The 10 Loneliest Castles in the United Kingdom

Avoid the long lines and concession stands by touring one of these off-the-beaten-path castles. Travel Channel rounds up 10 of the best.

By: Joe Sills
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Photo By: Northern Ireland Tourism Board

Photo By: Crown © 2019 Cadw

Photo By: Joe Sills

Photo By: Crown © 2019 Cadw

Photo By: Joe Sills

Photo By: Historic England Photo Library

Photo By: Joe Sills

Photo By: Crown © 2019 Cadw

Photo By: Historic England Photo Library

Photo By: Joe Sills

Dunluce Castle, Northern Ireland

The seaside ruins of Dunluce could be pulled straight from the pages of Tolkien. Surrounded by steep cliffs on three sides, the stones at Dunluce were first laid in 1584. Its dramatic history includes the pillaging of a wrecked Spanish galleon on its coast, the rediscovery of a nearby lost village, and its service as the filming location for Castle Greyjoy on HBO's "Game of Thrones."

An hour’s drive up the M2 will take you from Belfast to the gates of Dunluce Castle. A nearby car park provides views of its ruined towers over the crashing swells below.

Llansteffan Castle, Wales

An Iron Age fort once stood on this hill overlooking the Bristol Channel. Today, the remains of its last fortification, Llansteffan Castle, still survey the sweeping sands and ebbing tides below. Llansteffan was largely constructed by a powerful, Welsh family between the 12th and 14th centuries, and it played a brief role in Owain Glyndŵr’s rebellion against English rule in 1405.

It is privately owned by a local family, who open the gates free of charge, from 10:00 a.m.—4:00 p.m. daily.

Duffus Castle, Scotland

The peaceful ruins of Duffus Castle rest just over an hour from the bus lanes and bustle of Urquhart Castle on the shores of Loch Ness. Originally built in the 1100s, Duffus once commanded the surrounding lands of Moreyshire and the fishing villages along the nearby Morey Firth. Today, its ruins are a reminder of the ambition of early castle builders. Constructed before science was sound, its stone walls ultimately slid away from the man-made earthen mound below.

There are no lines here, and no concession stands. At Duffus Castle, there’s not even a restroom, so plan to go before your visit.

Carreg Cennen, Wales

500 years after it fell into ruin, Carreg Cennen still towers proudly atop a rocky outcropping in the Welsh countryside, 45-minutes from Swansea. The walls of Carreg Cennan house a natural cave with fresh spring water, which combine with limestone cliffs to make it one of the most formidable defenses of medieval times.

Roman coins dating to the 1st century have been found on the site, indicating that it could have been used by humans for at least 2,000 years.

Bothwell Castle, Scotland

Bothwell Castle sits just 20 minutes from Glasgow Airport. Yet, despite being on the outskirts of Scotland’s largest city, its scarlet, sandstone walls welcome only a smattering of visitors, mostly dog-walkers, each day. Unlike many castles on our list, Bothwell does charge an admission fee—just $3.30—and does have a small staff to oversee your visit. This makes it an ideal destination for people who want easy access to their own slice of history.

Historic Scotland maintains the site, which features historic markers denoting the history of the castle, beginning in the 1200s, and its role in the Wars of Scottish Independence.

Bowes Castle, England

Bowes Castle was built some 900 years ago on the ruins of an ancient Roman fort that had already occupied the site for a millennium. Largely abandoned since the late 1600s, Bowes Castle charges no admission fee, and usually cedes curious crowds to the more opulent Raby Castle, just 20 minutes away.

Today, the ruins of Bowes offer a welcome break from the road for travelers headed towards the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales National Park, and the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Pair a visit with a trip to Epiacum Roman Fort, less than an hour away.

Ardvreck Castle, Scotland

Built in the 1590s, this lonesome ruin lies deep in the Scottish Highlands on the shores of Loch Assynt. There, it’s said to watch over the mermaid spirit of one of its former owners, a lost girl named Eihmir MacLeod. Eihmir is said to have fled into the loch to escape the devil—and there, she has always remained.

You’ll find no gate at Aardvreck Castle, only a short retaining wall kept standing in an eternal fight against the rising waves.

Dolwyddelan Castle, Wales

Known as the Solitary Sentinel, Dolwyddelan Castle perches over a grassy hills amidst the mountains of Wales’s Snowdonia National Park. Dolwyddelan was part of a series of mountain fortresses that guarded Wales for much of the 1200s, and it guarded the entire vale of Conwy before King Edward I of England conquered its walls in 1283.

The 2,800-foot Welsh mountain of Moel Siabod serves as a backdrop to Dolwyddelan, one of the most beautiful castles on our list.

Dunstanburgh Castle, England

A full six hours by car from London, the ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle are well-insulated from throngs of American tourists in England’s capital. Here, on the Northumberland coast, you’ll find a sprinkling of golfers and a pet-friendly castle that imposes an impressive presence over the ocean. The nearest sizable parking lot is 1.3 miles from the gates, so plan on taking your time for this visit. On a clear day, the walk up the coast is easily as enjoyable as exploring the ruins themselves.

The castle grounds are located within the Northumberland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and pair well with a trip to the Farne Islands to spot puffins and seal pups.

Foulis Castle, Scotland

For much of the past 200 years, Foulis Castle has lingered in a state of semi-abandonment just outside of the highland city of Inverness. In its original glory, the castle was a medieval fortress that played a prominent role in local history for some 600 years. However, after being heavily damaged by the Jacobites in 1746, Foulis was rebuilt as an Enlightenment-era estate.

Today, you can spend the night in one of several Airbnbs located on the castle grounds. Doing so gives you virtually free roam of the castle grounds, and a guaranteed ticket to avoiding crowds. Remnants of the castle’s original fortifications can still be found through a secluded doorway in the courtyard.

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