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Ignored My Own Advice: Urquhart and Eilean Donan Castles

We went for an early morning walk before our drive from Inverness to the Isle of Skye, passing the Urquhart and Eilean Donan Castles.

(To read more about our early morning walk, go here.)

Isle of Skye was one of THE stops we had planned for the trip.  We had even planned to return to visit the Isle again in 2020.  But yeah, Covid happened.

Getting to Loch Ness

After our walk and a quick breakfast in the rental and packing the car, it was off down Road A82.  Road A82 follows the western edge of Loch Ness.  It’s a short drive from the center of Inverness to the northern end of Loch Ness – about 10 minutes, depending on traffic.

Loch Ness

Loch Ness is a freshwater lake in the Scottish Highlands.  The loch (Gaelic for lake and pronounced like the word lock) is not the deepest lake in the world; however, it is the second deepest in Scotland.  Loch Morar is deeper at 1,017 feet.  (The deepest lake in the world is Lake Baikal in Siberia at 5,315 feet.  It is also the largest freshwater lake.)

Loch Ness
Looking south down the Loch.

Dimensions for the loch: the average depth is 433 feet, the deepest depth is 744.6 feet, the length is 22.6 miles, and the lake holds over a trillion gallons of water.  Loch Ness holds almost double the volume of water as all the lakes in England and Wales.

Loch Ness
Blue skies reflected off the freshwaters of Loch Ness.

Looking at these numbers, it’s easy to see why people think a monster could hide in its depths!

There are several pull-offs along A82 where you can stop and enjoy the views of the loch.  Mayhap, you’ll even enjoy a sunshine day for your trip!

Loch Ness
Ripples on Loch Ness caused by the wind (or a monster?!).

Urquhart Castle

About midway down the length of Loch Ness, almost 17 miles from the center of Inverness, is Urquhart Castle.

Urquhart and Eilean Donan Castles
Urquhart Castles sits on the shore of Loch Ness.

Castle History

Urquhart (pronounced a bit like urk-heart) was built sometime in the early 1200s by the Durward family.  It is unclear if the castle was built upon the ruins of a Pictish fortification.

The castle changed hands to the Comyn’s in the 1270s.  They held the castle until they were defeated by Robert the Bruce.  After their defeat, the castle was capture by the English, then the Scottish, and so on.

There was a Great Raid on the castle by the MacDonald clan in 1545.  The MacDonald’s carried off 20 guns, 3 boats, and over 8,000 farm animals.  I’m not sure what that would amount to today, in value, but given cattle were a status symbol and a form of money, I’d hazard quite a bit.  However, cattle rustling was a given between rival clans.

Urquhart and Eilean Donan Castles
Stone path inside the castle grounds.

Then the British blew up the castle in 1692 so the Jacobite rebels couldn’t use it. After the castle was blown up, the locals made use of the materials for their own houses and barns.

Urquhart and Eilean Donan Castles
The ruins of Urquhart Castle.

Castle Grounds

I was so impressed to see a trebuchet at the castle.  A trebuchet is a type of catapult.  I’ve yet to see one operated in person, but maybe someday…

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to take in the views from Grant Tower as it was closed for restorations.  The tower was built sometime in the early 1500s by John Grant of Freuchie.

Urquhart and Eilean Donan Castles
Grant Tower.

Don’t miss the prisoner in the jail…

Urquhart and Eilean Donan Castles
It’s very dark in that hole without a light shining in.

To access the castle from Loch Ness, visitors would have passed through the Water Gate.  It was easier access for many, as boat travel was common than road travel, due to the lack of roads in the area.

The Doocot was used as a roost for pigeons.  In the 1500s the pigeons were used like chickens are today – for their eggs and their meat.

Urquhart and Eilean Donan Castles
Doocot.

One last look at Loch Ness from the castle grounds:

Urquhart and Eilean Donan Castles
Loch Ness.

Roderick MacKenzie Memorial

Almost 24 miles from Urquhart Castle, down Road A887 is the memorial of Roderick MacKenzie.

Scotland A887
Road A887.

