Cardoness Castle is a well-preserved 15th Century tower house overlooking the Water of Fleet. It was held by the MacCulloch Clan who were rich and prominent in the area. They moved in royal circles, but were known for their lawlessness.
The first castle on this site was held by the de Cardenes family. They were probably installed during King David I's reign.
According to local tradition the MacCullochs gained the castle by marriage. The last laird of the Cardenes name had nine daughters. He desperately wanted a son to continue his line. When his wife finally gave him a son he arranged a huge family feast on the frozen loch. The whole family was there except his youngest daughter. The ice gave way under the party and they were all lost. His remaining daughter went on to marry a MacCulloch.
Little remains of the earlier castle. The tower we see today dates from the 1460s when the MacCullochs took over.
The tower was superbly well defended. It sat on a rocky headland jutting out into the Water of Fleet. It was surrounded on three sides by water and the land approach was difficult to get to. The tower stands six storeys high with 3 metre thick walls and, unusually, it had no barmkin or curtain walling.
An English military report from the sixteenth century noted that no guns could approach it from the sea and that artillery from the land would have to be carried on men's backs for over a mile to reach it. The same report reckoned that it would take a force of 200 men to take the castle.
The MacCullochs made good use of their highly defendable castle. They were involved in a lengthy feud with their neighbours of Clan Gordon.
In 1501 Ninian MacCulloch was prosecuted and executed for stealing 1,500 animals. He was also accused of extorting illegal rents from local farmers. In 1507, his son, Cutlar MacCulloch carried out a series of raids on the Isle of Man.
By 1600 the clan was in dire financial trouble and 1628 Cardoness Castle was in the hands of John Gordon, head of the family they'd been feuding with. Despite their financial problems Sir Alexander McCulloch was raised to the rank of Baronet in 1634.
By 1668 the McCullochs were back in possession of the castle. By this time the castle was in the hands of Sir Godfrey McCulloch who served at the Scottish Parliament.
In 1684 the long-standing feud with the Gordons led to the family's downfall when Sir Godfrey shot William Gordon in the leg. William later died of an infection caused by the wound and Sir Godfrey was sentenced to death for murder.
At first McCulloch managed to escape to France, but he made the mistake of returning to Scotland. He was recognised in Edinburgh and had the distinction of being the last to suffer beheading by 'The Maiden', Edinburgh's guillotine.
After his execution the Baronetcy was forfeit and Cardoness Castle was abandoned and allowed to decay. It passed through a number of owners and came into state care in 1927.
In the 19th Century a coastal road was built on the south side of the castle, cutting it off from the water.
Today the castle is cared for by Historic Scotland. It is open as a visitor attraction and heritage site. The castle has a reception and visitor area with displays on the castle's history. Other facilities on the site include a shop, toilets, including disabled facilities and car parking.
Status: Visitor Attraction / Heritage Site
Owner: Historic Scotland
Tel: +44 (0)1557 814 427
Opening Times: 1st April to 30th September Daily 9.30am-5.30pm
Cardoness Castle entrance
Inside the Great Hall at Cardoness