Caerlaverock Castle

Caerlaverock Castle

Considered by many to be one of the finest castles in Scotland, Caerlaverock Castle is an awe-inspiring structure with a fascinating story. The castle is situated in Dumfries and Galloway and has a deep and bloody history entangled with English forces since it was constructed in the 13th century. From brutal cross-border conflicts and prolonged sieges, Caerlaverock Castle is a medieval stronghold that you can’t miss out on.

Caerlaverock is for you if you’re looking for historical attractions to add to your holiday plans while in Dumfries and Galloway, alongside cheese tasting, whisky distilleries, and bird-watching. Here’s everything you need to know when you visit this mighty castle, from its history, how to get there, and the top attractions to see.

History of Caerlaverock Castle

History of Caeralverock Castle

The earliest mentions of Caerlaverock Castle date back to 1160, when the castle was granted to the monks of Holm Cultram Abbey. However, by 1220, Alexander II gave them to Sir John Maxwell, and he was made Warden of the West March. Sir John Maxwell would slowly build the first substantial structure on these lands.

This structure would later be abandoned for a better position, where Sir Aymer Maxwell would start on Caerlaverock Castle proper. The new castle had a moat and was made from the stones that were dug from the original castle moat. It was here that, for a time, the Maxwell family would warden the western region of Scotland from English forces.

The Castle’s turbulent history owes quite a fair bit to its close proximity to England, a fact you’ll discover would lead to many sieges and conflicts.

Wars of Independence

Their wardenship would be tested multiple times during the Wars of Independence. In July of 1300, King Edward of England brought a terrible army to the front steps of Caerlaverock Castle. The castle was sieged, but the Maxwell family were extremely diligent in maintaining control over the castle and repelled the siege engines multiple times. However, they were compelled to surrender, and it was revealed that only 62 men were the ones who rebuked the entire English army so effectively!

Both throughout and after the Wars of Independence, Caerlaverock Castle would be rebuilt several times by Sir Eustace Maxwell and Sir Robert Maxwell between 1373 and 1410.

Mary, Queen of Scots

In 1567, the Maxwell family took up the cause of Mary, Queen of Scots, when she was forced to abdicate her throne. However, as a result, Caerlaverock Castle was besieged once more by the Earl of Sussex and an English Protestant force. The gatehouse to the castle was destroyed by gunpowder, with the rest of the castle partly demolished.

The 8th Lord Maxwell, John, began repairing the castle in 1593 and bolstered the gatehouse to offer a better defence.

The Earls of Nithsdale

By 1619, the Maxwell family had grown more powerful. Robert, the 10th Lord Maxwell, had married a favourite of James VI of Scotland and was made Earl of Nithsdale and appointed to the Privy Council of Scotland. After this social promotion, Robert built the Nithsdale Lodging, making the south and east range of Caerlaverock Castle more appropriate for his status.

They were completed in 1634, and for several years, Caerlaverock Castle was the site for socialising, dog hunting, and political affairs. In 1640, religious turmoil would cause conflict with the strictly Catholic Maxwell family. The Protestant Covenanter army would besiege the castle for 13 weeks, eventually leading to its surrender.

While the Early and Countess of Nithsdale would be allowed to leave, Maxwell would be put to the sword. Today, the Castle sits on the northern edge of the Caerlaverock National Nature Reserve, one of the best places to see barnacle geese and other waterfowl. Historic Environment Scotland manages it.

Important Details to Remember about Caerlaverock Castle

Here are some essential details to remember when visiting Caerlaverock Castle:

Caerlaverock Castle Opening Times

Caerlaverock Castle is open year-round, with opening times varying depending on when you arrive. During the peak and shoulder tourist seasons, between 29th March and 30th September, Caerlaverock Castle is open between 9:30 and 17:00 (with the last entry at 16:30).

Between 1st October and 28th March, the Castle is open between 10:00 and 16:00 (with the last entry at 15:30). The Castle is closed on the 25th and 26th of December and the 1st and 2nd of January.

There is currently no visitor access to the west range, outer stair, or northwest and east towers at the time of writing, but please check before you visit, as this may have changed.

