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A History and Guide to Scottish Castles

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Member Reviews

I love Scotland and this is just a fantastic book for anyone who has been or wants to go, it’s full of stunning pictures alongside details, facts and history of the Castles featured. I’ve been to quite a few of them but still learnt something new, I also found many places I need to visit now. A fantastic guide

Thanks to netgalley and the publisher for a free copy in return for an honest opinion
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Scotland is pretty high on my travel list. Blame Sean Connery. Blame David Tennant. Blame my embarrassing introduction to Mary, Queen of Scots, Reign. Speaking of Mary, Scotland has had other monarchs besides her, the various Jameses and Robert the Bruce. I won't pretend to be as familiar with Scotland as I am with England, but even I know this.

For subject matter I'm extremely interested in, Jenna writes in a very dry, uninvolved manner. Some of the castle features came with photos, but not all. Even though Dan Jones' Secrets of Great British Castles only features Edinburgh Castle, it's much easier to stomach.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher.
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Lots of fun tidbits of info in this that has me wanting to plan a trip to Scotland!

This book is best if you just want a brief overview of a lot of castles, rather than in-depth knowledge about castles in general or any one castle. There's at most a handful of paragraphs about any one location, covering topics from ghosts to history to film to the author's own personal experience when visiting. This should definitely be thought of more as a travel guide rather than a definitive history of Scottish castles.

Because of the sheer breadth of information covered, I'm not sure how much of this I'll retain. Whenever my next Scotland trip gets planned, I'll definitely pull this back out for a flip through!
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This review was originally published on I was given an ebook freely by NetGalley and the book’s publisher in return for a voluntary and honest review. 

A History and Guide to Scottish Castles
By Jenna Maxwell

I’ve only been to Scotland once and only for a couple days. In that short time I was able to visit Edinburgh castle. It’s an imposing castle perched on a hill looking over the city. 

According to Jenna Maxwell Scotland has 4,000 castles in different states of repair. She focuses on a nice mixture of castles both fully restored to ruins. There’s some that are still run by the family and others by Scotland. Maxwell does an amazing job giving the history of her chosen castles. She also mentions renovations or the cause of their destruction. My personal favorite part of each entry is how each castle impacts popular culture by either appearing in a film, TV show, book, poem or art. If it doesn’t appear it often inspires. 

Maxwell also includes many wonderful pictures to set the scene of many of the castles. I will definitely be using this to plan my next trip to Scotland.
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I have been on a nonfiction kick recently and this one stood out for many reasons. I have always loved learning about Scotland and getting a history and guide to its castles was incredible.
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As this is a guidebook, I obviously need to go to Scotland to give a full and fair review.

Seriously, there is a lot of information about a lot of castles packed into this brief book. There are also many stunning photographs. It doesn’t work as well for something you just pick up and read and I am hoping to use it to plan a trip to Scotland. The author provides basic historical information, plus tips for visiting.
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I forget how many castles there are in Scotland; Miss Maxwell does give us this fact in the introduction to her book, but she focuses on some of the best known, easiest visited, and most haunted castles in Scotland in this appreciation. The histories of each castle vary in length and detail, and for a history lover like me, there wasn't enough background information, and for the most part, that supplied was very superficial. Ms. Maxwell tells us which castles were used as movie or television locations, and as the book was originally published in the UK, many of these references are unknown to a US audience. As someone who did not read or watch Outlander, the many references to different set scenes from that popular series was a waste; I'd rather have had another two sentences on the real history of the castle in question than another reference to Jamie being imprisoned in this or that castle. The photos were black and white in the advanced reader copy I read, which is fine, although a few in color would be a great addition. This isn't a very academic or historical summary of the castles, but Ms. Maxwell''s writing is engaging. The inclusion of personal comments about a visit with her family or when she was very pregnant, or which haunted areas were too spooky for her to go explore, were fun to read and make the guide book aspect successful.
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What do you think of when you hear the title "A history and guide to Scottish castles"?
Because your expectations are very important to decide whether this book will appeal to you or not.

Scotland is one of the places where I've never been but that is still on my travel bucket list.
That's why I wanted to read this book: to see if I could get interesting, useful and recent information to prepare a trip there.


