Castle Leod, seat of the Clan Mackenzie
Castle Leod is said to be the oldest intact Castle in Great Britain. It is located in the east of county Ross-Shire in the Scottish Highlands. It has been the seat of the Clan Chiefs of Clan Mackenzie since the 17th century. But in earlier times Castle Leod was owned by the Clan MacLeod of Lewis. When the MacLeod of Lewis' direct blood line became extinct, the chieftainship passed to the MacLeods of Raasay and the two lines were united. As a result the Barony of Lewis - and Castle Leod - fell into the hands of the Chief of Clan MacKenzie, with his daughter being married to the last Chief of the MacLeods of Lewis.
The castle was built on the remains of a very ancient Pictish fort from the 11th century. The current building is the result of works carried out by Sir Roderick Mackenzie, who began to extend and remodel the castle circa 1606. The castle is a L-Plan tower house. Its red sandstone walls in many places are up to 2,40m thick. There are numerous gun loops and arrow-slit windows, and even the "new" entrance, which was later added to the south front, contains some gun loops. This additional section accommodates extra bedrooms and a large staircase which leads from the ground floor inside Castle Leod. The castle has remained the seat of the Earls of Cromartie ever since this alteration.
In 1746 George Mackenzie, 3rd Earl of Cromartie, forfeited the estate after being arrested by the English troups for his support for the Jacobite uprising. This led to the castle's increasing decay. In 1814 the Hay-Mackenzie Lairds undertook a complete renovation after the castle was described as "Quite a ruin... deserted except by crows". This may have applied more to the upper upper floors but quite obviously the castle as a whole wasn't really a cosy place to live at.
In 1874 and 1904 some minor additions and rebuildings took place with the last extension being added in 1912. This part of Castle Leod is occupied by the present Earl of Cromartie with his wife and family. The castle underwent its most recent renovation when the roof was rescued, at enormous expense from its parlous, leaky state.
The principal part of Castle Leod, the 17th century castle itself, retains the distinct, homely charm and historical ambience that one would expect of the seat of an important Clan as Clan Mackenzie. The rooms, some wood-panelled, exhibit many Mackenzie portraits from past centuries as well as antique furnishings and some fascinating, large-scale antique maps. The grounds boast some magnificent and ancient trees, such as a Spanish chestnut planted in 1550 in honour of Mary of Guise, mother of Mary Queen of Scots. It is the earliest known planting in Great Britain.
Open Days 2013
12. to 16. June
10. to 12. July
17. to 19. Juli
14. to 18. August
21. to 25. August
Opening times 2pm to 6.00pm (last entry at 4.45pm)
Private tours of Castle Leod are offered at other times by special arrangement.
Please telephone the Estate Office on 01997 421264 or write to Castle Leod, Strathpeffer, Ross-shire. IV14 9AA