According to a family story, John Campbell, the 5th Earl Cawdor (1900-1970) was reported to have grumpily commented (probably when asked one too many times about Macbeth), "I wish the Bard had never written his damned play!"
So much for the connection between the real Macbeth and 14th century Cawdor Castle - actually built about 300 years after life of the real (and fictional) Macbeth. Ironically, even in Shakespeare's play, the murder of the king takes place in Inverness. But because, early in the play, Macbeth is made Thane of Cawdor as a reward for victory in battle, the story has become attatched to this impressive fortified house.
Legends and Dark Deeds
The Thorn Tree: Visitors to the castle might be puzzled by the slender trunk of a long dead tree, still rooted in the ground and kept in a vaulted chamber in the oldest part of Cawdor Castle, According to legend, the Thane of Cawdor who built the house had a dream instructing him to load a donkey with chests of gold and to build his castle wherever the donkey decided to rest for the night. The donkey lay down beneath a hawthorn tree and there the castle was built - around the tree. Carbon testing of the tree shows that it died about 1372, probably close to the date the house was built.
Poor Little Muriel: Cawdor originally belonged to the Calder family (Cawdor is a variation of Calder). How it became part of the powerful Clan Campbell holdings (which it is to this day) is a typically nasty medieval story. Muriel Calder inherited the castle and estates when she was a young child. While her uncles squabbled over how to keep the castle within their family, Muriel attained the ripe old age of 12, at which point she was kidnapped by the Earl of Argyll and married to his son, Sir John Campbell. Whether this was a kidnap or a rescue despends upon which side relates the story. (Read the Campbell version). Nevertheless, imaginative sources suggest that a ghost in a blue velvet dress - who might be Muriel - stalks the castle corridors.
Things to see and do at Cawdor
After you've taken the house tour - which includes a kitchen in constant use relatively unchanged from the 1600s to the 1930s and the famous thorn tree - Cawdor's main attractions are outdoors and include:
- Golf - a 1161 yard (par 32) course is laid out over 25 acres of parkland. It's open daily, from May through September with a modest fee for a round of golf. Visitors who are touring the area can even hire clubs. Find out more
- Salmon fishing - The Banchor Beat on the River Findhorn is also known as the Laird's Beat of Cawdor Castle because it crosses the estate. If you're an experienced salmon fisherman and know how to go after different types of fish in the many pools and rocky stretches of the river, you can fish on your own. The beat can be rented, with two rods for three days costing about £800. The services of a ghillie, or local fishing guide, are extra. Find out more.
- Gardens - Three gardens, an 18th century flower garden, a 17th century walled garden, and a modern wild garden are all open to visitors. Some seasons, tea is served in the gardens.
A three bedroom cottage overlooking the Findhorn is also available for weekly rental.
Travel Tip - Cawdor is still a family home and only four rooms plus the thorn tree room are open to visitors. To get the most value from the admission price you should spend time in the gardens and make use of the nature trails through the "Big Wood"; otherwise, this is an expensive castle to visit.
- Where: Cawdor Castle, Nairn IV12 5RD, Scotland
- Contact: +44 (0)1667 404401
- Open: May 1 to September 30, from 10am to 5:30pm every day
- Admission: Adult, senior, student, child, family and group tickets available. Check website for current prices.
- Travel Directions: Find on a map or visit website for more.