Cawdor Castle and Gardens
A fairytale Castle in the Highlands near Inverness
Home of the Thanes of Cawdor for over 600 years
People often ask me what there is to do in and around Inverness. We have three nearby castles that are great to explore.
Cawdor Castle is 13.9 miles, or 22.4 km from Inverness. Take the more scenic route from Inverness, the B9006, past Culloden Battlefield, Clava Cairns, the 19th century railway viaduct and Kilravock Castle.
From the gatekeeper’s lodge you drive along a straight avenue lined with cherry trees, a sheer delight in springtime when the trees are in blossom. Cawdor is a fairytale castle with a moat and drawbridge. The Thane of Cawdor built the four storey tower house in the 14th century to protect himself against clan warfare.
What is it like to live nowadays in an old stronghold built for defence purposes?
Already the drive from the gatekeeper’s lodge to the castle is a delight, especially in spring when the cherry trees are in bloom. It is a fairytale castle with a moat and drawbridge, leading to the very imposing tower house, the original building, and there are well-proportioned extentions which had been added later. The rooms inside are comfortable, they have a lived-in feeling, due to fresh flowers and light streaming in. In the drawing room the seats are arranged round a magnificent fire place, burning peat and birch wood from the estate in the winter. At one end there is a card table, in the middle an elegant writing table; family photos and open books and magazines contribute to the homely atmosphere. In another room the television is hidden behind the doors of a wooden cupboard. Oil paintings of eminent ancestors decorate the walls. You will walk through various bedrooms, the dining room, the old kitchen in the cellar and the new one where the modern equipment is concealed behind wood panelling.
What is the connection with Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’?
In Shakespeare’s play three witches suddenly appear before Macbeth, who has returned victorious from a battle, and hail him as “Thane of Glamis” and ”Thane of Cawdor” and prophesy that he will be “King hereafter”. However, the truth is that the historical Macbeth lived in the 11th century whereas Cawdor Castle was built 300 years later. But does that matter? Shakespeare often took liberties with history. And as to the witches! Just imagine yourself on a gloomy, misty day walking alone on open deserted moorland on Cawdor estate; is it not possible to imagine fog patches to be nebulous figures who murmur whatever is on your mind?
Do we know how old the castle is?
Yes, there is another great story about it. In the 14th century the then Thane of Cawdor planned to build a new castle for himself. There was plenty of space, so he was in a quandary where to erect it. In a dream he was advised to load a coffer of gold onto the back of a donkey and let the animal roam around all day. In the evening, the donkey lay down under a tree and that apparently was the right place to site his castle. And so he built the castle round the tree.
An unlikely story! Where would he got all the gold from and would he really have piled all his treasure onto the donkey’s back?
Well, the evidence is in the cellar of the castle where you will see the tree. Recent radiocarbon tests established that the tree died in 1372. Well, not surprisingly, any plant will wither away when you build a castle on top of it! But the tree is said to have magical powers. As long as the tree stands the castle and its inhabitants are safe. And it is true that the castle has never been conquered.
Who owns the castle? Is it still in the same family?
Yes, the current resident is Lady Angelika, the Dowager Countess Cawdor.
The 6th Earl of Cawdor died in 1993 and in his will he left the castle not to his eldest son but to his Czech-born second wife, Lady Angelika, who had been very much involved in running the castle. His son from his first marriage inherited the title and the estate but not the castle. His son, who now is the 7th Earl of Cawdor, contested his father’s will, and while his stepmother, the Dowager Countess Cawdor, was on holiday in America he moved into the castle with his wife, their three children and his brother-in-law. However, the court confirmed Lady Angelika’s right to the castle and he and his family had to move out.
Does the Countess really live in the castle in the winter months? Is it not like living in a museum?
Lady Angelika is interested in modern art. There is a whole corridor where recent works are hung on one side and 17th century portraits on the other. There is an eclectic mix of paintings in the rooms and there are modern sculptures outside in the gardens. She personally has contributed to all of it and many pieces will hold meaning for her. I heard that Lady Angelika sleeps in the four-poster bed with the red curtains, the ostrich feathers and the Flemish tapestry at the walls. I don’t know if that is true. It is a bit strange to have thousands of people snooping around your bed chamber during the summer months.
A castle surely is too big for one person?
The Countess invites guests and there are modern rooms which can accommodate shooting parties. Of course, the whole estate is run as a commercial enterprise.
Is there a park or a garden associated with it?
The whole area is beautifully landscaped. On the right side of the castle there is a magnificent walled garden in the French style, and on the left a beautiful flower garden. Extraordinarily fine and exotic ancient trees grow in the area around the castle. Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy a game on the 9 hole golf course or the putting green, or walk along the waymarked nature trails in the extensive woodland behind the castle.
Why should we visit an old castle?
On the one hand we are all interested in history, we want to know how people lived in the past and a castle is something concrete that we can inspect. On the other it also satisfies our curiosity of how some of the upper classes live today, within walls that have seen almost 700 years of history.