Fancy a tour of the oldest standing stone castle in Scotland? The Aberdour Castle is home to crumbly ruins, delightful 17th-century painted reliefs, and a tonne of fascinating Scottish history that’ll enrich your visit to the golfing kingdom of Fife. There’s even a smattering of furniture in the east range to give you a better insight into what the castle ruins would’ve looked like in their heyday.
Wander around the delightful walled garden brimming with scented flowers that grow along the border of ancient walls, and peruse the collapsed tower, the stones of which date back to the 12th century. Even saying this, we’ve only skimmed the surface of the beauty that Aberdour has to offer.
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History of Aberdour Castle
Although there is no official date recorded for the birth of Aberdour Castle, architectural clues suggest it was originally built sometime during the early-to-mid 1100s as it resembles the nearby St. Fillan’s church, which was also built in the 12th century. It was first the home of Sir Alan de Mortimer and began as a grand hall house with a tower house.
In the early 14th century, Robert the Bruce gave it to Thomas Randolph, and later that century his grandson passed the residence on to the Douglas family, otherwise referred to as the Earls of Morton. The Douglas family wasn’t your average set of nobles, though. They were a powerhouse of influence in the Royal Courts thanks to a royal marriage between the first Earl of Morton and the daughter of King James I.
The Earls each added greatly to the architecture of Aberdour Castle to reflect their high status, and so the south block, stair tower, and other expansions were completed. From 1572 to 1578, the riches imbued from the 4th Earl of Morton’s status as Regent of Scotland allowed him to build gorgeous terraced gardens towards the south at Aberdour modelled after the French Renaissance-style landscaping he so admired in France.
The 7th Earl, William Douglas, continued to make Aberdour Castle an elegant spectacle, constructing a Renaissance east wing around 1635, and by 1637 the castle inventory counted luxurious carpets, furniture, and tapestries amongst its wealth and glamour.
Sadly a fire laid waste to the estate in 1688, and after some extensive repairs, a second fire finished the job during an occupation of government troops during the Jacobite Uprising in 1715. In 1725, an adjacent property called Cuttlehill House was bought and renamed Aberdour House by the Mortons to replace their ancestral home.
The repaired east range was used for a variety of functions afterwards, but in 1924 Historic Environment Scotland took the site over as an attraction.
Things to Remember About Aberdour Castle
Before you make the trip to the castle for a fabulous afternoon out, bear these things in mind.
Aberdour Castle Opening Times
From April to September, Aberdour Castle and Gardens are open every day from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm. In the winter months, from October to March, it opens from Saturday to Wednesday, 10 am to 4 pm.
The site is closed from 25 December to 5 January and generally closes from 12:30 pm to 1:30 pm for lunch. Last entry is 45 minutes before closing time.
An adult ticket costs £7.50, while a child’s ticket will set you back £4.50. A family ticket is available in 3 different variations from £20 to £34, depending on the size of your family. Concession tickets are £6 each.
The southern section of the ground floor, encompassing a tearoom, upper terrace, and walled garden, has limited access to all visitors.
Visitors using wheelchairs will not be able to explore the upper floors and terraces, and even those with mobility issues may find the turnpike stairs that lead upwards a bit challenging. The gardens and grounds have gravel paths, which may encumber wheelchair users, but assistance is available.
How to Get to Aberdour Castle
If you’re wondering how to get to the castle, take a look at these options by car and transit.
Ways to Get There Using a Car
There is limited parking at the castle for those with impaired movement, otherwise, the car park at the train station nearby serves as a free parking spot for Aberdour Castle visitors.
Ways to Get There Using Public Transport
The train is an easy choice when it comes to getting a ride to Aberdour Castle as the railway station is only 200 metres away. If you prefer the bus, the 7A and 87 have routes that pass the site, and there are multiple bus stops within a 4-minute walking distance.
Attractions at Aberdour Castle
Wondering what exactly you’re in for during a visit to Aberdour Castle? Wonder no more and simply look through this list of incredible attractions the site has to offer.
See the Tower House
Easily the oldest part of the castle, the tower house! It was initially only 2 storeys high until later extensions added more height in the 15th century.
Sadly in 1844 and again in 1919, the tower was the victim of significant collapses all the way to the basement, and now all that remains upright is a tall piece of the south east wall. Even the striking 13th-century double lancet window on the south wall was lost to the rubble that lies below to this day.
Examine the Central Range
Reaching 3 stories high, this refurbishment and expansion of the original hall house took place around 1570. New apartments were built, with two bedrooms on the first floor. They each had their own garderobes (toilets) and closets.
Another west bedroom opens out onto the terraced garden and has a private staircase leading to three more chambers above, suggesting that the Earl and Countess lived in this large and imposing suite of rooms as they were more private. The timber floors of these three rooms are long since gone, so there are access restrictions in place.
