North East Castle Trail

Craigievar Castle in autumn

Known as Scotland’s Castle Country, Aberdeenshire has more castles per acre than anywhere else in the UK. Picturesquely situated and packed with history – here are some of the best castles and historic houses on our North East Castle Trail.

Step back in time on this 3-day itinerary and be inspired by stories of the past, ghostly facts and beautiful treasures!

Day 1

Stop 1 – Crathes Castle

Start off your day with a visit to the magnificent Crathes Castle near Banchory. Standing against a backdrop of rolling hills and set within its own sublime gardens, it’s a fine example of a 16th-century Scottish tower house, with turrets and winding staircases.

The castle was built by Alexander Burnett and was held in that family for almost 400 years.

Inside, there’s a labyrinth of cultural history, from family portraits and fine antique furniture to painted ceilings.

Outside the castle, the grounds offer 600 acres of designed landscape. The spectacular walled garden is split into eight sections that encompass every green delight imaginable - a sculpted topiary dating from 1702, soft herbaceous colours and modern exotic blooms.

Ghost stories

The Green Lady’s Room was named after the spirit of a young woman who has often been seen by the fireplace wearing a green dress and cradling an infant in her arms. When the castle was renovated in the 1800s, the bones of a child – presumed murdered – were discovered under the hearthstone of the fireplace.

Looking up at Crathes Castle from beside the tall hedges in the garden, on a sunny day.

Stop 2 – Drum Castle

6 miles away is Drum Castle, one of Royal Deeside’s most beautiful castles, whose history stretches back 700 years. Its impressive architecture combines a medieval keep, Jacobean mansion house and Victorian extension.

On the main floor of the medieval High Hall, you’ll find one of the finest libraries in any Scottish castle, now home to around 4,000 volumes, some of which date back to the 1500s.

Outside the castle, the estate includes the gorgeous Garden of Historic Roses, divided into quadrants that show how roses have been cultivated from the 17th to the 20th century.

The castle contains a fine collection of furniture and portraits collected by the family over the past 400 years.

The charming ancient oak forest that adjoins the castle has oak trees dating from the 1700s and is home to red kites, roe deer, red squirrels and badgers.

Ghost stories

Over the years, many people have reported seeing the ghost of young Alexander Irvine, son of the 20th Laird of Drum, who died aged just six in 1865, and hearing his haunting laughter throughout the castle. It’s thought that he returns there to play with his brothers and sisters.

An exterior view of Drum Castle with a large area of grass in the foreground.

Day 2

Stop 1 – Castle Fraser

Continue the castle trail and enjoy incredible views at Castle Fraser, one of the grandest of the Scottish baronial tower houses – a great place to soak up the atmosphere of old Scotland.

From the striking simplicity of the medieval Great Hall to the well-stocked library and Victorian bedrooms, a tour of the castle gives a sense of walking through history. Each laird stamped his personality on the house, from the various ways of spying on guests in the Great Hall to trophies gathered on global adventures.

The panoramic views from the top of the round tower are spectacular, revealing the courtyard, gardens and estate beyond, ready to be explored. The distinctive peaks of Bennachie can be seen in the distance.

Outside, the traditional walled garden is laid out as it was in Victorian times and includes specimen trees, herbaceous borders, a medicinal border and fruit and vegetable plots.

Ghost stories

Over the years there have been many sightings of a young woman who was murdered in the Green Room. When her bloodied body was dragged down the round tower, it stained the steps to such an extent that they had to be covered in the wooden panelling we see today. Dressed in a long black gown, the ghost of Lady Blanche Drummond, who died in 1874, also wanders the castle and its grounds.

An exterior view of Castle Fraser, framed by leafy tall trees.

Stop 2 – Craigievar Castle

If fairytales were real, all castles would look like Craigievar! A great example of Scottish Baronial architecture with a fantastic atmospheric and period interior, this delightful Aberdeenshire castle is said to have been the inspiration for the castle in Disney’s Cinderella.

Built in 1626, it’s generally regarded as Scotland’s best preserved and most loved tower house. It was the seat of the Forbes family and Clan Sempill who lived here for 350 years.

