From the roofs to the doors, our buildings allow for a grand tour of Scotland’s most noteworthy exteriors.

You can tell a lot about a building from its exterior. In fact, when you visit our built properties you can learn about centuries of Scottish design, architecture and craftsmanship before you’ve even set foot inside the door.

What’s interesting about exteriors?

We have a unique range of buildings in our care. We don’t just own defensive castles and imposing mansions but a wide variety of vernacular buildings too – there’s no single period or style that we care for. Every property has something to teach us about Scotland’s heritage – when they were built, what for and who by.

Something as simple as a roof can tell us all kinds of interesting things. Sloped roofs were often designed that way to shed the rain and snow, but in other cases people wanted their roofs to be shallow so they wouldn’t be seen. Thatched roofs show us what materials were available to different communities. They also shine a light on the ingenuity and craftsmanship of the people who once lived here.

And then we may notice the windows, doors and walls, and their different materials, techniques and functions. Some of our buildings were designed as fortresses; some as works of art. Some lead the way for classical architecture; others bring different styles together to do something completely new.

Whether you’re visiting a Highland castle or a little house in Culross, you’re guaranteed to find something interesting.

How exteriors have changed

Over the years, architectural styles evolved to follow trends, and also reflect shifting cultures, different needs and the arrival of new materials and technologies.

Here are five very different exteriors, each with their own story to tell:

Alloa Tower, Clackmannanshire (14th century)

Alloa Tower is a stand-alone tower (although there was once a classical addition to it, which burned down) that dates back to the 1300s. It is a great example of a medieval defensive 'keep'. There’s not much decoration on a defensive building like this – the windows are small, the floors are raised, and the walls and doors are thick, all of which was designed to help keep enemies at bay.

Craigievar, Aberdeenshire (16th century)

Sometimes properties are adapted over time. Craigievar Castle started its life as a defensive building – with the usual small windows and high-rise turrets – but these defensive features were then turned into a work of art. The functional walls were finished with lime harling and painted a subtle shade of pink, which probably reflected the well-travelled tastes of the castle’s owners as well as using locally available materials.

Moirlanich Longhouse, Killin (18th century)

Moirlanich is the best example you’ll find of an ‘organic’ vernacular property. Vernacular buildings were very functional, with little to no decoration. But more importantly, they were built using materials from the immediate area – the Robertsons, who lived and bred horses here for four generations, would have used wood from a nearby forest to build the frame, stone from a nearby quarry to build the walls, local lime and clay for binding the walls and simple decoration, and local thatching materials for the roof.

The front of House of Dun with views over Montrose Basin

House of Dun, Angus (18th century)

The famous Georgian style attempted to reflect classical architecture with the use of columns, cornicing and rustication (a type of decorative masonry). The House of Dun, designed by the famous Scottish architect William Adam, exhibits every detail that you’d expect to find in a Georgian building. It’s widely considered to be the finest example of its kind that Adam had a hand in, and rumour has it that his elegant designs were inspired in part by the Chateau d’Issy near Paris.

Exterior view of the Hill House from the garden on a sunny day

Hill House, Helensburgh (20th century)

Centuries after the functional, defensive architecture of Alloa Tower, new technologies and materials meant that designers like Charles Rennie Mackintosh could push the boundaries. When designing his Hill House masterpiece, Mackintosh had access to cement and steel, although he also embraced vernacular techniques like harling. Both traditional and modern, expressive and minimalist, it’s clear that Hill House was a major inspiration for 20th-century modernists and the likes of Le Corbusier.