After the battle on Culloden’s moor, there was a reward for the Bonnie Prince Charlie, dead or alive.  Unfortunately for Mr. MacKenzie, he was similar in appearance to the Prince and was killed during a fight with some men of the Duke of Cumberland.  The men behead Mr. MacKenzie’s body and took the head to Fort Augustus for identification (and the prize money).

None of the captured Jacobite officers at the Fort would say it was the Prince.  And after a while, the error was realized and the Prince eventually was seen in Paris.

Roderick MacKenzie was a timber merchant and did serve in the Prince’s Lifeguards or the calvary elite.  He is reported to have cried out “You have killed your Prince” when killed by Cumberland’s men.

Roderick MacKenzie
Roderick MacKenzie Memorial

There is a nice little walk down to the River Moriston.

River Moriston
River Moriston

Loch Cluanie

On A87, about 33 miles from Urquhart Castle is a pull-off area next to Loch Cluanie.  There are some lovely views from here – well worth the stop!

Loch Cluanie
Looking west along Loch Cluanie.

Tip: As this is an east-west road, you may want to plan around where the sun will be in the sky.  So you aren’t taking pictures in the afternoon of the western end of the loch.

Eilean Donan Castle

In all transparency, I failed at trip planning on this trip.  And I felt pretty stressed as we drove up on this castle.  Both my sister and I have longed to see this castle and somehow I missed that it was here while planning!  Augh!!

Other than stopping quickly to take pictures, we didn’t feel we had time to do a tour and do it justice.  We were already pushing our arrival time for the rental house. (But at least wandering around for a few minutes taking in the sites was a visual stress relief!)

Visual Stress Relief
Click the photo above to have a FREE visual stress relief guidebook sent directly to your email!

Next time I’ll have to do better following my own three travel tips

Located t the intersection of three lochs: Loch Duich, Loch Long, and Loch Alsh, and almost 54 miles from Urquhart Castle is one of the most iconic castles of Scotland: Eilean Donan.

Filming at Eilean Donan

Eilean Donan Castle has been featured in such films as:
Bonnie Prince Charlie (1948)
Prince Valiant (1954)
Highlander (1986)
Loch Ness (1996)
The World is Not Enough (1999)
Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)
Made of Honor (2008)
Plus many ads, music videos, and fashion shoots.

Urquhart and Eilean Donan Castles
Eilean Donan Castle at low tide.

Eilean Donan History

The Isle of Donan (Eilean Donan) is thought to be named after Bishop Donan.  Bishop Donan came to Scotland sometime around 580 and likely built a small cell on the island.

A defensive structure built on the small island, sometime in the early 1200s to help protect the inland area from the Vikings.  (Seems a bit late since the Vikings had been raiding since the 800s…)

Later the defensive structure was used as defensive position between feuding clans.

Loch Alsh
Loch Alsh

It’s thought the medieval castle was the largest structure on the island, most likely encompassing the whole island.  In the late 1300s, the castle was reduced in size, most likely to reduce the number of men needed to defend the structure.  A platform was built into the east wall in the 1500s for cannons.

During the Jacobite risings, the castle housed 46 Spanish soldiers and while they were waiting on weapons from Spain, the English learned of their presence.  The English sent troops to deal with the Jacobite sympathizers and spent three days trying to knock down the castle walls.  Due to the thickness of the castle walls, this was a futile effort and the English sent their troops to storm the castle, which did work.  Then, like with Urquhart Castle, Eilean Donan was blown up.

Urquhart and Eilean Donan Castles
Eilean Donan Castle and her bridge.

The castle you see today was reconstructed by Lt. Colonel John Macrae-Gilstrap.  He spent over 20 years of his life rebuilding the castle. 

Isle of Skye

After Urquhart and Eilean Donan Castles, we drove another 53 miles to Knott Cottage on Loch Snizort Beag, a salt-water loch on the Isle of Skye.

Come to find out, our hosts had forgotten we were coming and we could have taken some time to tour Eilean Donan!  But if we had, then we wouldn’t have had time to enjoy wandering around Knott Hill while they got the rental ready for us.  Give and take?

Disappointment aside, it was still a lovely trip from Inverness to Skye and touring Urquhart and the grounds of Eilean Donan castles.

Loch Snizort Beag
View of Loch Snizort Beag from Knott Cottage


Urquhart and Eilean Donan Castles
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