No visit to Scotland would be complete without visiting one of our historic castles. From military fortresses to stately residences, Scotland has around 2,000 castles, many of which have now fallen to ruin or been abandoned. However, in Loch Lomond we are lucky enough to be near some of the best maintained castles in Scotland including Stirling Castle and Dumbarton Castle.
In our blog below we’ve chosen the best castles near Loch Lomond that are easily accessible by car or public transport from our resort on the south-western shore of Loch Lomond. Tweet us @cameronlodges or leave us a comment on Facebook if you have any more Loch Lomond castles to add to our list. We’d also love to see your pictures if you’ve visited the castles mentioned below!
Dumbarton Castle is located a mere 7 miles from Cameron Lodges, on the River Clyde. Historically, Dumbarton Castle stood as a stronghold at the heart of an ancient kingdom, now known as Strathclyde. The castle has been standing on a volcanic rock in the Firth of Clyde for over 1500 years, and is one of the oldest castles in Scotland, with a rich history and some notable guests and prisoners, including William Wallace.
In 1489, it was home to James IV and Mons Meg, the famous medieval canon currently housed at Edinburgh Castle, which was used by James IV to besiege Dumbarton Castle before he began his attacks on the Lords of Isles.
Dumbarton Castle was also used as a royal refuge, it’s most notable resident being Mary Queen of Scots, whose mother brought her to the castle in 1547 to ensure her safety after the English victory at the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh. And in 1548, it was the place from which she left Scotland at only 5 years old, in order to fulfil the requirements of her betrothal to Dauphin Francis of France.
After Mary Queen of Scots’ later reign over Scotland, the royal castle was turned into a military fortress, and then a state prison before being decommissioned in the twentieth century.
Nowadays Dumbarton Castle is a tourist attraction and is open to the public throughout the year. With such a rich heritage, around 16,000 visitors flock to Dumbarton Castle each year to explore the castle’s building and grounds, examine castle artefacts, and climb the White Tower Craig for stunning views towards Ben Lomond.
Inveraray Castle is the ancestral home of the Duke of Argyll, Chief of the Clan Campbell. Although the castle has stood on the same ground since the 15th century, the castle that stands today was inspired by a sketch by an architect who designed both Blenheim Palace and Castle Howard. Construction of the castle began in 1746 and took 43 years to complete. In 1877 a fire resulted in the original castle needing to be repaired and enhanced to include a third floor and conical roofs on the corner turrets, resulting in the famous Scottish castle we know today.
Situated on the shores of Loch Fyne, less than an hour’s drive from Loch Lomond, the castle was first opened to the public in 1953 and is now a popular tourist attraction for visitors to the west coast of Scotland. However just over 10 years earlier in 1940, it was setup as a prominent military training centre which trained around 250,000 allied military personnel during World War II.
Nowadays all three floors of the castle are available for tourists to explore. The basement level comprises the Old Kitchen, which was last used by the current Duke of Argyll’s grandmother in 1950s and includes a collection of copper utensils and various kitchen items from Victorian, Edwardian and pre-war cooking era, as well as the castle tearoom and gift shop. The ground floor offers visitors a chance to view the old armoury and Campbell family crests, as well as the state dining room, drawing room and saloon. The first floor acts as a gallery and is where you can learn more about Clan Campbell.
Historically, Stirling Castle is one of the most important castles in Scotland, and can be found less than an hour’s drive from Loch Lomond. Managed by Historic Environment Scotland, it is one of Scotland’s most visited tourist attractions, with over half a million visitors per year.
Home to many Scottish kings and queens, the castle was built in the early 12th century, however the majority of the buildings that still stand today were built between 1490 and 1600. Occupied by the English from 1296 until William Wallace reclaimed the castle for Scotland at the Battle of Stirling Bridge, it was again taken by the English in the second Wars of Independence, before the future King Robert II reclaimed the castle for the final time. It has stayed within Scottish control ever since and has been the birthplace and death place of many Scottish monarchs including James II. Many kings and queens were also crowned at Stirling Castle, including Mary Queen of Scots, and many royal babies were baptised in the chapel, including James VI. Stirling Castle is most associated with the Stewart dynasty.
Stirling Castle was a renaissance palace during James IV reign, with a mix of English, French and German influences in the castle décor and buildings, which can be seen most in the Great Hall of the castle. However after the Stewart kings left the castle, it became less of a royal residence and more of a military fortress due to its position on top of Castle Hill, giving it a strong defensive position. The last Scottish monarch who lived at the castle was Charles II, who lived there until 1650.
Nowadays, Stirling Castle provides a fantastic day out for all the family, with a wealth of interactive displays and events.
Abandoned Castles & Ruins In Loch Lomond
If abandoned castles left to ruin and steeped in rich history are more your thing, then Buchanan Castle is a must-visit on your next trip to Loch Lomond. Located in Drymen on the eastern shore of Loch Lomond, next to Buchanan Castle Golf Club, the castle was commissioned by James Graham, 4th Duke of Montrose, in 1852 to be used as a family home. The land around the castle was previously owned by Clan Buchanan, hence the name Buchanan Castle.
Designed by Scottish architect William Burn, the original castle was built in the Scottish baronial style, popular in the nineteenth century. Used as a family home for the dukes of Montrose until 1925, it was then sold and opened as a hotel and golf course, with further plans to develop the land to include residential properties. However the castle was requisitioned to be used as a hospital during the Second World War and was host to Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s right hand man, when he parachuted into Scotland in 1941 and needed medical care.
The castle is a category B listed building, and remains to this day the registered seat of Clan Graham, despite its abandoned and dilapidated state. The castle has a perimeter fence and signs up advising against entry, however you can still walk around the castle and view the ruins from a distance.
Balloch Castle, located on the southern shore of Loch Lomond is a category A listed building, and another castle in Loch Lomond which is now abandoned. Although many castles have stood on the grounds of Balloch Castle for centuries, the present Tudor Gothic style castle was commissioned by John Buchanan of Ardoch in 1809, and designed by Robert Lugar, a London-based architect. Although the castle includes many defensive features such as turrets and lancet windows, these features were purely added for decorative purposes. The 200 acre castle grounds include walled gardens and park areas which have been further developed over the years and awarded Country Park status in 1980.
Balloch Castle gardens were created during the Landscape Movement where the emphasis was on adding rolling lawns and panoramic views to create the illusion of a larger landscape. As such, Balloch Country Park includes extensive parkland which was previously used for sheep and cattle grazing, woodlands which were used as a barrier to the strong Scottish winds, as well as many smaller walled gardens including the Kitchen Garden which provided the castle residents with a steady supply of fruit and veg, and the Chinese Garden which features acres and conifers.
Over the years investment has been secured to improve various aspects of the original gardens including the restoration of the old Boat House. You’ll also find a fairy trail, which was created by local tree surgeon Patrick Muir, using stumps of diseased trees from within the estate. The carvings are scattered throughout the park and each one has its own fictional backstory.