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Crathes Castle in Scotland

A so-called “tower house”, Crathes Castle in Scotland has been added to and changed over the centuries. First built in the mid-16th century, it was the home of the Burnett family of Leys, who lived there for over 300 years. It’s one of the 14 castles in Aberdeenshire worth visiting.

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The tower part of Crathes Castle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland.
The tower part of Crathes Castle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland.

Crathes Castle still has its original tower that must have once resembled Craigievar’s, with thick fortified walls on the lower floors and more fanciful, decorative elements at the top. But a wing was added in the 18th century, changing the overall shape of the house, and enlarging it considerably.

Like Craigievar, the interior of Crathes Castle is unchanged since the last inhabitant, the 13th Baronet of Leys, Sir James Burnett, handed it over to the National Trust for Scotland in 1951.


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Touring Crathes Castle in Scotland

Unlike at Craigievar, visitors can explore the house on their own and take pictures inside, and we found attendants in most rooms ready and willing to answer questions about what we saw. They pointed out things, for example, like the ornately embroidered quilt on one of the beds, a family heirloom. Or, in another bedroom, the amusingly carved faces in the headboard and corner bedposts.

The bedpost is thick and has 4 faces, each on a side, carved in the wood.
carvings on a bedpost in one of the bedrooms

The main hall is similar to Craigievar’s main hall: large and rectangular, with a high, arched ceiling. In both cases, the walls are thick and the original windows are small. In both cases larger windows were cut through later to let in the light. Crathes’s main hall gives a cozy impression, despite its size, and is dotted with family mementos.

An arched window with draped curtains lets light into a room with a couch, a dark carpet, armchairs, cupboards, etc.
This photo shows only one half of the main hall, a long, arched space. The big window on the end was a later addition, but you can see one of the original windows up high on the right.

The original windows, high up in the room, still have paintwork above them, accentuating the thickness of the walls. The paintings may or may not have extended out over the whole ceiling when the castle was young.

The painting that remains shows a coat of arms on the small ceiling above the window, which is set in a thick wall at Crathes Castle in Scotland
detail of the painting above an earlier window

In some rooms the ceiling beams are low and have been painted. According to one of the staff, they were originally painted centuries ago, but many of the images were repainted and embellished by the occupants in the Victorian period, an era particularly enamored of medieval imagery and architecture. Accompanied by texts in “olde” English, the ceilings illustrate, for example, a series of heroic figures or, in the nursery, what appear to be monsters. (Why anyone would paint these in a nursery, I don’t know.)

Towards the top of the tower is a long, arched room that was used for parties, among other things. What surprised me in this room was the quality of some of the framed paintings on the walls, barely visible in the dim light. A still life by Pieter Claesz, painted in 1636. A Pieter Neefs. A Claes Molenaer. It was a small but outstanding collection of Flemish and Dutch Golden Age works.

The painting shows the interior of a cathedral, with people standing in the foreground.
One of the Golden Age paintings at the top of the tower.

Crathes Castle garden

The garden at Crathes Castle is a destination in itself. Apparently the yew hedges are over 300 years old. I was impressed by the topiary on those hedges: all abstract curved lines on the free-standing ones, regimented consistency on the hedges that form walls dividing themed areas of the garden.

The walled garden at Crathes Castle, Scotland, can be seen in the distance in this view.
a view of the garden as seen from the castle

Besides the walled garden, Crathes Castle’s estate includes two square kilometers of land, with trails you can walk to take in the wildlife.

Life of the landed aristocracy

Crathes Castle is a good way to gain an idea of what it was like for people to live in a family heirloom castle like this one. The most recent inhabitants had all the “mod-cons” – plumbing, electricity, and a big cast-iron stove – but they also lived surrounded by the clutter collected by the previous generations.

I can imagine that that resistance to change would get tiresome, especially for 20th century descendants. Yet their loyalty to their ancestors means that we, the present-day tourists visiting the castle, get to enjoy an authentic look at life in a Scottish castle.


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The whole building is visible with its little towers and crenellations. It is tinted orange in the sunlight against a blue sky.
How Crathes Castle in Scotland looks from the garden in the late afternoon.

Information for visiting Crathes Castle

Crathes Castle is just off the A93 east of Banchory.

Getting there by car: If you’re driving from Aberdeen, it should take 35-40 minutes. The entrance is signposted off the A93 after Crathes village. If you get to Banchory, you’ve gone too far.

Getting there by bus: From Union Square bus station in Aberdeen, bus 201 or 202 will get you to the entrance road in about an hour. The walk from the bus stop on the A93 to the castle will take about 20 minutes.

Opening hours: November-March only on Saturdays and Sundays 11:00-16:00 (closed on some holidays, so check the castle’s website.) In April-October: open daily 10:30-17:00.

Admission: £13 / €15 / $16.

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