Non-Fiction Review: A History and Guide to Scottish Castles, by Jenna Maxwell


Book cover

At one time, Scotland was home to more than 4,000 castles. It’s an extraordinary number for such a small country and today, around 3,000 still stand.

Some are world famous, others have inspired great works of literature, while others have lit up the silver screen.

There are grand, ticketed visitor attractions but there are others which are unassuming structures so tucked away that only the locals seem to know about them.

From the triangular-shaped Caerlaverock Castle in Dumfries and Galloway to the imposing New Slains Castle in Aberdeenshire, and from the magnificent fortress that dominates the Edinburgh skyline to the haunting battlements that stand on the banks of Loch Ness, each tower tells a story, every turret holds a secret and, together, they span centuries of fascinating Scottish history.

A History and Guide to Scottish Castles explores the history, architecture, and legends of some of these fascinating fortresses and looks at why they are so appealing to visitors today.

Sharing amazing facts and her own unique experiences, author Jenna Maxwell takes readers on an unforgettable tour of some of Scotland’s most amazing castles which, if you haven’t visited them already, you’ll soon want to.


Disclaimer: Although I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher, the opinions below are my own.

Scotland’s castles often have either a fairy tale or gothic air to them. Some have both, with a tragic tale hidden behind a beautiful exterior. Despite living in Scotland for four years, and a couple of visits in the time since, I can count on one hand how many I’ve actually visited. They include Edinburgh and Urquhart castles at opposite ends of the country.

A History and Guide to Scottish Castles is no doubt a labor of love by author Jenna Maxwell. Photos include family members during various trips in all weathers. This is more of a narrative than a guide; don’t expect to find information such as opening times and directions in this publication. Maxwell usually briefly describes the castle, the approach to it, and sometimes a tale or two about the builder or resident ghost (sometimes the same).

Many places appear to have a “woman in white” or other color haunting the location. I’d love to read an entire book on these, but Maxwell seemed to be happy not to have seen any thus far on her travels. I do want to point out something regarding the mention of a strange event at Inverary Castle in 1758.  Witnesses supposedly saw a “ghost battle” in the sky and the author stated that there was later discovered a connection to a 1758 battle in Canada. Since the author named the battle, I feel it should be noted the location is actually in modern day New York, USA (wouldn’t want to send any tourists astray!)

The book is divided into chapters, although I couldn’t figure out a reason for the particular order in which they’re set. The first is about Aberdeenshire, the second Dumfries and Galloway, and the third Edinburgh and the Lothians. Alphabetical order? Maybe, except Argyll and Bute, as well as Ayrshire and Arran, come much later. My electronic copy didn’t contain an index, and a map would’ve been nice as well, perhaps one for each chapter. And that’s the problem I have with this book. It’s not so much a Guide as a journal of one woman and her family traveling around Scotland. Still, I did discover plenty of new places to put on my own “to visit” list. I’ll just need to look up the practicalities of planning such visits elsewhere.


Rating: 3.5 out of 5.


Publisher: Pen and Sword

Publication Date: 26 January 2023

Book Information


Jenna is a freelance travel and lifestyle journalist from Edinburgh. Over the years, she has written extensively about the country of her birth and a lifelong fascination with its castles, legends and ghost stories has led to this – her first book. She has written for publications including The Telegraph, Buzzfeed, Closer Magazine, The Sun, The Daily Record, Scotland Magazine, and Scottish Field.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.