The best of Scottish Castle gardens - Cawdor

Cawdor is a small castle near Inverness, with well-established gardens
Castles are synonymous with Scotland, but few have gardens like Cawdor (above), within a stone's throw of Inverness. This is less imposing than Dunrobin, considerably smaller and has a colourful, well-kept garden and a well-publicised association with Shakespeare's 'Macbeth', in which the principle character is made 'Thane of Cawdor'. It is also the main tourist attraction in this area, so make sure to arrive early to get ahead of the crowds. 
The maze garden, with its spectacular laburnum planting in May
The castle is closely connected with the Thanes of Cawdor. 'Thane' is an ancient Scottish title, equivalent to Baron, and was once common across Scotland. It is thought that the third Thane of Cawdor started building the castle here as early as 1370, and it was later added to by successive generations. Records of the gardens date back to the 17th century, when the walled garden is first documented and much of the castle there today was already built. 
The Paradise Garden in May
The castle has certainly made headlines in the past, thanks to various family feuds, and only re-opened to the public in 2003 following resolution of a major dispute. The Dowager Countess Cawdor (widow of the sixth Earl of Cawdor) still lives here and was instrumental in planning the gardens as they are today. There are three different garden areas to visit: the Walled, Flower and Wild gardens and, on two days a week, you can also visit another delightful small garden, which forms part of the estate, at neighbouring Auchindoune. 
'The Sun' slate sculpture at Cawdor Castle by James Parker
You can also visit much of the interior of the castle, with its impressive trappings, and view the gardens laid out below. The formal gardens are to the side of the property, behind walls, but with fine views from the Flower Garden to the romantic castle beyond. Exuberant herbaceous predominate so there is colour throughout the seasons - particularly in July and August. Immaculately-clipped hedging divides the different sections of the garden, but what will impress most is the density of planting wherever you look. Rose enthusiasts will love the rose tunnel in season.
The Paradise section of the ancient walled garden at Cawdor
The ancient Walled Garden at the castle was remodelled by the incumbent Lord Cawdor in 1981, with the help of his surviving wife Angelika, the current Dowager Countess, and is very different in character to the Flower garden, save for the Paradise section (above), although equally well planned to give colour and interest throughout the seasons. There is a holly maze here too, surrounded by impressive laburnum arches and spectacular when in flower in May (above).
The neighbouring gardens at Auchindoune are very different in spirit
If you visit Cawdor Castle on a Tuesday or Thursday during high season - May to September - you can either walk or drive to neighbouring Auchindoune House (above), with its peaceful Tibetan garden and charming kitchen garden (below) which was laid out by Arabella Lennox-Boyd. It is very different in spirit and much less grand than the castle gardens, but well worth visiting.
The kitchen garden at Auchindoune was laid out by Arabella Lennox-Boyd
For full information on opening times and prices, please visit the Cawdor Castle website.