Many of Scotland’s oldest hotels speak volumes about the country’s past, having hosted key figures from Scottish history and played vital roles in various bloody conflicts.
Stay over at some of the venues we’ve picked out below and you’ll be following in the footsteps of Scottish icons such as Bonnie Prince Charlie, Rob Roy MacGregor and Robert Burns, as well as British monarchs from across the ages.
Luckily, the conditions have improved a fair bit since those days, and you can soak up the atmosphere while revelling in some serious luxury, should you want to indulge a little.
1. Dalhousie Castle, Midlothian
Dating back to the 13th century (only foundation walls survive from that time and most parts of the current castle are mid-15th century), this castle on the edge of the River Esk was held by the Ramsay family of Dalhousie for around 800 years, longer than any other family held a Scottish castle.
In 1298, King Edward I of England is alleged to have spent the night at the castle on his way to the Battle of Falkirk, where he defeated a Scottish army led by William Wallace. During this time, Dalhousie was held by William Ramsay, who later switched sides and fought for Scotland alongside Robert the Bruce in the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. English forces later took Dalhousie, but Alexander Ramsay regained the castle around 1342.
2. Salutation Hotel, Perth
This grand hotel in the heart of Perth is one of several venues claiming to be the oldest hotel in Scotland, having been in operation since 1699, initially as a coaching inn.
The hotel’s most famous guest is Bonnie Prince Charlie, the ‘Young Pretender’ who led the Jacobite rising in 1745 in an attempt to recoup the British throne for the House of Stuart. Although Charlie didn’t sleep at the Salutation, he’s alleged to have planned elements of the rising in what is now room 20 of the hotel. Some say that his ghost haunts the Salutation to this day.
3. The Kenmore Hotel, Aberfeldy
Another hotel claiming to be Scotland’s oldest is the Kenmore, an inn which dates back to 1502, when it offered the ever-popular combination of ‘accommodation and refreshments’. The Kenmore Hotel has been a popular choice for famous figures over the years, including Oliver Cromwell, who dined there with his troops as they were pursuing the Earl of Montrose in the 17th century. The service and food must have been exemplary, as Cromwell and his men refrained from burning down the Kenmore, unlike other venues in the area.
Later on, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert spent part of their honeymoon at the hotel. The Scottish poet Robert ‘Rabbie’ Burns also visited, even writing a poem about the area during his stay. The poem still hangs on the Kenmore’s chimney breast today.
4. Dornoch Castle Hotel, Sutherland
Although it only became a hotel in 1947, the origins of this handsome castle are thought to go back to the late 15th century, perhaps even earlier. Sadly, pinpointing a more precise date is impossible, as early records were destroyed during a siege in 1570. The siege was a particularly violent affair, fought between the Murray and Mackay clans over a long-standing feud, ignited by the Earl of Caithness.
The town of Dornoch was subject to days of fighting and residents were forced to take refuge in the castle and the 13th-century cathedral directly opposite. Eventually, a peace treaty was agreed, also stipulating that 3 members of the Murray clan be given as hostages. As soon as they were handed over, they were beheaded, signalling a grim end to an extended and bloody battle.
If you need a drink to steady your nerves after all that gore, gulp down a dram of whisky or gin from the hotel’s on-site Dornoch Distillery.
5. The Drovers Inn, Loch Lomond
This popular hotel and pub was built in 1705 and is named after the area’s cattle drovers, who would walk, or ‘drive’, their cattle from Loch Lomond to nearby markets. Local drovers would also have used the inn, and it’s claimed that Scotland’s most famous drover of them all, Rob Roy MacGregor, even paid a visit.
The Drovers is also reputed to be one of Scotland’s most haunted pubs, not by Rob Roy, but by the ghost of a fellow drover, as well as that of a young girl who is said to have drowned in a nearby river.
Scotland’s oldest continually inhabited house is bound to have a few tales to tell, and that’s exactly what Traquair has to offer. It dates back to 1107 and was originally built as a royal hunting lodge, but was given to James Stewart in 1491, as a gift from his father, the Earl of Buchan. Generations of the Stuart family have lived in the house ever since.
Over the years, Traquair has been visited by an impressive 27 Scottish monarchs, including Mary, Queen of Scots in 1566. Long before then, Traquair was briefly held by English troops during the Scottish Wars of Independence, when it was used as one of many defensive towers in the area. The house was returned to the Scottish when Robert the Bruce came to power in 1306. Catherine Maxwell Stuart, 21st Lady of Traquair, still lives in the property, whilst also operating it as a guesthouse.
7. Garrison of Inversnaid, Loch Lomond
The Duke of Montrose had this remote building constructed in 1718 as a garrison (a military post for troops to be stationed at), as a show of force during a lengthy feud with Rob Roy MacGregor. When Rob Roy couldn’t pay him back a loan, the Duke of Montrose publicly declared MacGregor an outlaw and built this garrison in the middle of land owned by Rob Roy’s Gregor clan. This was the start of a lengthy fight between the pair.
The building was eventually captured by Jacobite soldiers in 1745 and remained as a garrison of sorts until the end of the 18th century, after which time it was used as an inn and a sheep farm, before becoming a bed and breakfast for those who want a truly secluded stay in the Scottish countryside.
8. Kilmartin Castle, Argyll
Kilmartin Castle stands on the fringes of a prehistoric landscape, Kilmartin Glen, filled with some of Scotland’s most valuable Neolithic and Bronze Age remains. The castle itself is almost 500 years old. A man named John Carswell was appointed the first caretaker of the castle in 1550, before being given the prestigious title of Bishop of the Isles in 1575 by the 5th Earl of Argyll, who Carswell had tutored in his youth.
Carswell clearly knew his trades, as Mary Queen of Scots later rewarded him by handing over control of Ioana Abbey on the nearby Isle of Mull. After this, the Campbell clan held Kilmartin Castle for around 200 years, before it fell into disrepair towards the end of the 18th century. Nowadays, it’s been converted into a luxurious hotel, where you can wake up in a four-poster bed.
9. Barcaldine Castle, Oban
Made up of a series of towers and turrets, this striking late-16th or early-17th-century castle in the coastal town of Oban holds a dark history. The castle was a key location in the Massacre of Glencoe in 1692, when 38 members of the MacDonald clan of Glencoe were murdered by soldiers from the Campbell clan.
The Campbell soldiers had been staying with the MacDonalds and enjoying their hospitality for 12 days, when they received government orders to slay the MacDonalds, as punishment for the late signing of an oath of allegiance to King William III of England.
The lateness was due to the MacDonald chief, Alasdair MacDonald, being temporarily detained at Barcaldine Castle as part of a plot to deliberately cause a delay in signing. This delay then created an excuse for the MacDonald clan to be killed for apparent disobedience to the Crown.
10. Braidwood Castle, South Lanarkshire
Also known as the Tower of Hallbar, this unusual-looking tower house is thought to have been built in 1581 as a fortalice (a small fort constructed for defensive purposes) for the land of the Baron of Braidwood, a title given to John de Montfort in 1326 by Robert the Bruce.
The castle changed hands several times over the following centuries before it was purchased by Sir George Lockhart of Braidwood (also known as Sir George Lockhart of Carnwath), a Scottish judge who was murdered by a vengeful former defendant that Lockhart had ruled against in court. The castle was passed on to Lockhart’s son and remains with the family. It was converted into holiday accommodation in the early 2000s.