Piper at Dunnottar Castle, near Stonehaven
Ever since man stopped being a nomad and settled down in one place, his prime need has been to protect his property from wild animals or other men who would wish to do him harm. Over a span of thousands of years this has led to many intriguing architectural embellishments to what we might term his home.
There has been no proper progression from mud-hut to castle in Scotland, for Scotland in the past was a divided place, a country split into tribal regions, each occupied by people who had their own way of doings things; their own language, customs, method of house-building, and means of defence. Hill-forts were popular for a long time in many areas, your house, or group of houses, built on a small hill-top and protected by a massive earthen bank and ditch, or two. In other areas of the country, perhaps where a certain type of stone existed, the people built great stone towers, or brochs, with walls so thick they contained narrow passageways and stairs. In many ways the Scottish broch was an early forerunner of the castle. Some brochs have evidence of dwellings just outside their thick walls, and in times of danger the occupants of these dwellings could have retreated to the broch for protection.
But by far the greatest influence on the evolution of the castle came from France. After the 11th century Norman invasion of England, King David I of Scotland actually invited - INVITED! - French nobles up to Scotland to settle and build castles. Initially these were just wooden towers built on a mound of earth (or motte), with a few other nearby buildings protected by a wooden fence. Like the broch, in times of trouble those in the outlying area, or bailey, could retire to the castle for protection.
Over the centuries these early castles became more sophisticated. The wooden towers became stone towers, the wooden fence became an outer stone wall, and other stone buildings were added, like more towers at all four points of the compass to increase the defensive capability. And so the castle was born.
But while the French played a key role in the development of the castle, they can't take all the credit for all the castles in Scotland. The Scottish Highlands was a wild and rugged land that no sane French noble would wish to have anything to do with, and so in these areas Highland chiefs built their own castles; dark stone towers with a sombre menacing look that echoed the foreboding mountainous land in which they sat.
Scottish Castles text heading
By far the most important factor in the defence of a castle is the land on which it is constructed. Any sensible castle-builder would pick his spot wisely, making good use of already-existing natural features like rivers, rocky slopes and crags and what have you. Indeed, the same principal was used by those who built hill-forts, selecting the best small hill that already had steep inaccessible sides. The less earth you had to shift to protect your home the better. You only have to look at Stirling Castle, Edinburgh Castle and Dunnottar Castle near Stonehaven to see how effective natural features can be in providing an almost impregnable defence, at least on a few sides.
For sides of your castle that did not have the luxury of natural defence, walls were important, as these were the areas likely to be hit in any attack. At Tantallon Castle near North Berwick, for example, there is a huge thick curtain wall strung across the exposed landward side to take the impact from any attacking cannon. The rest of that castle sits over a promontory with cliffs and the sea providing ample protection on those sides.
Lower down your wall you might wish to have arrow slits or gunloops to allow defenders to fire arrows or balls of lead at attackers. Many such features were positioned near the main door, always a vulnerable point in any castle, no matter how great and formidable its walls. Arrow slits can be found in many castles. You can see one in the ruins of Mugdock Castle near Milngavie. An excellent example of a gunloop can be seen at MacLellan's Castle in Kirkcudbright. Here, the castle's walls form an L-shape at the main door, and there is a gunloop on one wall, almost at ground level, pointing directly on to whoever might be trying to break down the door.
In any structure the door is generally the weakest point. It is no good having walls some twelve feet thick, cannon primed and boiling tar at the ready, if someone knocks on your door, shouts 'Pizza Delivery!', you open it, and ten thousand guys in shiny suits pour in. The builders of castles appreciated this, and the sheer variety and ingenuity of main door defence is a joy to behold. If it wasn't moats with drawbridges or great iron portcullis and boiling tar, it was a twin gate arrangement where if you were unfortunate enough to break through the first gate you'd find yourself in a small enclosed area facing another gate and men attacking you from above and all sides.
Castle defence had to be racked up a gear with the appearance of bigger and more accurate cannon. Now your castle could be attacked from a distance, and great metal balls could tear down your walls allowing men to flood through breaks and take over your castle.
