Rait Castle, south of Nairn

Written by Chris Thornton | 12th of September 2023
Rait Castle

Living in Moray, I am pretty well-versed in the castles between Inverness and my home in Buckie, but Rait Castle piqued my interest when I saw it marked on an old map. Why had I never heard of Rait Castle despite driving past it countless times?

Like Boyne Castle, Rait Castle isn't advertised as it is an unkept ruin and a little hard to get to from the B9101 road nearby. With Cawdor and Brodie Castle nearby, I guess poor old Rait Castle is forgotten amongst these tourism behemoths.

Rait Castle is one of the few remaining examples of a hall house, which is a bit different from the standard castle design of the time, such as the motte and bailey style at Duffus Castle. This castle dates from the 13th century and is a lovely hidden gem 3.5 miles south of Nairn.

Join my wife and me as we explore the little-known ruins of Rait Castle and discover its interesting and bloody history!

Our visit to Rait Castle

Earlier in the year, we visited Cawdor Castle, accessed via the same road on our route from Auldearn. The castle can be seen quite clearly from the B9101 once you notice it amongst the dense vegetation. You can see it from the road in this street view link; it's the grey smudge in the middle!

When visiting these ancient buildings, I'm never sure what the farmer must think of people using his road to reach them, but the turn to Rait Castle does have a rough sign with "Rait Castle 1000m" scrawled on it, so I guess he's cool with visitors.

Rait Castle Farm Road

If there's one thing my wife Janette hates, it's driving down pokey single-track roads with no passing places, and unfortunately, the Rait Castle road is like this. We passed some farm buildings and then came to a rough farm track which led down to a field blocked by a gate.

Rait Castle stands near a field near the farm track.
The gate to the track, Rait Castle can be seen in the background.
Entrance to the field
Janette took some coaxing to get into the cow field.

In hindsight, we would have been better parking at the small layby, some distance from the castle access, and then walking. We had expected maybe a small parking area at the end of the road for the castle, but it just ends at a field gate. I would consider parking at this bend if you decide to visit to stop blocking the farmer's access.

Accessing Rait Castle

Our next dilemma was actually getting to the castle; there was no dedicated path without crossing a field, home to a fold of Highland Cows! Janette was very uneasy about crossing through this park containing the cows (I regretted telling her that cows are Scotland's most dangerous animal!); there were young cows too, which makes mama Highland cows very protective.

Highland cows at Rait Castle.
Would the Highland cows let us through their field?

We decided to go for it; we didn't bother them, they didn't bother us, and we didn't make the evening news after being gored to death by murderous coos. Seriously though, if you visit the castle, it is something to consider; if the cows are by the gate, I maybe wouldn't risk walking amongst them directly.

At the far side of the cow field, we came to another two gates. The gate to the left leads to the castle; don't follow the double gate to your right. After loupin the gate, a small path lined with hedges arced round to the castle, and we got our first look at the castle up close.

Path to Rait Castle.
The track to the castle.
Take the left gate to Rait Castle.
We took the left gate here.
Rait Castle path gate.
Gate to the castle path. I haven't jumped this many gates in a long time!
The route to Rait Castle.
On the path to Rait Castle, you can just see the top of the castle to the left.

Exploring Rait Castle

Rait Castle felt different to other castles I've visited in Scotland; it almost gave off a more church-like vibe with its windows with Y-traceried heads and large central void. The castle is within its own hidden grotto with only a meter or two boundary from the castle walls; it feels very hidden and secret.

Rait Castle frontal view.
This impressive ruin is suddenly revealed after emerging from the entrance path.
Rait Castle ancient castle sign.
A sign on the castle, probably the last work done on the castle.

We made our way around the castle's perimeter and discovered the large round tower on one corner, which amazingly still has its original semi-spherical domed ceiling fully intact!

Rait Castle window.
Not all of the windows are still intact, but still impressive.
Red stained window ledge
The staining on the windows almost looks like blood, but it is the decay of the sandstone.
Rait Castle round tower projects from one corner.
At the foot of the round tower.

While it's sad the castle seems to be forgotten, some kind souls seem to be keeping the site maintained by cutting vegetation from the castle and the lawns around it. I have seen older photographs of the castle, and the site is much better maintained today.

The castle itself has had very little work done to maintain it, which is a double-edged sword. Seeing the original windows untouched by restoration work is amazing, but it would be a shame for the castle to degrade even more. The sandstone of the windows has degraded noticeably faster than the rest of the castle. Trees and other plants sprout from the wall heads, degrading the ancient mortar holding the building together.