"For four years I attended Edinburgh's Napier University (an honours degree in journalism, in case you were wondering) …"

Reading this at page 45 of the book left me flabbergasted.
Because from someone who has an 'honours degree in journalism' I expected much better than this ego-centered book that seems to be made to cover her travel expenses.

The content is divided in different regions of Scotland: Aberdeenshire, Dumfries and Galloway, Edinburgh and the Lothians, Glasgow and the Clyde Valley, the Kingdom of Fife, Stirling and Loch Lomond, Argyll and Bute, Ayrshire and Arran, Dundee and Angus, Highlands, Shetland, Orkney, Outer Hebrides, Perth and Kinross, Scottisch Borders, Inner Hebrides.
So far, so good.


"Another castle which provides a day out for the family is Lochore Castle, by Lochore Meadows Park. The ruined structure sits at one of the entrances to the park. I say 'one of' because, on our first visit, we chose the wrong one and faced a 40-minute trudge around the loch in the scorching heat before we reached our destination. The main entrance, which takes you straight to the loch-side activities and is where the castle is located, is near the town of Crosshill, and is definitely the one to shoot for. The other, much smaller, entrance is just past the town of Kelty. We were at first baffled by the tiny car park when my SatNav took us to the Kelty entrance, but assumed the castle and park wouldn't be far away so set off on foot. With me being heavily pregnant and with a walking-averse 5-year-old in tow, the trip seemed to take hours. When we finally (finally) arrived, we realised our mistake, and after a day of exploring and playing we ordered a taxi to take us back around the loch and to our parked car. It was probably the best £14 I've ever spent." (p73-74)

In each of the abovementioned regions there are some castles which are visited by Jenna Raffaelli, her husband with last name Maxwell (which is so funny to her, because probably they're related to the Maxwell family who owned lots of castles earlier, which she brings up numerous times), her 5-year old daughter Sabrina and her son Thomas who was in her womb during most of the visits.
We get to know all sorts of things about them: where they married, that the husband is acrophobic, which ice flavour is her daughter's favourite, …
And sometimes we also get an insight in the childish, whiny, … reasoning of the author herself.

If you like to know these sort of things about an unknown person, then this book is definitely for you.
And I do understand that these sort of memories are fun for the family itself.
But for readers who just want factual info this is 'meh' and it would suffice to say: "Watch out: there are several entrances. If you're in for a 40-minute walk, then the Kelty entrance is recommended as you have to go around the loch by foot to get access to the castle. But people who prefer to start their visit immediately, are better off going to the main entrance near the town of Crosshill."
That's at least what I expect from a book like this and certainly from someone who studied journalism.


"There has been a castle on the site [of St Andrews] since 1189 - a time that predates even Jack Nicklaus's first visit to the famous golf capital - and was always used as a residence for the wealthy and powerful bishops. It was a fun place for me to test my burgeoning Instagram skills and create a reel walking down the steps to the beach with the castle by my side. It got a whopping 36 likes!" (p69)

Now I get why this book sometimes feels like a blog or social media report in book form.
It's based on an Instagram-account. 
If you're interested to discover it, you can check out Jenna's Instagram page @queen_ofthecastles where she documented her journey.

As I don't have Instagram, I'll have to do with the pictures in the book.
And there's another reason why this book is absolutely not appealing to me.
When I think of Scottish castles, this also brings expectations of lots of full-page coloured pictures.
What I get instead are a few small black-and-white photographs and on some of these Jenna's family.

To prevent false expectations, another title should've been chosen.
Something in the vein of "My family's instagram trip along Scottish castles".
This would suit the content much more than the actual title.


"Fife is home to around 167 castles … With so many to choose from it was difficult to decide which one to visit first. For this chapter, I turned to trusty TripAdvisor to find out what the public considered to be the top ten." (p69)

First of all, I'd like to know where she got this number.
Looking here ( for example we can read that there are 173 castles, towers and fortified houses in the county of Fife. A tower or fortified house isn't the same as a castle.

The problem is that the book doesn't have a list of used sources (at least the ARC hasn't).
That's strange for a non-fiction book written by someone who studied journalism.
Because there are lots of facts ánd assumptions written down in this book. 
So on which sources are they based? 

