Cawdor Castle was built sometime in the late 14th Century. The first documents relating to the castle date from 1454 when King James granted a license to the Thane of Cawdor to crenellate his tower.
The story of the castle's construction is a curious one. The tale goes that the Thane of Cawdor had a dream which told him where to build his castle. Following the dream, a donkey laden with gold was set free to roam about the countryside and when the donkey stopped to rest beneath a tree that was the site chosen for the castle. The Thorn Tree can still be found in the ground floor of the castle.
The donkey was no student of military strategy however and Cawdor's site offers little in the way of defensive advantages. To compensate, the tower walls are over 3 metres thick in places and the entire castle was surrounded by a moat.
The entrance to the castle is on the first floor. It used to have an iron yett which was taken after the Thane destroyed Lochindorb Castle in 1455. Later extensions and improvements to the castle were residential, rather than military, in nature.
The Thanes of Cawdor played an active part in Scottish politics over the centuries. They were Sheriffs with responsibility over part of the Highlands – which at the time was more populated than today and much wilder. Several Thanes met violent deaths policing this area.
The castle came into the hands of Clan Campbell in 1499. The Earl of Argyll was granted wardship over Muriel, heiress to the Thanedom. She married Sir John Campbell in 1510.
After about 1745 the family chose to move to their estates in Wales and the castle remains as a superb mixture of late medieval fortress and Jacobean family home.
Cawdor Castle is also associated by many with William Shakespeare's tragedy Macbeth. Although there was a thanedom in the 11th Century when Macbeth was around, the Thane at the time lived at a different fort about a mile north of the present day castle. No trace of the old fort exists except for a faint crop-mark in the fields.
The present day castle is still home to the Dowager Countess Cawdor and is open as a tourist attraction.
The castle is well known for its gardens. The Walled Garden was laid out to the north east of the castle in 1620. It combines a mix of orchards, soft fruit, flowers and vegetables. The Flower Garden joined it in 1710, laid out to the south of the castle. It is designed to be enjoyed from early spring through to autumn with bulbs, herbaceous borders and ornamental trees and shrubs. The Wild Garden is the most recent addition. Planted in the 1960s it features a variety of shrubs set amongst tall old trees.
The castle estates provide a range of other attractions. The Big Wood has an exceptional growth of lichens, with over 130 species recorded. Deer, rabbits and a range of bird life can all be seen here too. There is a nine-hole golf course, holiday accommodation on the estate and a well-regarded salmon fishery.
The castle itself is also open to the public and features a fine collection of tapestries, furnishings and paintings. The rooms have been restored to their best and lovingly adorned with period items and domestic trappings.
Keep your eyes open on your visit though. The castle is reputed to be haunted by no less than three ghosts: the shade of Sir John; a lady in blue and a Campbell maiden whose hands were cut off to keep her away from an unsuitable lover.
Status: Tourist Attraction / Museum
Owner: Dowager Countess Cawdor
Tel: +44 (0)1667 404401
Opening Times: May to September Daily 10.30am to 5.30pm
The castle and gardens at Cawdor