Rait Castle round tower and walls.
The walls seemed in good condition despite the age of the building.
West side of Rait Castle.
The west side of the castle, I wonder what the protrusion to the right once was? Perhaps direct access to the upper level.
Garderobe tower, view from south east.
This was my favourite view of the round tower.
An ancient worn window at Rait Castle.
And this was my favourite window, still intact but extremely weather-worn after 800 years. Impressive craftsmanship.

The central area of the castle is accessible via a missing part of the east wall, which is an impressive 6ft thick! In the middle of the castle was a fire pit, a slightly dangerous and spooky place to camp, but wow, it would be amazing to spend a night there... but I would never have the guts to, considering all the horrible things that occurred within the castle walls.

Rait Castle wall cross section.
The broken section of the wall is almost 6ft thick!

The castle walls give evidence of an unvaulted basement and upper hall; animals likely resided below with the living area above.

The interior shows a two story building.
The interior of the castle. Note the ledges halfway up, marking the level of the upper hall.
Basement window at Rait Castle.
One of the basement-level windows.
Architecture of Rait Castle.
The castle architecture is impressive and feels very old, particularly in the sandstone sections.
Worn sandstone at Rait Castle.
This sandstone section looked worn from the elements.
Tower access.
An old doorway to the tower from the upper level.

The round tower is accessible and is the only castle area still with a ceiling on it. The domed ceiling is awe-inspiring with its circular brickwork; amazingly, it has lasted 800 years with no repairs.

Rait Castle round tower ceiling.
The interior of the round tower is still fully intact!

There seems to be an upstairs area; two kids were playing up there when we visited. If I were 30 years younger, I would have been up there too to discover more of the castle's secrets.

Rosehips at Rait Castle.
Rosehips were growing out of one of the upper-level windows.
Upper hall windows.
More impressive architecture in the upper hall windows.
Plants growing on Rait Castle.
More work is needed on the castle to remove the vegetation.

The east castle grounds have remains of other buildings, possibly the remains of the Chapel of St Mary of Rait, courtyard walls and other structures associated with the castle.

Courtyard wall
Part of the courtyard wall or external buildings attached to the castle.
Remnants of buildings at Rait Castle. Detatched building or older manor house.
Remnants of the chapel or outbuildings. I wonder if the castle has ever been investigated properly.

We didn't linger too long at the castle as we needed to return to the car to rectify our dodgy parking situation. We backtracked over the gate and through the cow field back to the car.

Path back to the road.
Walking back to the car after a great visit to Rait Castle.

Saving Rait Castle

There is a website named SaveRaitCastle.org developed by Alastair Cunningham, who seems to be leading the charge to get Rait Castle the repair work it needs to preserve it for future generations. It doesn't seem to have been updated in a long time, and the Facebook group seems defunct, so I hope he hasn't given up on his quest.

If you are interested in helping save Rait Castle, why not consider writing to Fergus Ewing MSP and Drew Hendry MP for Nairn and asking them what they will do to save the castle? The castle is not looked after by Historic Scotland or the National Trust for Scotland.

A Brief History of Rait Castle

Before 1265 - The Mackintoshes were the earliest possessors of Raite. Shaw Mackintosh, the fourth chief of the clan, obtained a grant of Rothiemurcus, Meikle Geddes, and Raite. He married Helen, the daughter of the second recorded Thane of Cawdor.

1274 - Ferquhard, son of Shaw Mackintosh, died, leaving his only child, Angus. During Angus's minority, the Cummings took possession of Raite and other Mackintosh lands. The Cummings appeared in records as 'De Rathe' or 'de Rate'.

The late 1200s - The Cummings or de Raites became fervent supporters of King Edward I of England during the claim of the Scottish crown. Gervaise de Raite became the knight constable of the royal castle at Nairn. In 1292, Gervaise and his son Andrew swore allegiance to King Edward I at a Scottish Parliament in Berwick, appearing on the 'Ragman Roll'.

1296 - Following William Wallace's uprising, Sir Andrew de Rait actively worked to suppress it and communicated on behalf of his allies in the north to Edward I.

1303 - King Edward I visited Nairn with his army and based himself at Lochindorb Castle. During his stay, he might have visited his loyal subject, Gervaise, at Rait Castle.

1306 - Robert The Bruce became King. The Mackintoshes had been his loyal supporters at Bannockburn, and they subsequently revived their claim to the lands at Rait. The Cummings, however, were allowed to remain at Rait, leading to a continued feud with the Mackintoshes.