Ticket Prices

Ticket Prices for visitor access to Caerlaverock Castle are as follows:

  • Adult Tickets (16 – 64 years old): £7.50
  • Child (7 – 15 years old): £4.50
  • Concessions (65+ years old): £6.00
  • Family Tickets: (£15.00 – £25.50)

If you’re a member, you can enjoy free entry if you’re a renewal of life member.


There are several accessibility options when visiting the Caerlaverock Castle as a disabled traveller.

  • A majority of the castle is visible without the need to climb steps. The visitor centre sits only 200 metres away from the castle, and the two are linked via tarmac and grass surfaces.
  • Assistance dogs are readily welcome at Caerlaverock Castle. Non-assistance dogs are also welcome but are not allowed under roofed areas.
  • There are picnic benches and summer seats ideal for resting.
  • Ear defenders for both children and adults are available, although limited in quantity.
  • There is overcover parking available on site.

How to Get to Caerlaverock Castle


Caerlaverock Castle sits near the border between Scotland and England in a region known as Dumfries and Galloway. Here are the easiest ways to reach the castle via car and bus.

By Bus

From Dumfries, the closest central Scottish town to Caerlaverock Castle, you can take the Whitesands 7 bus from Dumfries to Great King Street in Glencaple. Transfer to the 6A bus, which takes you to Castle End Road. Caerlaverock Castle is a 5-minute walk from the station. The entire trip should take just over an hour.

By Car

If you’re planning to travel to Caerlaverock by car from Dumfries, here’s the most direct route. Head south until you reach Bankendroad, and continue south until you transfer over to the B725. Turn left at the sign, and Caerlaverock Castle should be on your right.

Attractions at Caerlaverock Castle

Here are the top attractions that you should make time for when you visit Caerlaverock Castle.

Explore Caerlaverock Castle

Explore Caerlaverock Castle

The triangular-moated castle is an awe-inspiring sight. The castle shows signs of its long and turbulent history, with much of the walls and towers destroyed a fair bit. The castle’s unique triangular ground plan made it challenging to siege, with a solid structure and excellent viewpoints from its imposing battlements.

Before you reach the twin-towered gatehouse across the moat, stop by the plague that sits outside, which details the awe-inspiring castle from above. While there’s no visitor access to Caerlaverock Castle, you can stop by the visitor centre to learn about the present castle and the previous one that sits around 300 metres from the centre.

The Visitor Centre

Visitor Centre

Check out the fascinating siege warfare exhibition at the Caerlaverock Castle visitor centre. You can read stories about this castle’s conflicts with English heritage, the Maxwell family’s feud with the Johnstones of Annandale, and the final battle against the Protestant Covenanters.

You’ll also be able to see representations of the Medieval siege engines used to besiege the castle, the story of Herbert Maxwell, and so much more. The knowledgeable staff of Caerlaverock Castle will be more than happy to answer any questions you may have about the Castle and its history.

Feel free to give a donation, and all funds go to Historic Scotland and their ongoing support and maintenance of Scotland’s historic monuments.

Seeing Locations from Movies and TV Shows

Locations from Movies and TV

Caerlaverock Castle has been featured as the focal point for many movies and TV shows, although not always as itself. Fans of Scottish shows ‘Outlander’ and Mary, Queen of Scots may recognise the iconic red Standstone castle as a filming location. The castle was also featured as a location for the 2011 movie, ‘The Decoy Bride’.

Enjoy the Castle’s Tearoom

During the summer and on weekends during the winter months, Caerlaverock Castle is a fantastic tearoom, with the castle visible while you sip on drinks and enjoy finger snacks. The tearoom has a superb selection of freshly baked goods and finely ground coffee, so make sure to stop by for refreshments once you’ve thoroughly explored Caerlaverock.

Visit the Castle Adventure Park

For the little tots who still have energy to spare after exploring the entire castle, make sure to stop by the castle adventure park that can be found near the visitor centre. The adventure park is themed after the castle, with several fun activities that your children will enjoy.

Walk the Nature Trail Near to a Forgotten Castle

Nature Trail

Before Caerlaverock was built, the Maxwell family began to construct a castle a little further south. This forgotten castle is a stunning sight and an adventure to reach, with a nature trail that takes you through Dumfries and Galloway’s picturesque forests. The grazing land around this castle offers an excellent place to enjoy a picnic with friends and family.

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