Ravenscraig Castle overlooks the sea at the west end of Ravenscraig Park, which is in turn found on the eastern edge of Kirkcaldy. The best way to reach the castle is by using the car park in Ravenscraig Park and walking west from there past the new housing development to catch your first glimpse of it through the trees. It can also be viewed, but as far as we can see not accessed, from the parking areas behind the beach to the west.
The origins of Ravenscraig Castle date back to March 1460 when James II took over the estate here for his queen, Mary of Gueldres. He immediately commissioned work on building a castle, but did not live to see it completed. James had a passion for artillery, which proved his downfall in August of that year. He was killed when a Scottish cannon exploded during the siege of Roxburgh: see our Historical Timeline.
Mary of Gueldres ordered work on the castle to continue, and by 1461 some £600 had been spent and enough of the east tower was complete to allow the queen and her retainers to spend the better part of a month here. Mary died in 1463 and in 1470 her son, James III, awarded the castle to William Sinclair, Earl of Caithness as part of a deal that saw the Earl's titles and estates in Orkney and Shetland transfer to the Crown. The castle remained an important and powerful residence, and was visited by James V in 1540 and James VI in 1598.
Ravenscraig Castle is a structure whose landward face incorporates two massive, and massively thick, D-shaped towers linked by a range containing the main gate. This is set in the wall high above the deep ditch cut directly into the rock of the headland and from where you can really appreciate just how magnificent and brutally powerful it must have seemed in its heyday. The landward-facing walls are 3.5m thick and come with a plentiful supply of gun holes, but today's visitor can't help wondering how effective it would really have been if seriously challenged, given the way the ground rises on the landward side.
Access was (and is) by means of a bridge that passes high over the defensive ditch to a stone gateway. Inside the main gate was a guardroom, while stone-vaulted storage cellars made up much of the rest of the lower floor. The west tower, mainly built from 1470 by the Sinclairs, is rounded for defence on its outer face but resembles a traditional four storey tower house when seen from within the castle itself. This provided family accommodation and was accessed by means of a stair leading externally to the first floor.
The east tower, of which less remains today, housed the castle's well, plus accommodation for members of the royal (or, later, noble) household. The irregularly shaped courtyard on the promontory behind housed the kitchen, the bakehouse and other service buildings, all contained within a wall that ran along the edge of the promontory. These days a fair part of the two main towers and range connecting them remains, but access to the interior and higher levels is very restricted. Much less remains of the buildings on the promontory, or of its surrounding wall.
To Ravenscraig Castle's east side is a curving bay with a shingle beach. This seems to have been regarded as part of the defended area of the castle, for a defensive wall projects from the east (far) end of the bay out to a point below the high water mark.
Above the beach is the beehive shape of a dovecot, still used today by pigeons as a nesting site, and probably ideal for the purpose as its ground level entrance has been sealed up leaving just the access hole in the top. The dovecot can be reached from the bay or from Ravenscraig Park, and it provides a fascinating insight into castle life in the 1400s and 1500s. Presumably, given its coastal location, the castle residents dined on fish as well as birds.
A visit to Ravenscraig Castle is a fascinating experience, though in some ways it is a slightly unsettling one as well. It is all too easy to think of castles as remote and romantic ruins. Located on its dominating headland and towering over its own private beach, Ravenscraig Castle has many of the attributes you'd expect. But while it is fascinating, and from some angles it might qualify as romantic: no-one would today call it remote, despite the impression given by some of the images on this page.
Kirkcaldy predates Ravenscraig Castle by at least four hundred years and since the castle was built the town has reached out to envelop it. Ravenscraig Park itself remains an oasis, but the castle looks westward past the parking areas behind the shore to the harbour and the centre of Kirkcaldy, and the remains of its west tower are echoed by the nearby residential tower blocks built in the 1960s. More recently still, a development of low rise flats has taken place along the line of the ridge just inland from the castle, and it now has some very close neighbours.
Given its location and surroundings, Ravenscraig is not one of the busiest castles you will find in Scotland. As a result it is not staffed, which in turn is why many of the interiors that remain are inaccessible. But if you are in southern Fife, it is well worth a look: this is truly a slice of "Undiscovered Scotland".