Next up in my Scotland trip series is a castle I’d been wanting to visit for quite a while … Glamis! It combines two of my biggest interests: royalty and literature, as Glamis was not only the childhood home of the Queen Mother, but the setting for Shakespeare’s Macbeth, who was Thane of Glamis.
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I opted to hire a private guide/driver to take my family to Glamis as it’s not easily accessible via public transportation from Edinburgh and we didn’t feel comfortable driving on the other side of the road. It was a splurge but 100% worth my sanity while traveling with a young child and not having to deal with transferring from trains to buses to taxis. Hazel from I Love Edinburgh Tours was fantastic and I really enjoyed spending the day with her! She offers bespoke tours so if there’s anything you want to do, give her a shout and she’ll put together an itinerary.
Since we had Hazel for the whole day, I added on a stop in St Andrews on the way back from Glamis (I’ll cover that in a separate post). It took about an hour and a half to drive to Glamis from Edinburgh and we saw some lovely scenery on the way.
I expected to enjoy Glamis Castle but didn’t realize how wonderful it would be until we actually got there. The driveway leading up to it gives you a really dramatic entrance and I quickly fell in love with the place. If I could live in any castle in the world, it would probably be here – even if it’s one of the most haunted places in the United Kingdom!
Quick history lesson: this spectacular property has been the ancestral seat to the Earls of Strathmore and Kinghorne since 1372. At one point it was forfeited to the Crown and occupied by James V until his death in 1542, and Mary, Queen of Scots stayed here in 1562 (although when you’re in Scotland, it would be more surprising to learn she hadn’t!).
Fast forward to the 14th Earl and his wife Countess Cecilia, who would play an important part in royal history today. They were the parents of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, who would become queen consort to King George VI and later, the Queen Mother.
I became even more interested in visiting Glamis Castle when I wrote an article about the Queen Mum’s early life for Royal Central last year – one interesting fact was the castle became a war hospital during WWI, much like Downton Abbey. The young Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon was a regular Lady Sybil, helping with the patients and the running of the hospital. She also was instrumental in putting out a fire that could have been catastrophic for the castle.
Princess Margaret was actually born here, and she and her sister, Princess Elizabeth (now our current queen), spent idyllic summers here as children. You can read more about their time at Glamis in their nanny’s book, The Little Princesses.
Today, the Bowes-Lyon family still lives at Glamis, and the current Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne (who is a first cousin twice removed of The Queen) is actually younger than I am. I can’t imagine what a responsibility it is to take over such a massive estate, but it’s such a wonderful family legacy to uphold.
Inside the castle
A guided group tour is included with your admission and our guide was great. My son was the only child on the tour, and she made sure to make him feel included and asked him to look out for lions (for the Bowes-Lyon family, of course) in each room of the castle. Spoiler alert: there’s one in every room but the chapel.
Speaking of the chapel, it is supposedly haunted by the ghost of the Grey Lady, thought to be Janet Douglas, Lady Glamis, who was burnt at the stake in 1537 after being accused of witchcraft. It’s such a sad story but there were other more outrageous ghost stories we heard on the tour, like a secret room (our guide pointed out where you could see the window from outside) that supposedly contains the ghost of a 15th century Earl who got trapped into playing cards with the Devil!
In fact, after spending the night at Glamis, the renowned writer Sir Walter Scott wrote, “I must own that when I heard door after door shut, after my conductor had retired, I began to consider myself as too far from the living, and somewhat too near the dead.”
Ghost stories aside, the interiors are stunning and it was interesting to see the parts that looked like a proper medieval castle versus the very formal, more Victorian-style rooms.
No photos were allowed on the tour, but I did take some in the exhibition room once it was over. I was thrilled to see some letters that The Queen (Lilibet) and Princess Margaret wrote to their grandmother after visiting the castle as children. Reading the below letter from 1937 was certainly one of the highlights of the trip. I also got to see two tiny chairs that the princesses Elizabeth and Margaret used as little girls, which was really special!
The gardens here are stunning and I could’ve spent hours longer wandering around if it wasn’t for the St Andrews trip. However, we did get to spend a good amount of time and I didn’t feel like I massively missed out on anything.
The Italian Garden, which was laid out by the Queen Mother’s mum, Countess Cecilia, was probably my favorite – I mean, you can’t beat that view of the castle, right? It didn’t hurt that we visited on the most spectacular sunny day that felt like beautiful October weather instead of summer.
The Walled Garden was absolutely lovely, too, and my son loved running around the fountain there.
As I mentioned earlier, the castle has ties to Macbeth and the grounds have a special Macbeth Trail. We didn’t see all of the sculptures so I’ll just have to come back to do the whole thing!
You really get a sense of being in the Scottish countryside whilst wandering through the woods, walking over bridges that cross little streams and looking at the adorable, shaggy Highland Cows grazing nearby.
They also have a lovely monument dedicated to Princess Margaret on the grounds.
Before you leave, don’t miss the gift shop! It’s a good size and has an upstairs loft with some well-priced vintage items. I brought home a vintage Queen Mum mug to remember my visit and … a lot of other stuff.
I was so sad to leave, but the excitement of heading to St Andrews for the first time made the parting a bit easier.
Have you ever been to Glamis Castle? If not, put this one on your royal bucket list!