And TripAdvisor to find out the public's top ten?
Come on, everyone can do that.
Other travellers don't need a book in which the choices are made based on that. They can look it up themselves (for your convenience: click here) and read the reviews of other visitors there as well. Probably those are even more informative than what this book has to offer.
Why not go to official authorities like the HES (Historic Environment Scotland), which she mentions several times?
And I'm sure there are other sources as I encountered many interesting websites.


"My most vivid memory of Stirling Castle is when I worked as an intern at the Scottish Fashion Awards in my early 20s. The awards themselves were held in this spectacular setting, and seeing half-naked models run around backstage among the towers and turrets was quite surreal. The imposing fortification made for a fantastic backdrop to what was on show on the catwalk.
Some ladies I'm glad did not appear that night were some of the many colourful ghosts of Stirling Castle. There have been reports of a 'White', 'Black', 'Green' and even a 'Pink' Lady haunting within its walls." (p84)

And again, a memory of someone I don't know and for whom I don't care.

The haunting ghosts on the other hand are fascinating. 
In lots of the castles mentioned in this book there are apparently ghosts to be seen or presences to be felt.
Sometimes the author just names them, but sometimes she adds a bit more background info about the legends.
Is this something everyone believes in?
Of course not. But it adds something to the atmosphere of these castles and it often tells us more about the history. Good storytellers know how to keep the attention of their public. And well-told ghost stories will often do the trick.


"'What is this black rock-type thing?' I asked while browsing the National War Museum located within the castle walls.
'They're actually the toenails of the elephant who used to live in the stables of the castle,' replied a helpful staff member." (p40)

Never heard before that a big grey Sri Lankan lived at Edinburgh Castle.
This is one of the little 'fun facts' that sometimes are sprinkled throughout the text.
These make a welcome change from the rest which is either written down too egocentrical or either presented too dryly as if the many dates and names were just copied from a text book.

Movies and series like Outlander are also regularly mentioned.
Although this is interesting for movie fans it could've been done in a better way.
Just like the entire lay-out in fact.

The different castles aren't separated by a title or even just a white line or by being printed in bold. 
So it happens that you're jumping from one castle to the other almost without noticing it.
And in the end, I didn't even care about it anymore.
The only overall feelings that are present after reading (half of) this book are "monotony" and "blandness".

But I'm sure that's not how Scotland really is.
They have such good whisky and apparently interesting myths and legends.
So, to find some of that real Scottish heritage, I'm going to read some books about these subjects instead.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Pen & Sword History for providing a digital advanced reader's copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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A History and Guide to Scottish Castles by Jenna Maxwell. The opportunity to review this book on Scottish castles came at the perfect time as I'm planning a trip to Scotland next year. The geographic organization was helpful as we're planning (at this point) to do the east coast. (No, that's not a typo.) I now have a list of the most interesting ones! 

There are thousands of castles in Scotland, in all states of repair. Maxwell zeroes in on the most interesting or quirky, and references a lot of ghost stories associated with them (almost too many). It's written in a breezy, magazine style which, if you had the physical book in hand, would make for relaxed leafing. I had the e-book so i just paged through in order. I was most interested to learn about all the castles on the Shetland, Orkney and Hebrides Islands. I recommend this book for a good overview of the many kinds of castles and plan, or just dream, of visiting them. My only quibble is that I wish the many photos were in colour. However, I just discovered Maxwell's Instagram, @queenofthecastles so I can drool over the full colour versions there! 

Also, I learned that The Beano is a product of the #jutejamandjournalism of #Dundee, which is high on my list. Crikey, that alone makes it a Design City!
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A History and Guide to Scottish Castles by Jenna Maxwell was a great read.  

The book follows Jenna as she travels the length and breadth of the country on her holidays with her family visiting and sometimes staying at castles all over the land.

Its a well-written guide with lots of historical facts in it as well. I found the book enjoyable with lots of castles I had never heard of before and some I did but didn't know all the history about.  A great read for tourists and Scottish history fans alike.

Thanks to Net Galley and Pen and Sword for the ARC, This review is my own opinion.
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This is a really amazing book all about Scottish Castles.  It is jam packed full of very interesting information and knowledge, which I found really fascinating.  Living in Scotland myself, I have visited a lot of Castles, my favourite being Edinburgh Castle, and reading this book opened my eyes to just how many Castles we have here in Scotland.  Did you know that there are 3,000 Castles currently in Scotland, and that there used to be around 4,000?  I didn't know this before I read this book.  

