Towering spires, thick stone walls and dramatic settings – whatever pops into your mind when you imagine a castle, you’ll find it in south-west Scotland. From magnificent city landmarks to mysterious ruins, the area is bursting with fascinating castles to visit.

Scotland’s castles were built for strength and protection. Their main purpose was to withhold enemy attacks and keep their occupants safe – needless to say each castle has seen plenty of dramatic stories unfold over the centuries.

A list of historic castles in the area includes the following:

Cardoness Castle was built as a tower house by the McCulloch family in the 15th century. Built on a hill, it dominates the entrance to the Water of Fleet. It is owned by Historic Scotland

Carsluith Castle is an ancient tower house located beside Wigtown Bay on the Galloway coast of south-west Scotland, about three and a half miles south east of Creetown. The castle has a main tower with crow-step gables and corbelled wall walks along the gable ends. Three of the corners have round turrets

Caerlaverock Castle is an unusual triangular shape with a tower at each corner. surrounded by a moat and set in hundreds of acres of low lying willow woods. Caerlaverock was built to control the South-West entrance to Scotland. Construction began around 1277 by the Maxwell family. Inside the castle is the remains of courtyard residences dating from the 1600s. It is now in the care of Historic Scotland and is a popular tourist attraction and wedding venue.

Completed in 1691 by William Douglas, 1st Duke of Queensberry, Drumlanrig Castle is the home of the current Duke of Buccleuch & Queensberry. The 120,000 acre Queensberry Estate has at its heart the country park, open to the public (as is the castle) during the summer months.

Dundrennan Abbey. Visit the secluded spot where Mary Queen of Scots sheltered during her last hours in Scotland. Now a ruin, the 12th-century abbey was home to a community of Cistercian monks for 400 years. The peaceful woodland location fitted very much with the Cistercian ideal, described by Abbot Ailred of Rievaulx as: “Everywhere peace, everywhere serenity, and a marvellous freedom from the tumult of the world”.

MacLellan’s Castle is located off Castle Street in the centre of Kirkcudbright. It is a large 16th century L-plan tower house. There are bartizans (overhanging, wall-mounted turrets) on two corners of the main block and on the four storey wing. Behind the great hall fireplace is the “Laird’s Lug” – a secret spy hole, from which the laird could eavesdrop on his guests. The site is now to the public daily from April to September.

Sweetheart Abbey’s origin as a shrine to human and divine love is as appealing as its setting. The graceful ruin nestles between the grey bulk of Criffel and the shimmering waters of the Solway Firth. Its blood-red sandstone walls are vivid against the lush green grass. In 1268, Lord John Balliol died. His grieving widow, Lady Dervorgilla of Galloway, had his embalmed heart placed in an ivory casket. She undertook many charitable acts in her late husband’s memory. These included founding the Cistercian abbey of Dulce Cor (Latin for ‘Sweet Heart’) in 1273. When she too died in 1289, Dervorgilla was laid to rest in front of the abbey church’s high altar, clutching her husband’s heart to her bosom.

Threave Castle is located on an island in the River Dee about a mile and a half west of Castle Douglas, in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland. The Castle has a rectangular keep five storeys high. The keep was once accessed by a movable bridge from the gatehouse to the first floor.