Inside, the rooms are filled with outstanding artefacts and art – including weapons, armour and Raeburn portraits.

The castle is set in beautiful wooded grounds in the rolling hills of Aberdeenshire, with a Victorian kitchen garden, an unusual Scottish glen garden and two waymarked woodland trails. In early summer the woodland floor glows with bluebells. Keep an eye out for red squirrels and pine martens scurrying through the undergrowth.

Ghost stories

Behind the enchanting façade of this pretty pink castle lies a dark history, filled with ancient clan feuds and murder most foul. Despite this, the most frequently sighted spirit of Craigievar is a musician – the castle is said to be haunted by the ghost of a fiddler, who fell into the castle well and drowned many years ago.

Day 3

Stop 1 – Leith Hall

Start off your third day by visiting Leith Hall in Kennethmont. Bearing a striking resemblance to a French chateau, this elegant 17th-century Scottish tower house was home to the Leith-Hay family for nearly 400 years.

Full of family treasures, the house is quirky and curious, with interiors including a fine collection of family portraits, continental paintings and scenes from the family’s illustrious military history.

Outside, the beautiful grounds contain nearly 6 acres of walled gardens, laid out as they were in Victorian times. The gardens have extensive herbaceous borders, a large rock garden and a kitchen garden, with a huge variety of flowering trees, shrubs, roses, fruit and vegetables.

There are also spectacular views of the surrounding hills, three waymarked walks through mixed woodland and an 18th-century stable block and ice house.

Ghost stories

Leith Hall is haunted by the ghost of John Leith, who was shot in 1763 in a drunken brawl in Aberdeen. He was brought home but died three days later on Christmas Day. Wearing dark green trousers and a shirt, he appears in great pain, lamenting his injuries, with a dirty white bandage wrapped around his head and covering his eyes.

The colour red dominates the lavish Music Room of Leith Hall

Stop 2 – Fyvie Castle

20 miles away is Fyvie Castle. This impressive 800-year-old fortress in the heart of Aberdeenshire is a splendid example of Scottish Baronial architecture with impressive Edwardian interiors. Held successively by the Lindsays, Prestons, Meldrums, Setons, Gordons and then Leiths, Fyvie Castle is one of the largest and most magnificent castles in Scotland.

The rooms are filled with fine furniture, tapestries, arms and armour and a fine portrait collection, including one of the largest private collections of Raeburns in the world.

Outside, the 18th-century walled garden has been redeveloped as a garden of Scottish fruits and vegetables. Fyvie Loch is a picturesque feature, which supports large numbers of wildfowl – swans, coots, moorhens and mallards are joined in the winter by greylag geese, tufted ducks and goldeneyes.

Ghost stories

The castle is haunted by the ghost of Lilias Drummond, ‘The Green Lady’. Legend tells that Lilias was starved to death by her husband, Alexander Seton, for failing to provide a son and heir. On the night of his second marriage, her ghostly laments were heard outside the marital bedchamber – in the morning, and still visible today, her name was found freshly scratched into the exterior castle walls.

Stop 3 – Haddo House

Finish off your trip at Haddo House near Tarves. Designed in 1732 by Scottish architect William Adam, this stately home is an example of the fashionable Palladian revival style. Modernisation and redecoration throughout the 19th century has resulted in an elegant blend of crisp Georgian architecture and opulent Victorian interior design.

Inside, the house contains excellent examples of fine art and furniture, along with family portraits that offer an insight into the lives of the Gordons who lived here.

This elegant Georgian mansion was home to the Gordon family for over 400 years.

The house is set in marvellous grounds, originally laid out by William Adam. The formal gardens are little changed from when they were designed for the 4th Earl of Aberdeen in the early 19th century and include a lavish herbaceous border, geometric rose beds, sundials and a fountain.

Ghost stories

One of the most famous residents was Lord Archibald Gordon, affectionately known as Archie, who died in a car accident in 1909. Dressed in hunting tweeds and with a shock of ginger hair, Archie’s ghost is often seen smiling and talking to visitors!

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