1405 - Sir Alexander Raite kills Andrew, Thane of Cawdor.

1442 - Alexander Lord Gordon granted a charter of the lands of Raite and Meikle Geddes to the Mackintosh chief. The same year, Rait Castle was abandoned permanently after the massacre of the Cumming family (read more below).

1596 - The last recorded reference to Rait Castle.

1746 - The Duke of Cumberland is said to have stayed at the castle before the Battle of Culloden.

1990 - Famous American singer Bonnie Raitt visits Rait Castle, keen to learn more about her family history.

Rait Castle Nairn, a small stone hall house. A rare example.
Another view of the front of the castle.

The Massacre at Rait Castle

As mentioned above, some nasty things happened at Rait Castle, the most heinous being a Game of Thrones "Red Wedding" style betrayal of guests invited to the castle.

There are many different references to this massacre. It's hard to piece together the actual story, but in 1442, the Cummings were in possession of Rait Castle, which the Mackintosh Clan once owned.

Despite the Mackintosh Clan helping Robert the Bruce ascend to the throne, they were not granted the castle and forever held a grudge against the Cummings, who had unfairly seized their lands. The Cummings were aware that the Mackintoshs greatly desired the castle and invited them to a banquet at Rait Castle under the false pretence of healing old wounds. Instead, the Cummings planned at a set time to betray the Mackintoshs and kill them all at the banquet table.

The plan would have worked, but Cummings' daughter, who was in love with one of the Mackintoshs, divulged the plan in full prior to the banquet... so instead of the Mackintoshs arriving weaponless, they concealed daggers within their clothing.

When the signal came to slay the guests, the Mackintosh's preempted the attack, stabbing their attackers first.

The story goes that the Chief of the Cummings managed to escape the slaughter and realised the plan must have been divulged by his daughter, whom he chased up the castle's round tower in a maddened rage. This sad tale ends with the daughter jumping from the upstairs window in an attempt to escape after her father removed both of her hands with his sword.

Rait Castle was completely abandoned after the massacre. Creepily, the castle windows look blood-stained, adding to the eerie nature of this story, but this is just due to the sandstone windows decaying over time.

Rait Castle Ghost

It's said a handless ghost or wraith in a blood-stained dress continues to haunt Rait Castle to this day. The spirit is considered to be Cummings' daughter from the Rait Castle massacre. When we visited, it was a bright sunny day; there was no feeling of a malevolent force, but I wouldn't like to be here at night after reading about the massacre and the ghost!

Visitor Information

The castle can only be visited via a farmer's track and may be unsuitable for some car types. Parking is very limited; it's recommended you park at this layby and walk the remaining distance to the castle.

Rait Castle is unmaintained, so it could be considered dangerous; it will not be checked after storms, so falling masonry could be a risk.

There is no charge to visit this unmaintained ruin.

The ruin is completely inaccessible for wheelchairs.

Rait Castle on Google Maps
What3words: ///glorious.dabbling.rivals
O.S. Grid Reference: NH 894525

Glimpses of Nairn from the castle.

FAQs on Rait Castle

Here are a few frequently asked questions on Rait Castle:

How to get to Rait Castle

From Nairn:

  1. Leave Nairn heading south on the A939.

  2. Take the right turn along the B9101 marked "Cawdor".

  3. A moderate distance down the B9101, look for a left turn down a minor road. A handmade sign which reads "Rait Castle 1000m".

  4. Follow this track and consider parking here.

Driving directly to the farm gate near the castle is possible, but you will block the road and the gate for the farmer's access. You will also have to reverse a fair distance back up the farm track; don't make the same mistake we did!

Where is it best to park for Rait Castle?

There is very limited parking for the castle, and if you follow the road as far as it goes, you will block the gate to the field and be forced to reverse up the farm track to leave. The only real option is this small layby on the farm road and then walk to the end of the road and jump the two gates to get to the castle.

Is Rait Castle safe?

It seemed quite safe when we visited. There were no visible signs of stones that had fallen from the castle; however, as the castle is unmaintained, visit at your own risk.

Are there other hall house-style castles in Scotland?

Yes, but they are fairly rare, which makes Rait Castle an important part of Scottish history. Other hall house castles can be seen, mainly on the west coast, at:

  • Aros on Mull

  • Ardtornish near Lochaline

  • Skipness of Kintyre

  • Craigie, south of Kilmarnock

  • Lochranza on the Isle of Arran

Videos of Rait Castle

Here are a couple of video clips from our visit to Rait Castle.

