Tucked away to the north of Dundee and a stone’s throw from the Cairngorms National Park, sits one of Scotland’s most fascinating castles. Glamis Castle with its impressive array of turrets, towers and battlements is the very picture of a fairytale palace. And, as in the best stories, this castle comes with a long list of legends and ghosts. As well as a rich mixture of architecture and myths, Glamis also offers plenty of history, royal roots and fine gardens.
A brief history
Like so many castles in Scotland, Glamis starts with a strategic site. The stones in the central section are over a thousand years old although the current building dates back to 1327 when Robert the Bruce gave the land to the Strathmore and Kinghorne family. They built the central tower and their ancestors added the L-plan three centuries later.
Glamis has a rich history of treason and bloody murders, and changed hands several times over the centuries before it returned to the Earls of Strathmore. Shakespeare used the setting as the inspiration for his most famous play about betrayal, Macbeth, and is said to have based the story on some real events at Glamis.
In terms of architecture, extensions were carried out on the castle until the late 19th century and just a few years later the royal connection at Glamis began. Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother (who died in 2002) was born at Glamis and spent her childhood in the castle. Her daughter, Queen Elizabeth II, spent her summer holidays there as a child and reportedly loved the freedom afforded by the secluded castle out of the public eye.
Everyone loves a good ghost story and Glamis excels at haunted figures staying in a castle. The list runs long and includes:
The Monster of Glamis. One of the biggest enigmas at Glamis Castle and a source of fascination for the Victorians, is the existent of a secret chamber whose location is only known by the current Earl and his heirs. The room reportedly housed an heir to the estate born in 1821 with deformities so great that he was hidden forever. Sometimes known as the Monster of Glamis, the secret inhabitant and his room have led to numerous different versions and enthralled visitors ever since.
Earl of Beardie. The ghost of the 4th Earl of Crawford is said to play cards with the devil (and swear loudly as he does so) every night at Glamis. Legend has it that the Earl refused to stop gambling at midnight on the Sabbath and as a result received a visit from the devil who consumed him in flames and condemned him to play cards until Doomsday.
Ghosts in armour. The Crypt (the perfect setting for haunts) houses several figures in armour and one of them reportedly walks up and down the chamber every night.
Glamis Castle fast fact:
The correct pronunciation of Glamis is “Glarms” to rhyme with “charms”.
Highlights at Glamis Castle
As one of the most fascinating castles in Scotland, Glamis should be on your must-see list. And while you’re there, don’t miss:
The setting – nothing quite prepares you for the sight of all the turrets and towers in the midst of stunning countryside as you make your way along the tree-lined approach.
The size – beautifully weathered sandstone houses an immense castle with walls that measure up to 16-feet (5 metres) thick in some places. The three vaulted storeys rise up to 150ft (almost 50 metres) at their highest point.
The interiors – as you’d expect in a castle with such a rich history, the inside comes packed with antiques, paintings and family heirlooms.
The Great Staircase – some 143 stone steps spiral their majestic way from the basement to the battlements. Built in 1605, the staircase is said to be the design of Indigo Jones.
The regal connections – as historically one of the royal castles to stay in Scotland, the castle regularly hosts themed exhibitions. Check the Glamis Castle website for details.
The grounds – like many Scottish castles, Glamis comes with plenty of land. As well as the Dean River Walk, you can explore the Italian Garden, a colourful oasis of rhododendrons and azaleas in early summer and with a pets cemetery including the Queen Mother’s dogs; the Walled Garden that includes the kitchen garden and orchards, several fountains and a grass maze; and the Macbeth Trail through the pine woods and harbouring seven giant wooden sculptures from the play including Macbeth himself, King Duncan and the Three Witches.
Glamis Castle fast fact:
If you’re visiting the area in late spring, don’t miss the Strathmore Highland Games. They’re held in the castle grounds on the second Sunday in June and are one of the best examples of Highland events in Scotland.
Why visit Glamis Castle
You’ll want to put Glamis on your list of castles in Scotland for several reasons. Perhaps the most compelling is the architecture. Few castles can compete on the fairytale rankings as well as Glamis, and the sheer scale and size of the towers and rooms never fail to impress.
The grounds too are well worth a visit, particularly during the spring and summer when the formal gardens turn into a riot of colour. Autumn offers a backdrop of changing leaves in some of the prettiest scenery in the area. And Glamis has its own share of wildlife too with deer and red squirrels easily spotted in the woods.
Visitors in search of history will be more than satisfied at Glamis where a thousand years of fact and fiction await you. Fans of ghost stories will relish those at this castle, although Glamis doesn’t open in the evenings so you won’t be able to look out for the haunted inhabitants yourself…
Glamis Castle is very accessible too and makes an easy day trip from Edinburgh or Aberdeen. And if you’d like to incorporate this stunning castle into a Scottish road trip, add it to the Angus Coastal drive.
Glamis Castle fast fact:
Don’t miss the Lion Cup on your visit. Legend has it that every visitor to the castle had to down all the liquid (usually wine) in the Cup in one go. Not as easy as it sounds since the Cup holds a pint (nearly half a litre)! Sir Walter Scott was reportedly one of those who successfully emptied the Cup in one.
Glamis Castle opens daily and visits of the interior are by guided tour. Disabled access is to the ground floor only. There’s also a restaurant and shop.
Glamis Castle fast fact:
The Castle used to feature on the back of the Royal Bank of Scotland £10 bank note as part of the Ilay series introduced in 1987.
Stay in a castle near Glamis
If you’re looking for castle accommodation in Scotland that comes as striking as Glamis then this apartment in a late 18th-century castle will more than suit. You’ll draw up outside a similarly stunning façade – think plenty of turrets and imposing details – set in no less than 1,300 acres of countryside, all yours to explore.
The cosy apartment sleeps 6 (with the option of 10 more in an adjacent apartment) and provides all the mod cons and comfort you need for a 21st century castle stay in Scotland. Fully refurbished in 2019, you also have access to a private garden with barbecue, your own tennis court and mountain bike hire to explore the land that comes with this castle. Book your very own Glamis-style castle accommodation now.
Read more in our Scottish Castles series:
1. Dunnottar Castle
2. Stirling Castle
3. Eilean Donan Castle
4. Urquhart Castle
5. Culzean Castle
6. Balmoral Castle
7. Crathes Castle
8. Floors Castle
9. 7 reasons to visit Stirling
10. Castles in Scotland – all you need to know
11. 14 Scottish castles with Royal connections
12. Fascinating facts about royal castles
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