray. The Thane of Cawdor was asked to destroy Lochindorb Castle after the Earl of Moray rose up against the King. He repurposed the iron gate for his own castle.

Near the end of the tour, there is a fascinating wall panel showing the long history of Cawdor Castle. Following from here is the old kitchen with many old cooking implements on display, including a fine selection of copper pans.

Cawdor Castle Timeline.
A large history board with over 1000 years of history.
Modern kitchen at Cawdor Castle.
The modern kitchen.
This chap was guarding the entrance to the old kitchen.
Stairway to the old kitchen.
Descending to the old kitchens.
Cawdor old kitchen.
The old kitchen.
Copper pans.
The old kitchen has an excellent selection of thick copper pans; I would love a set of these!
Interesting items including a Penny Farthing.
An interesting array of items before we arrived at the gift shop.
Daggers, swords and knives.
An awesome array of daggers, knives and swords at the gift shop (not for sale!).

The tour ends at a great gift shop with many superb items. This display of knives and swords can also be seen here.

Cawdor giftshop.
One of the brilliant gift shops within the castle.

Cawdor Castle Gardens

After the self-guided tour, we explored the flower garden on the south side of the castle grounds. This walled garden is immaculately kept and has many interesting varieties of flowers and trees, oddly cut hedges and water features.

Castle from the flower garden.
The castle as seen from the flower garden.
Pruned bushes in Cawdor flower garden.
Fancy bushes!
Cawdor Tower.
The old castle tower is quite impressive even today.
Tunnel of vegetation.
The flower garden has lovely features everywhere you walk.
15th century tower house
A fairytale castle, for sure.
Blue eryngo Eryngium planum
Blue eryngo (Eryngium planum).
Wild garden
Flower garden water feature.
A very unique water feature.
Cawdor Castle with large bushes.
Great photos ops are available here; pity the sky was so grey, though!
Flower garden.
Windows of the cafe.

Near the entrance is a row of old milling stones and perhaps the fanciest bird feeder I've ever seen.

An exit exists at the west side of the flower gardens with a path leading down to the Rlereach Burn; it was quite overgrown, so we didn't go too far. The Woodland Play Area can also be found here, but sadly, we overlooked this; a pity - I bet the kids would have loved it. Maybe better signage is needed.

Rlereach Burn in Cawdor Big Wood.
Rlereach Burn.
Cawdor bird feeder.
The fancy bird feeder!
Mill stones.
Milling stones.
Cawdor must have excellent gardeners.
Cawdor Gardens
Garden view.
Wild strawberries.
Wild strawberries.

Walled Garden with a maze

Retracing our steps to the main castle entrance, we followed the main path to another walled garden. This garden had more hidden nooks and crannies. A large obelisk-like water feature can be found at the far north of the garden; it's well hidden and accessed by squeezing through a tightly hedged pathway.

The maze sadly cannot be entered; the holly trees were suffering due to visitor numbers. Hopefully, they will open it again one day.

Both gardens are beautiful and worth taking the time to explore all of the different areas.

The next walled garden.
Walking to the other walled garden.
Flower display.
This was my favourite flower display in the gardens.
Cawdor Castle gardens overview.
Beautiful gardens.

Flowers at Cawdor.
Cawdor obelisk waterfall.
The secret water feature.
Cawdor Garden paths.
The ladies explore the many different areas of the garden.

Gardens overview.
Garden maze with bronze dinosaur.
The inaccessible maze with a bronze minotaur in the middle.
Tree lined paths.
Interesting trees line the path next to the maze.

Courtyard Café

We ended our visit to Cawdor Castle by investigating the gift shop and cafe to the left of the main entrance.

The cafe had a varied menu which was slightly expensive, I wanted to try it, but sadly the girls wanted to go to the Mcdonalds in Nairn instead! Vegan options were available on the menu.

We made our way back to the car park.

A brief history of Cawdor Castle

1040 - Macbeth becomes King of Scotland after slaying King Duncan near Elgin in 1040.

1295 - The first mention of Donald the first Thane of Cawdor; they may have been earlier Thanes lost to history.

1310 - William, the 2nd Thane of Cawdor, receives a Royal Charter of Thaneage for supporting King Robert the Bruce in the Wars of Independence.

1370 - Construction of the Castle's keep begins, with the location marked by the holly tree mentioned above. The tree eventually dies due to a lack of sunlight.

