The unusual remains of Burleigh Castle stand half a mile east of Milnathort immediately to the north of the A911, which curves around the side of the castle. This corner makes parking safely rather tricky, but it is possible to leave your car clear of the road.
The grounds of the castle are accessible at all reasonable times. A sign on the door of the south-west tower tells you where to find the keys that allow you to explore the interiors of both towers.
The origins of Burleigh Castle date back to 1446, when the lands hereabout were granted to Sir John Balfour of Balgarvie by James II. Some time soon afterwards the Balfour family built a tower house here, and this forms the basis of the north tower you can see today. It is likely that this first tower house stood on the west side of a courtyard surrounded by an enclosing barmkin wall, in which there would have been other buildings. Immediately to the west there is still a dip in the land that suggests there may also have been a defensive ditch or moat.
The next stage in the story of Burleigh Castle seems to have taken place in 1582, when the picturesque south-west tower was built by Sir James Balfour of Pittendreich and his wife, Margaret Balfour, heiress of Burleigh. On its completion, the rebuilt castle seems to have comprised a quadrangle. A west range, of which on the front wall now survives, connected the two towers, while a south range projected to the east of the south-west tower. The remaining two sides of the square would probably have been enclosed by a barmkin wall.
In 1607 Sir Michael Balfour, son of Sir James and Margaret Balfour, was raised to the peerage, becoming Lord Balfour of Burleigh after his appointment as Ambassador to the Duke of Tuscany and Lorraine. The family continued to thrive for a further century until things took a serious turn for the worse in 1707. This was the year in which, Robert Balfour, son of the 4th Lord Balfour of Burleigh, was sentenced to death for the murder of the Inverkeithing schoolmaster, who had married the woman Balfour himself wished to marry. He seems to have escaped from his imprisonment in Edinburgh and fled to the continent.
Worse was to follow when the 4th Lord of Burleigh, also a Robert Balfour, came out in favour of the Jacobite cause in 1715. After the failure of the 1715 uprising Robert Balfour was amongst many Jacobite peers who were "attainted", in other words who had their estates and titles seized by the Government. Robert Balfour died in exile in France in 1757.
Many of the estates seized from Jacobites after the 1715 uprising were sold on to other owners, and Burleigh Castle was sold to the Irwin family, before later passing to the Grahams of Kinross.
The missing parts of Burleigh Castle were probably used to provide stone for the building of Burleigh House, a large farmhouse built on the south side of what is now the A911 in the late 1700s, and significantly expanded in 1840, when Burleigh Steadings were also built there.
Certainly the castle seems to have looked much as it does today when visited by David MacGibbon and Thomas Ross for their book "The Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland" in the 1880s. The only noticeable differences between their drawings and the images on this page are the loss of a couple of courses of stone from the wall linking the two towers and the filling in of a doorway that once opened into the south-west tower from outside the west wall.
The old tower house or northern tower is entered via an iron yett or grille in its east wall. The ground floor is vaulted and would have been used as a storage cellar. A spiral stair within the thickness of the wall leads up to the first floor. This was originally home to the castle's hall. Today this is open to the sky, but as originally built there would have been two storeys of apartments and further accommodation above the hall, plus a corbelled-out wallwalk and corner turrets. The hall has a window on each of its walls. There is a stone cupboard at the south-west corner, and a garderobe occupies the north-west corner, where it would have drained into the moat, if there was one.
Much of the charm of Burleigh Castle comes from its south-west tower. This is three storeys high, with the top floor spectacularly corbelled out to an externally square plan. This tower benefits from being roofed and windowed, though internally there is no structure between the stone floor at first floor level and the rafters supporting the roof, two levels higher.