Interior of the round tower.
Side view of the castle.

Key information on Rait Castle

  • Rait Castle is an unkept ruin located 3.5 miles south of Nairn, Scotland.

  • The castle dates back to the 13th century and is one of the few remaining examples of a hall house design.

  • Access to the castle is tricky, with a narrow single-track road and a field with Highland Cows to cross.

  • The castle is largely unmaintained, but some individuals have made efforts to keep the site in better condition.

  • It features original windows and a large round tower with a fully intact dome ceiling.

  • The castle has a rich and violent history, including an attempted massacre of guests invited by the Cumming family, who had seized the castle from the Mackintosh Clan.

  • The castle is said to be haunted by the ghost of the Cumming daughter, who was involved in the betrayal and massacre.

  • Visitors should be cautious as the castle is in a state of disrepair and can be dangerous.

  • Parking options are limited, and parking at a nearby layby and walking to the castle is recommended.

  • Rait Castle is a unique and lesser-known attraction worth visiting for castle enthusiasts.


Rait Castle is one of those hidden gems many don't know about. Its slightly remote location and difficulty of access likely put many off, which is a shame as this castle is unique and has a great deal to offer avid castle hunters. Is there anywhere else in north Scotland that has this fine an example of a hall house?

Just remember this isn't a castle you can easily visit, there is no car park, toilets or gift shop here!

We left the castle pleased to have seen it and glad to have been spared by the highland cows.

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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3rd of June 2024 @ 22:00:33

Thank you :)

3rd of June 2024 @ 19:17:58

Rogie Falls isn't far from where you're going, too; well worth a wee stop. I hope you have a great trip!

3rd of June 2024 @ 16:48:40

Thank you for the tip. I've barely visited Redcastle on google map, but haven't read much about it. It looks absolutely fantastic. Will put this in our travel planner. And I will read more in your blog, lots of interesting to read here, and a good description of the areas and road. We definitely should have had more than one week for this trip....

3rd of June 2024 @ 16:18:47

Hi Elizabeth, those are both great castles! Rait Castle will be right up your street if you are looking for ruins off the beaten track. Another option is Redcastle on the Beauly Firth; it's actually closer than Castle Leod, is lesser known and is in a stunning location. https://www.livebreathescotland.com/redcastle-inverness/

3rd of June 2024 @ 16:11:10

Hi Chris, thank you for replying. We are visiting Cawdor Castle and Castle Leod. And Urquhart Castle. But Rait Castle caught my interest as it is a more unknown castle, not the typical tourist place. I had never heard of it until a couple of days ago, not that I have a very good knowledge of castles in Scotland... But it has always interested me. And when I found out about Rait Castel and its interesting history, I was immediately drawn to this castle ruin. I really want to try to get there, and have dicided to at least go to the gate and take it from there. My rental car is quite small, so I don't know if I should even try to drive all the way to the gate even. But if you have any other tips on other castles or old ruins which isn't a typical tourist area, I would really appreciate it. With no cow-field.... ;O) Ideally no more than an hour drive from Inverness

3rd of June 2024 @ 15:34:36

Hi Elisabeth, Thanks for your message. I think you should be OK with the cows, the only time I've heard of someone being attacked by a Highland Cow is when they had a dog and the cows had young. Also, someone else wrote to me and said the farmer doesn't mind cars being driven into the field as long as the gates are shut behind. I didn't see a farmer to ask when I visited. There are many castles in the area that don't require you to jump over gates, etc. Do you have a special interest in this one?

3rd of June 2024 @ 14:50:32

Hi, My children and I are traveling to Scotland in a few weeks, staying in Inverness for a week. After almost a year of planning and searching google maps for castles to visit in the Inverness area, I recently came across Rait Castle, and googled it on the internet. This is exactly the type of castle I am most interested in, and really want to visit. I was a little worried, since I saw it was by a farm, that we had to cross a field with cattle. And this was confirmed when I came across this post. I Googled: Do I have to cross a field with cows when I go to Rait Castle...? So I don't know if I dare, I have a lot of respect for these animals. If the cows are far away when we arrive, and we go over, they may be right by the path when we go back... Well, we might just end up enjoying the view of the castle from a distance with the gate ? Regardless of whether we get there or not, this was an interesting and fun read. And I take it with me for the good description of the way to the castle we may or may not visit...