Castles have always fascinated me and being a Scottish travel blogger I visit a lot! I love wandering through the tunnels, climbing the spiral staircases, looking for engravings on the walls, imagining the stories and the lives of the inhabitants who once graced the great halls, the kitchens, the gardens. I love imagining what the rooms once looked like, the brightly coloured tapestries hanging on the walls, the dark furniture, the smokey kitchens.
Fife has many castles dotted around, some are romantic ruins, some are almost in one piece. Some have recreated rooms to give you an idea of how they once looked, others you just have to use a little imagination...
Near the Milton of Balgonie and 2.2 miles east of Glenrothes in Fife Balgonie Castle is a quirky and unique place to visit. Now owned by the Laird of Balgonie, Raymond Stanley Morris and his son Stuart Morris of Balgonie, this castle has a long and rough history. Building began in the 14th century with the Sibbald family who built the main tower house and fortified courtyard and was added to over the years, like many Scottish castles, by the families who took over the castle. Sir Robert Lundie, Lord High Treasurer of Scotland added a two story building to the east of the main tower. Sir Alexander Leslie (who became Lord Balgonie and Earl of Leven), John Leslie (7th Earl of Rothes) and James Balfour, grandfather of Arthur Balfour who became prime minister in 1902 all owned and lived in the castle but it was the latter who was unable to save it from decay.
Years passed, the roofs were removed for tax purposes and the vandals got in and it wasn't until 1971 that restoration began. The current owners are painstakingly repairing the castle and the chapel and main tower are now complete. It was used in the filming of the first season of Outlander and also the film, The Fairy Flag. You can now visit the castle and have a tour and you can even get married there! The Laird himself is a gifted artist and his art work is present all around the castle, making it pretty unique. The passion of the owners to restore this beautiful castle to its former glory is inspiring to see.
The partially ruined Aberdour Castle, in the vIllage of Aberdour, is one of the two oldest standing castles in Scotland. The oldest part of the castle, the Hall House, was built around 1200. Over the next 400 years a succession of at least 14 families have expanded and the castle is therefore a fascinating mixture of architectural styles. The east range, built around 1635, is the only part of the castle still roofed and has a stunning 17th century painted ceiling in one of the rooms.
The castle fell into decline after the Jacobite rising in 1714 when there was a fire. The then owners, The Mortons, bought the adjacent Aberdour House and the castle was never lived in again. One of the castles' many owners was James, the Earl of Morton, who was granted ownership in 1564. He was involved in planning a rebellion against Mary, Queen of Scots which resulted in the murder of her secretary David Riccio. He was forced to flee to England but returned within the year and Mary Queen of Scots was forced to abdicate and was imprisoned. He returned to his castle and built the beautiful terraced gardens which you can view today. He was made Regent of Scotland, for a young James VI but was later implicated in the murder of the Queen's husband Lord Darnley and was executed in 1581.
The castle is now in the care of Historic Scotland.
Before Mary Queen of Scots was forced to flee to England she spent a lot of time in Falkland Palace, which for over 200 years was the country residence of the Stuart monarchs. It was Mary's father and grandfather, James V and James IV, who transformed the old castle into a stunning Renaissance royal palace. The Stuarts spent a lot of time in Falkland, practicing falconry, hunting and playing tennis. The tennis court is still there today making it the oldest real tennis court in Britain. Mary is said to have caused quite a stir when she played wearing gentleman's breeches!
The Palace is now under the care of the National Trust for Scotland and the east quarter is now in ruins except for the extremely picturesque main wall. The south quarter is fully restored with a beautiful chapel, royal bed chambers, a library and a whole host of original tapestries and period furnishings. There is also another impressive painted ceiling. The grounds are large and worth a trip alone. The orchard is perfect for a picnic and some wildlife spotting and there is a renaissance style physic garden packed full of medicinal and culinary herbs.
St Andrews Castle
By 1200 St Andrews Castle was the main residence of the bishops and archbishops of St Andrews. It suffered badly though, during the Wars of Independance, and a new castle was built in 1400. David Stewart, Duke of Rothesay was imprisoned here by his uncle Robert, Duke of Albany before he was taken to Falkland Palace, where he died of starvation and neglect.
Years of wars, sieges and high tides have resulted in what is now a largely ruined but intriguing castle. What's left is a fascinating glimpse into Scotland's medieval and slightly grisly past. There is a terrifying 22ft bottleneck dungeon, an underground mine and countermine and a brilliant visitor centre run by Historic Scotland. The castle looks over Castle Sands and has really good views out over the coast.
Building began on Ravenscraig castle in 1460 by James II for his wife Queen Mary of Gueldres. It was one of the first to be built in Scotland to withstand cannon fire, but unfortunately James II was killed before it was completed - by cannon fire at the siege of Roxburgh Castle! Mary continued to build in his memory but when she died soon after the castle was passed to their son, James III. That was the end of the Royal connection as he sold the land to William Sinclair, Earl of Orkney and Caithness shortly afterwards. It was a fair exchange though as it meant Orkney and Shetland now belonged to Scotland!
The castle is looked after by Historic Scotland but is unmanned. You can enter the outside courtyard via a drawbridge but only the outside of the castle is viewable. Because part of the walls have collapsed though, you can see a lot of the inside and let yourself imagine how life was. In the courtyard you can see the amazing views over the Firth of Forth, as well as many of the foundations for rooms such as the kitchen and bakehouse.
Although this Palace isn't technically a Palace but a Grand House, it's the distinctive original mustard yellow and dark wooden shuttered windows which make it so appealing. It's also the village of Culross itself, a slice of 17th century life. There are original buildings, narrow alleys and cobbled streets letting you imagine life back then with ease. The palace doesn't have any royal connections except for a visit by King James VI in 1617, it was actually built by merchant Sir George Bruce between 1597 - 1611. He was a successful trader and many of the palace's features were collected from ships coming from abroad such as Baltic pine and Dutch tiles. It has been restored, as has the entire village, by the National Trust for Scotland. The 17th century garden, which is tucked around the back of the building, has been restored using plants and herbs which would have been used during the Jacobite period. It is beautifully laid out with wicker arches and raised beds. The village itself sits on the coast looking out over the Firth of Forth.
Dunfermline Palace grew around the impressive Abbey which has stood since 1070. King Malcolm III married Queen Margaret here and it was her their son David who, as a tribute to his mother, bought up extensive land around the Abbey and granted a wealth of money. The domestic building were destroyed during the Wars of Independance and were rebuilt with help from Robert the Bruce, who was buried here in 1329. The development continued until 1560 when mobs destroyed the Abbey during the reformation. In 1587 James VI took control of the land and gifted it to his wife, Queen Anne of Denmark. She hired William Schaw to turn the Abbey Guest House into a palace fit for a queen and gave birth to her three sons, including Charles I, while in residence. Charles I was the last king to be born in Scotland. It was last visited by a royal in 1651 when Charles II stayed before the Battle of Pitreavie.
The Abbey and Palace are well worth a visit, the Abbey itself is still in use and the palace is taken care of by Historic Scotland. There is a visitor centre, a museum and gorgeous views over Pittencrieff Park and out over the Firth of Forth. Not a lot of the palace remains but the impressive south wall, the kitchen and the cellars are there to explore.
These are by no means the only castles in Fife, there are plenty more to find. These are my favourites though, for one reason or another. Which castles so you like to visit in Fife?