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The Scottish Castle Initiative

Druchtag Motte, Dumfriesshire
Scotland is internationally renowned for its castles and tower houses. Whether ruined or still in use, they are an important part of Scotland’s heritage and identity.

Castles began to be built in Scotland during the 12th century, and were initially mainly constructed of timber with a foundation of earthen mounds, banks and ditches. Today all that can be seen of these castles are their earthworks, like those at Druchtag Motte.

Although castles of timber and earth continued to be built over a long period, masonry castles began to appear in the latter part of the 12th century, and by the 13th century highly sophisticated courtyard castles were being constructed by some of the Scottish nobility. Within their formidable crenellated walls, there would have been ranges of buildings including the lord’s hall, chambers, kitchens and a chapel. The walls themselves might be punctuated by towers and an imposing gatehouse, as seen at Caerlaverock .

Caerlaverock Castle, Dumfries and Galloway

Bothwell tower
During the Wars with England in the late 13th and early 14th century many castles were deliberately destroyed or damaged, as can be seen at Bothwell where half of the great tower was torn down

When castle building gathered fresh momentum from the late 14th century, the focus was usually a substantial stone tower surrounded by other buildings, such as a hall, contained within a courtyard. Although residential towers of this kind were often of a simple oblong plan, with one principal room on each floor, there were more complex forms and some towers were very complex indeed.

By the mid-15th century the increased use of gunpowder saw some changes in castle and tower house design although in most cases these involved only minor adaptations; for example, gun holes were punched through existing tower walls and integrated into the designed of new ones.

Tower house building flourished in the second half of the 16th century. However, there is a debate as to whether it is still appropriate to call many of these tower houses.  Examples such as Elcho  with their large windows lighting the spacious hall and chambers, are more domestic in character than their predecessors. Nevertheless, a defensible appearance was often retained, with grilles to the windows and gun holes at the lower levels.

By the late 17th century most of the new residences being built were essentially comfortable country houses, though there was often great pride in the family’s ancestral tower house, which might be incorporated into the new building. Others were put to new uses rather than being demolished or left to decay.

Elcho castle

Castle Restoration

Duart castle There is a long tradition of successful castle and tower house restoration in Scotland as seen at Duart Castle which was restored in the early 20th century and Fenton Tower in the early 21st.

Restoration projects are by their nature likely to be complex and restoration will not be an appropriate course of action in every case.  However Historic Scotland believes that there is potential for more and this initiative is intended to make the process of taking forward restoration projects more straightforward and transparent.

The Scottish Castle initiative is designed to encourage investment in this aspect of Scotland’s built heritage by providing advice on processes and best practices, and by offering exemplars of successful past projects.

The main aims of the initiative are:

  • the preparation and maintenance of an online Castle Conservation Register;
  • the provision of a guide to castle restoration;
  • the publication of an outline overview of castle and tower-house restoration in Scotland;
  • the identification of a number of exemplary projects.

Contact us

The Scottish Castle Initiative
Heritage Management Directorate
Historic Scotland
Longmore House
Salisbury Place

Tel: 0131 668 8716