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Published April 16th 2016
Heroines and Medieval Knights
The stunningly beautiful Eilean Donan Castle dominates the landscape as it sits regally on a small island at the point of where three great sea lochs meet. It is near Dornie by the Kyle of Lochalsh on the west coast of Scotland, approximately 120 kms from Inverness. Of the many castles we visited on our tour of Scotland, this is our favourite by far.
The castle is an iconic image of Scotland having featured in many films such as Loch Ness, The New Avengers, James Bond - The World is Not Enough and Elizabeth, The Golden Age. It is surrounded by majestic scenery and brings to mind visions of romantic book covers with a lonely castle in the background and a heroine with windblown hair in the foreground, reminiscent of a Barbara Cartland or Catherine Gaskin novel.
Eilean Donan (meaning Island of Donan) is said to be named after the 6th century Irish Saint, Bishop Donan who came to Scotland in around 580 AD. Although originally settled in the 6th century, the fortified structure here today was built in the early 13th century in defence of raids by the Vikings.
As with most medieval buildings and castles, this particular castle has grown and contracted over the centuries. The castle built during the medieval era is thought to be the largest of the structures, with towers and a curtain wall which surrounded almost the whole island. Around the end of the 14th century the castle was significantly reduced in size and, while it is not really known why, it is likely that it relates to the accommodation required to house those entrusted to defend the castle at the time.
Since its construction in the mid 13th century, the castle has been established in at least four different versions, all of which have been built and rebuilt over the centuries. After being partially destroyed during the Jacobite uprising in 1719, it lay in ruins for around 200 years before being saved by Lieutenant Colonel John MacRae Gilstrap in the early 20th century. The Lieutenant Colonel undertook an almost complete restoration over a period of 20 years, bringing the castle back to its former glory. Since that time, four generations of the MacRae family have taken charge and remain the Constables today.
A visit enables you to explore every part of the castle from the Keep Door and the Billeting Room to the Banqueting Hall. The castle has every imaginable artefact of a medieval castle on display from weaponry including cannon balls fired during the bombardment of 1719 to tea sets, duelling pistols, dirks and all the accoutrements associated with life during its history.
Eilean Donan Castle during the filming of Highlander
However, this particular castle brought extra enjoyment to our family. As you wander through the castle, there are many guides available to answer any questions you may have and they are all very friendly and helpful. My son came across a guide who had with him a medieval sword. A short conversation led to him actually being able to handle a sword said to be at least two hundred years old. For him, this was the highlight of this trip and an experience he will never forget.
Access to the castle is difficult for those less able bodied. The design and layout includes uneven steps, narrow stairways, corridors and different floor levels. Despite this, in an effort to welcome all, free access onto the island is available for Registered Disabled visitors. This provides the ability to cross the bridge and explore the exterior of the castle. Disabled parking is available and the Visitor Centre is specifically designed for easy access for all. The Visitor Centre includes a very pleasant Gift Shop and Coffee Shop.
If you love the scenery so much you want to stay, well you can. Eilean Donan Cottage sits on its own small headland overlooking the point where the great sea lochs meet and enjoys uninterrupted views from almost every window across the water to the castle. The Cottage sleeps 4 and is available for rent either weekly or for 4 night short breaks. At the time of writing Weekly Lets are £950 per week (May - September) or £800 per week (October - April). 4 night short breaks are £600 (May - September) or £500 (October - April). Further information is available on the website.
Opening hours for the the castle and exhibitions varies dependent on seasons. While it opens at 10 am each day, closing time are 1 Feb to 24 March 5 pm, 25 March to 25 October 6 pm and 26 October to 31 December 4 pm. The castle is closed in January. The Visitor Centre is open 10 am to 5 pm and gift shop 10 am to 5.30 pm.
Cost to visit is £7 Adults, £6 Concession (seniors 60 ), $17 Familes (2 Adults and 3 children 5 - 15) and under 5s free. Visit the website for information on how to get to the Castle.
Our visit to Eilean Donan was a special one for many and varied reasons. Should we ever return to Scotland, and I hope we do, this is definitely one place to which we will return.