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Cawdor Castle

August 1st 2023

Macbeth Comes Home

Who was Shakespeare’s most iconic hero? It’s a question that was settled on Sunday, 30 July, in the most appropriate of settings - the gardens of Cawdor Castle near Nairn - when Heartbreak Productions pitted three of the Bard’s greatest creations against each other in a production of MacHamLear.

Did the Thane of Cawdor outperform his rivals on home turf? Audience members was able to vote for the outcome during the farcical play by award-winning writer, Michael Davies.

The event is part of a summer of Shakespeare at Cawdor, with the final performance taking place on Saturday, 26 August, when The Handlebards will perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The wide lawns where these plays will be staged are just part of the intriguing landscape that surrounds this 600-year-old castle, which stands guard over an old ford over the River Nairn. Beyond the moat and the drawbridge lies an intricate formal garden, with clipped parterres and manicured yew trees that were planted in the 18th century.

From above a holly maze, currently closed to allow it to recover from the tread of thousands of visitors, rises a striking sculpture of a minotaur, while a giant orb, made from slate and lead recycled from the castle roof, is the work of contemporary Scottish sculptor, James Parker.

Striking artwork, both ancient and modern, is a feature of Cawdor and there are also borders filled with summer flowers, others devoted to lilies and romantic archways smothered in rambling roses. In spring rhododendrons and azaleas provide an abundance of colour and there is blossom in the Himalayan shrubs and trees that line the banks of the Cawdor Burn in the Himalayan Garden.

The plants that grow in this part of the garden were collected in the 1920s by the fifth Earl of Cawdor on a gruelling trip to Tibet with the famous plant hunter, Frank Kingdon Ward. They are protected today by native hedgerows which provide food and shelter for local wildlife.

In summer a huge vegetable garden, created by renowned garden designer Arabella Lennox-Boyd, is filled with ripening produce and with cut flowers that are used to decorate the castle. Food at Cawdor has long been raised using organic methods, but more recently this has progressed to a biodynamic regime, which involves following the cycles of the moon in order to identify the best times for seed sowing and harvesting.

Much of the fruit and vegetables grown this way are destined to end up in the cafe.

Beyond the garden walls are waymarked trails, some as long as five miles, where visitors can explore the landscape and gain a sense of its long and rich history.

Cawdor is just eight miles from the battlefield of Culloden and the fact that it survived unscathed during a long series of uprisings in the Highlands is attributed in legend to the mystical properties of the now-petrified holly tree which stands in the central courtyard and which is said to have kept the castle safe since the first stone was laid.

cawdor_castle_gardens_05 - Credit Kenny Lam





Cawdor castle- Credit Ross Elder

Wild by Nature

Step into the leafy shade of the Big Wood at Cawdor and you find yourself walking beneath Spanish chestnut trees and Giant sequoias. At its heart, however, is a remnant of the ancient Caledonian forest that once covered most of Scotland.

The trees here, including oak and birch, form host species for a number of rare lichens and they also provide protection for capercaillies and waxwings as well as red squirrels.

In 1773 Dr Samuel Johnson and James Boswell came to marvel at Cawdor’s trees and 15 years later Robert Burns visited during his tour of the Highlands. Today careful maintenance at Cawdor helps to preserve this important slice of Scotland’s natural heritage.

Along with wild spaces, Cawdor also has a nine-hole golf course covering 25 acres of beautifully-landscaped parkland.


The gardens are open daily until Sunday, 1 October,  10am - 5pm.

Tickets to the gardens, grounds and nature trails:

£8.50/£6.50/under-fives free.

Tel: 01667 404401

[email protected]

Cawdor Castle is seven miles east of Inverness Airport off the B9090.