1380 - The style of stonework in the oldest portion of the castle is believed to date back to around this year.

1454 - A licence to fortify is granted to William Calder, 6th Thane of Cawdor. The iron yett (gate) at Cawdor Castle is brought from Lochindorb Castle.

1455 - William Calder dismantles nearby Lochindorb Castle on the orders of King James II after the Earl of Moray had forfeited it.

1510 - The Calder heiress, Muriel, marries Sir John Campbell of Muckairn, who begins extending the castle.

1576 - 1642 - Further improvements are made by John Campbell, 3rd of Cawdor, who purchases rich lands on Islay.

1635 - A garden is added to the castle.

1672 - Sir Hugh Campbell of Cawdor adds or improves the north and west ranges, employing the masons James and Robert Nicolson of Nairn.

1680s - Sir Alexander Campbell, son of Sir Hugh, meets local heiress Elizabeth Lort of Stackpole Court when stranded in Milford Haven during a storm. They marry, and the Campbells of Cawdor begin to live mainly on their estates in Pembrokeshire.

1720 - A walled flower garden is built.

1789 - John Campbell of Cawdor, a Member of Parliament, marries a daughter of the Earl of Carlisle.

1796 - John Campbell of Cawdor is ennobled as Lord Cawdor.

1827 - The son of Lord Cawdor is created Earl Cawdor.

19th Century - Cawdor is used as a summer residence by the Earls. Thomas Mackenzie and Alexander Ross are commissioned to add the southern and eastern ranges to enclose a courtyard accessed by a drawbridge.

20th Century - John Campbell, 5th Earl Cawdor, moves permanently to Cawdor. His second son, James Campbell (potter) (1942-2019), is born there.

2001 - The Dowager Countess Cawdor prevents her stepson from sowing genetically modified rapeseed on the Cawdor estate.

Front view of Cawdor Castle.
Frontal view of the castle.

Literary connection - Shakespeare's Macbeth

William Shakespeare's iconic tragedy, "Macbeth," holds a prominent place in the narrative of Cawdor Castle. With its echoes of regicide, ambition, and supernatural elements, the connection between the castle and the play is well-established in popular culture. However, a chasm between the world of literature and actual history needs to be addressed.

In Shakespeare's "Macbeth," the title character is introduced as the Thane of Glamis, later becoming the Thane of Cawdor as a prophecy foretold by the three witches. Macbeth's rise and fall, his descent into madness and the ultimate tragic end all start with his title of Thane of Cawdor, leading many to believe that Cawdor Castle was the setting of this tale.

However, a dive into historical records presents a starkly different picture. The truth is Cawdor Castle was built in the late 14th century, long after the real King Macbeth lived and died in the 11th century. Therefore, the infamous Scottish King could not have possibly lived in Cawdor Castle, despite Shakespeare's narrative.

Yet, this discrepancy has not diminished the castle's association with the play or the fascination of its visitors. It has enhanced the castle's aura of mystery and intrigue. It's an example of how history and literature can intertwine to create powerful, enduring legends, even when they're not strictly accurate.

Tour guides and exhibits in the castle acknowledge this connection with "Macbeth," making it a part of the Cawdor Castle story while pointing out the historical inaccuracies. This helps to add a layer of depth to the visitor experience, connecting them with both the real history and the rich tapestry of fiction associated with the castle.

Architectural historians
Side view of the castle taken from the walled garden.

Open-air theatre

Cawdor Castle plays host to a variety of events during the summer months, and this year there will be a performance of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" on Saturday, the 26th of August.

For more information, please see this page on Shakespeare at Cawdor Castle.

How to get to Cawdor Castle

Cawdor Castle can be found between Inverness and Nairn (Five miles southwest of Nairn).

From Inverness:

  1. Leave Inverness, travelling east on the A96.

  2. Look for a right turn at Brackley; a brown tourist sign marks the way "Cawdor Castle & Gardens 4 miles".

  3. Follow the Old Military Road / B9090.

  4. You will come to a crossroads with traffic lights and continue ahead to Cawdor Village.

  5. Look for a right turn to Cawdor Castle; a white sign points the way to the car park.

  6. Follow this road some distance until you see another white sign on your right marked "Coach & car park".

  7. Follow the castle road to the car park.

From Nairn:

  1. Leave Nairn travelling south along the A939.

  2. Turn right along the B9101.

  3. Continue until you reach Cawdor Village.

  4. Look for a left turn and follow the white Cawdor Castle sign to the car park.

  5. Follow this road some distance until you see another white sign on your right marked "Coach & car park".

  6. Follow the castle road to the car park.

Cawdor Castle on Google Maps
What3words: ///zoom.flush.easygoing

Side view of Cawdor Castle.
Side view of the castle, the door there is where the self-guided tour ends.