The 4th Earl of Morton was responsible for this upgrade, and as Regent of Scotland, you can tell he was fully embracing his role by the first-floor window, which was decoratively modelled after the ones at Edinburgh Castle. Unfortunately, not much of the central range survived a fire in 1715, but what does remain is special to behold.
Visit the East Range
Constructed around 1635, it is simply a long, narrow building with a short wing that extends to the southeast, but it’s the only building at Aberdour that remains roofed.
The ground floor housed stables and store rooms. The first floor is the most elaborate, reserved for entertaining, and was recorded in 1647 as being decorated with 46 pictures as well as a harpsichord – talk about big spenders!
The famous 17th-century painted ceiling of the east range’s first floor deserves every bit of idolisation it gets. The paintings of flowers, fruit, and other symbols are still very visible, though delicately etched away here and there by the passage of time. The motifs generously sprawled along the withered timbers of the painted ceiling are a beautiful insight into the decorating senses of the past.
Stroll About the Gardens
Since 1540, gardens have graced the grounds of Aberdour Castle. The terraced gardens implemented by the 4th Earl of Morton after 1553 take up a significant portion of the lands and are rather grand in stature if a little plain.
No flowers burst in vibrant colour across this garden – a simple but pristine lake of grass straddles each L-shaped terrace. There isn’t even any historical evidence of any botanical whimsy planned for the area. There was, however, an orchard established at the bottom of the terraces in 1690, and recently one has been replanted to honour the historic memory of the garden’s layout.
The walled gardens, however, take up an impressive 5,000 square metres and are surrounded by a wall that reaches as high as 4 metres, and here flowers and herbs bloom in abundance. It sits west of the outer courtyard, with a door to the west that leads to the terraced garden.
Don’t Miss the Doocot
A doocot is a pigeon house, and the one at Aberdour Castle sits within the boundaries of the terraced garden to the south. Its impressive tapering and rounded structure gives the impression of a beehive-shaped doocot reaching 9 metres high.
600 nesting boxes line its curving walls that rise in four tiers, each marked by “rat courses.” These were ribs that stood out from the building to prevent rats from entering
Some events take place throughout the year at Aberdour Castle, such as a family-fun potion-making scavenger hunt for Halloween or the crowning of the Festival King and Queen during the Aberdour Festival. Take a look at the Historic Environment Scotland website for more information and bookings.
Tips and Advice to Have a Fulfilling Trip
- St. Fillan’s Church is a charming little side trip from the castle, being only a short walk away through the walled garden and out the east gate down a small lane.
- Purchase an Explorer Pass from Historic Environment Scotland and save some money while visiting this site and even more Scottish landmarks.
- Stop at one of the gin distilleries in Glasgow or Edinburgh for a tasty and invigorating experience after you’ve finished sightseeing.
- Take a guided tour of Aberdour Castle & gardens to really get an appreciation for all the history that took place here.
- If you brought Fido on your trip, the good news is dogs are allowed on the castle grounds provided they’re on a lead. They’re just restricted from entering the roofed areas.
- Coming from Edinburgh? Before you hit the road for the castle, stock up on snacks from some of the most delicious chocolatiers in the city.
- If you plan on staying in the area, here are some brilliant accommodation options in Fife.
Interesting Facts about Aberdour Castle
Fans of the riveting time travel romance drama “Outlander” will be thrilled to know that Aberdour Castle, Fife, is more than a part of historic Scotland – it’s also one of the filming locations for this beloved TV series.
The Long Gallery and Old Kitchen specifically were used as backdrops where Jamie recovers at the French monastery Saint Anne de Beaupré. So even though the castle serves as a double for a French building, it’s still pretty special to walk the same steps the actors did.
In 1572, the 4th Earl of Morton was appointed as the Regent of Scotland and ruled in lieu of the child King James VI, who was the son of Mary Queen of Scots. His rise to power ended abruptly with his execution after he was implicated in the murder of the father of James VI, Lord Darnley.
Aberdour Castle hosted Anne of Denmark and King James Vi for 5 days in December of 1590 while they visited Lord Spynie, a relative by marriage of the Mortons.
More Scottish Castles to Visit
- Balmoral Castle
- Balvenie Castle
- Blackness Castle
- Blair Castle
- Brodick Castle
- Castle Campbell
- Castle Menzies
- Cawdor Castle
- Corgarff Castle
- Culzean Castle and Country Park
- Dirleton Castle
- Doune Castle
- Drumlanrig Castle
- Duart Castle
- Dumbarton Castle
- Dunnottar Castle
- Dunrobin Castle and Gardens
- Dunstaffnage Castle
- Dunvegan Castle
- Edinburgh Castle
- Eilean Donan Castle
- Fyvie Castle
- Glamis Castle
- Huntly Castle
- Inveraray Castle
- Kellie Castle
- Kilchurn Castle
- Lochleven Castle
- Muness Castle
- Ravenscraig Castle
- Scalloway Castle
- St Andrews Castle and Cathedral
- Stirling Castle
- Tantallon Castle
- Thirlestane Castle
- Threave Castle