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Kilravock Castle

Home of Roses since the 13th century, Kilravock has entertained Mary, Queen of Scots, Bonnie Prince Charlie and Robert Burns. And if you call ahead, they'll hold a room for you, too.


There can't be many castles in Scotland dating from the mid-15th century where you can book in for bed and breakfast and sleep in a four-poster bed. Kilravock Castle, on the north side of the valley of the River Nairn not far from Inverness, is one. Kilravock, pronounced Kilrock, means "church on a rock," possibly relating to a chapel built nearby after St. Columba came north in the mid 500s A.D. to spread the Christian faith around the Highlands.

Standing proud on the edge of a rock cliff, Kilravock has been home to the Rose family since the seventh baron was given license to build the original tower in 1460. The building of a tower was a wise precaution during a period of unrest in Scotland when the previously strong monarchy had petered out and rival claimants waged bitter battles for the throne. Until then, most houses had been made of wood and not much stone, but now it became necessary to live in less vulnerable dwellings - and fortified towers were built all over the country. In fact, in an acrimonious dispute over land ownership, members of the Macintosh clan led a night raid on Kilravock in 1482, killing guards and setting fire to the tower, causing considerable damage. An extension was added in 1553 by the tenth baron to house his 17 dependent sisters and daughters, and the west wing was added in the 18th century.

The Roses were staunchly Catholic until the Reformation when they became Protestant. Like many converts, they took to their new religion extremely seriously and were ardent in their support of it. In 1967 Elizabeth Rose established Kilravock as a Christian Guest House, and then in 1982, she decided to give the castle, the immediate policies and part of the estate to the Kilravock Christian Trust.

In the Baronial Hall in the tower there is a large bookcase which was sent to the then lady of the house, Elizabeth Rose, by Charles Dickens, although there is no record of his having stayed here. In this room, badly damaged in the fire in 1482, the magnificent dining table was built in situ from one long length of wood. An enormous tiger skin hangs on the wall and a door in the corner opens onto a sinister pit-dungeon sunk into the foundations. This was used as a hiding place for fugitives during the persecution of Covenanters, as well as a prison for enemies. Fired with that fundamentalist zeal of a convert, Kilravock the Ninth imprisoned the Abbot of Kinloss down here, sickened by what he saw as the corruption of the Catholic Church.

The full text of this article is available in the Spring 2008 issue of Scottish Life.

Click here to preview our feature article on the tiny island of Ulva by Terry Williams.

Photos: © Ken Drysdale