Many castle walls were strengthened, either by the addition of extra walls or by reinforcing existing walls with rubble infill. Tantallon Castle, for example, had its huge curtain wall strengthened with rubble infill. At Bothwell Castle you can see an additional wall, a curious thing, not quite in line with other walls, but there one presumes to provide additional defence. Indeed, that is one of the joys of exploring Scotland's castles, in trying to figure out what all the bits were for and why they felt the need to build them.
If you visit any castle in Scotland today you will see some or all of the defensive features I have briefly discussed. Indeed, that is another of the many joys of visiting a castle, in determining its defensive capabilities - both natural and man-made - and in trying to decide which side was the most vulnerable to attack. Which side would you attack it from?
At Dunnottar Castle near Stonehaven, for example, you will see the outstanding natural setting, with the castle constructed on a rocky promontory in the middle of the sea. This has to be one of the best-defended castles in Scotland. But the builders of Dunnottar were aware of door vulnerability, and as you go through the first entrance you will come face to face with a battery of gun-loops. Had you broken through that door you would have been blasted with grapeshot or any number of small cannon.
You can see examples of a good solid Scottish tower at Alloa. I don't suppose you would call Alloa Tower a castle, but in places its walls are a whopping eleven foot thick. That's some house, and a very well defended house at that! Other good examples of square Scottish towers can be seen in The Borders, with the likes of Smailholm Tower.
Indeed, if you closely examine many of today's castles, some now more stately homes than defended houses, you can often see the original square stone tower somewhere amidst all the more recent add-ons. In fact, when you're inside these castles you can actually feel when you are in the original tower. It's the room with the thickest walls and the drop in temperature! Just like at Glamis Castle. Did I mention ghosts?
Scotland's Online Tourist Guide
June 2013
Copyright The Good Soup Guide. All rights reserved. CONTACT: enquiries@thegoodsoupguide.co.uk

Probably Scotland's most visited castle, and one of the country's best preserved. A whole day could be spent exploring it all. Not to be missed. [See Edinburgh pages.]
View of Edinburgh Castle from the Grassmarket
Similar to Edinburgh Castle in appearance and level of preservation. Wonderful views over the surrounding countryside. Superb. [See Stirling pages.]
Stirling Castle, viewed from King's Knot
Used during filming of 'Monty Python and The Holy Grail', so watch out for cows being thrown from the battlements by defenders! [See Doune pages.]
Visiting Doune Castle
Although not as well preserved as some castles, like the village of Dirleton itself the castle gardens are a haven of peace and contentment. [See Dirleton pages.]
The old moat and towers of Dirleton Castle
Visually, this is one magnificent castle. Probably started life as a stout tower, but was then added to to become a grand stately home. [See Glamis pages.]
The castle at Glamis
A bit ruinous, but set in a country park where the scenery is picturesque and quite outstanding. Many fine walks in the area. [See Milngavie pages.]
Mugdock Castle, Mugdock Country Park, Milngavie
A fine castle in a setting of hills and lochs. The conical slate hats on its four corner towers take it from a stately mansion to a fairytale palace. [See Inveraray pages.]
View of Inveraray Castle
Like many castles, Brodick Castle on the Isle of Arran has a nice garden, one with great views. There's probably an old tower within the castle somewhere. [See Brodick pages.]
Brodick Castle, on the Isle of Arran
Set in a country park, with coastal views. On walking through the grand arched entrance it's hard not to be blown away by the utter beauty of the place. [See Kirkoswald pages.]
Culzean Castle
A typical stout Scottish tower dating to the medieval period. In places its walls are eleven foot thick! It once formed part of a later mansion, but that has since gone. [See Alloa pages.]
Approaching Alloa Tower
An unusual castle in that its outer curtain wall is circular. In order to increase defensive capability they added four towers and a portcullis. [See Rothesay pages.]
Rothesay Castle, Rothesay
Bee on a Scottish thistle - clan and Royal symbol of Scottish kings
Bee on a Scottish thistle - clan and Royal symbol of Scottish kings
Scotland's online tourist guide's June 2013 News page - A Scottish Castles Special
News banner for Scotland's online tourist guide
(180px wide by 100px high. We can make the advert for you.)
Sample Event advert for News pages

Edinburgh Castle, viewed from Princes Street
Historic Scotland's advert
Mugdock Castle and Mugdock Country Park, Milngavie, advert
Culzean Castle advert