Cawdor Castle visitor information

2023 season opening times

29th of April to 1st of October, open daily from 10 am to 5.30 pm.

Admission fees

Castle, gardens and nature trails:

Adults (age 16+): £14.50
Concession (over 65's): £13.00
Child (age 6-15): £8.00
Under 5: Free
Family Day Pass: £36.50 (2 adults and up to 5 children)

Gardens, grounds and nature trails only:

Adults (age 16+): £8.00
Child (age 5-16): £6.50
Under 5: Free
Annual Memberships from £30

It can be worth booking ahead via the website to ensure entry at busier times.

Contact details:

Cawdor Castle website
Tel:+44 (1667) 404401

Cawdor Castle Ltd, Nairn, Inverness-shire, IV12 5RD

Cawdor Castle

FAQs on Cawdor Castle

Here are a few frequently asked questions about Cawdor Castle.

Is Cawdor Castle worth visiting?

It really is, it's not too expensive for a family ticket, and there is so much to see within the castle and gardens.

Is Cawdor Castle free to visit?

No, there are fees listed above showing the current ticket prices. The best value is a family ticket for two adults and up to 5 kids for £36.50.

What is Cawdor Castle in Macbeth?

Cawdor Castle doesn't get mentioned in the Shakespeare play, but it's assumed the castle is a featured location due to the title "Thane of Cawdor" attributed to Macbeth. However, in reality, Macbeth lived hundreds of years before Cawdor Castle was built.

Does anyone live in Cawdor Castle?

The Campbell family still owns the castle, and it is home to Dowager Countess Cawdor, stepmother of Colin Campbell, 7th Earl Cawdor. The castle is uninhabited during the spring/summer tourist season but is a winter home from October to April.

Who is the current "Thane of Cawdor"?

Colin Robert Vaughan Campbell, 7th Earl Cawdor, is the current Thane of Cawdor.

How long does it take to visit Cawdor Castle?

You could easily spend 2 to 3 hours exploring the castle and grounds.

Is it possible to stay at Cawdor Castle?

No, but they have a lovely cottage available, but it is 9 miles from the castle itself.

Is it possible to play golf at Cawdor Castle?

Yes! There is a 9-hole golf course (1161 yards/par 32) and a putting green directly next to the castle.

Access can be gained via the castle ticket office, which also grants access to the castle grounds and the cafe.

Adult Golf Round - £15
Junior Golf Round - £8
Putting - £4
Club Hire - £5

You can pay an additional £6.50/£5.50 concessions to access the castle too.

Cawdor Castle golf course.
The wee golf course at Cawdor Castle.

Is Cawdor Castle fully accessible?

The car park, gardens, restaurant and shop are fully accessible. Only the ground floor of the castle interior is accessible for wheelchairs.

What else can be seen near Cawdor Castle?

Cawdor picnic tables.
Plenty of picnic tables are available near the entrance.

Key information on Cawdor Castle

  • Cawdor Castle is a 15th-century Scottish castle located 5 miles southwest of Nairn in the Scottish Highlands.

  • The castle was built between 1370 and 1372 around a holly tree.

  • Extensions were added to the castle in 1510.

  • The castle has a fictional link with the Shakespearean play "Macbeth".

  • The castle grounds have two lovely gardens to enjoy.

  • Self-guided tours are available between April and October.

  • The Campbell/Cawdor family still reside in the castle today.

  • It's possible to arrange private tours during the shutdown phase between October and April.

Wide angle view of Cawdor Castle.
Wide angle view.


The splendour and mystery of Cawdor Castle extend far beyond its stone walls and manicured gardens. While its storied history and architecture are captivating, it is the intertwining of reality and myth that truly sets this castle apart.

Cawdor Castle is well worth your time while visiting the East Highlands or West Moray. There is so much to see and do at the castle; you could easily spend the day there with a young family. It would be more enjoyable in fine weather, so plan to visit on a day without rain.

All information was correct at the time of writing, please check things like entry costs and opening times before you arrive.

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