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading through this book, which has beautiful pictures and a guide which goes into detail about the history, architecture, and legends of some of these wonderful Castles.  I loved going on a Grand Tour around Scotland, finding out about each Castle, and all the amazing facts which I didn't know about already.  If you also want to go on a Scottish adventure, then buy this book, as you won't be disappointed!  Highly Recommended!

Many thanks to the author, publisher and NetGalley for a copy of this book.
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I would recommend this book to anyone who is planning to travel to Scotland. There's plenty of info, trivia, and it's a very entertaining read full of lovely pictures.
Highly recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher for this arc, all opinions are mine
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Spent all day yesterday reading through this. We have just returned from two weeks travelling around Scotland and read all about the castles we saw, that really made the journey more interesting. Making a list of the ones to visit next time. A very readable and interesting well researched  book. Might have preferred colour plates but that is the only criticism .
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A History and Guide to Scottish Castles is a beautiful coffee table book lavishly illustrated with breathtaking photos of Scottish castles and associated landscapes by Jenna Maxwell. Due out 30th Oct 2022 from Pen & Sword, it's 224 pages and will be available in hardcover format.

The book is arranged geographically, so the entries can be read in any order (there's a good table of contents, but no index), and "armchair" travelers can read about the history of the locations they aspire to visit. The author's writing style is warm and friendly and she does a grand job of including interesting tidbits about each castle's history and special characteristics. The author has also included a smattering of ghost stories about many of the castles which were interesting and entertaining to read.

The photos are clear, and some are quite breathtaking. There are many interior shots along with furnishings alongside the historical photos.

Five stars. This would make an excellent choice for public or home library acquisition as well as for fans of travel and history.

Disclosure: I received an eARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.
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I wish this guide was available the last time I visited Scotland, but it will certainly be with me the next time I go.  Similar to 'Crusader Castles' by T.E. Lawrence, this book acts as both a guide and historical reference to the many castles dotting the Scottish countryside.  From famous to forgotten, restored to ruined, this book covers the lot.  And for those who are interested in photos over text, the author has an Instagram page where many of the castles have been featured. 5/5 stars; well deserved.
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Did you know that there was once a Sri Lankan elephant at Edinburgh Castle? Not many people do! This book is full of unusual stories like this, including tales about ghosts and feuds. It is more suitable to browse in than to read straight through, though.
Written in a friendly, relaxed style and well-researched, it provides a comprehensive guide to Scottish castles for history-lovers, and tourists. The black and white pictures are suitably gothic!

I received this free ebook from NetGalley in return for an honest review.

EDITION	Hardcover
ISBN	9781399016131
PRICE	£25.00 (GBP)
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This was a really interesting read. 

Full of historical information as well as personal experience and pop culture, this book takes the reader on a tour of Scotland's castles. 

Accompanied by photographs, this is a perfect book for the coffee table or bookshelf. 

Armchair travellers will definitely enjoy this one!

Thank you to NetGalley, the publisher, and the author for giving me a free digital copy of this book to read in exchange for an honest review.
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A perfect introduction to the many and varied castles in Scotland. The author writes with knowledge and confidence in her material also she writes with a good deal of humour and personal insight. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The pictures of the castles are superb and very evocative. 
In it she breaks the country down into its various parts so any visitor can pick from their intended destination as to what interesting castles to visit, and the obligatory ghost stories and ancient fables of course. A very enjoyable trip through a beautiful, ancient country. My thanks to Netgalley,  the publishers and the Author for an ARC of this book.
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I was thrilled when I was able to review this book. Having spent some time visiting the United Kingdom, I was amazed by the sheer number of castles I didn't see. Ms. Maxwell gives a thorough description of castles both still standing and long gone. Makes me wish I was just a little younger so I could check some out. I am glad I read this book so I could visualize these majestic buildings through the author's eyes. Thank you NetGalley and Ms. Maxwell.
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This was a likeable guide to Scottish castles, written in a chatty and conversational manner, with a little bit of history thrown in. I would have liked a few more pictures to be included.
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