The Out About Scotland complete guide to Eilean Donan Castle
What’s this attraction all about?
Eilean Donan castle is one of the most photographed tourist attractions in Scotland, and with good reason. Located on a small tidal island at the point where three sea lochs meet, the castle offers one of the loveliest views in Scotland, instantly recognisable from a thousand shortbread tins and travel blogger websites.
The lochs of Duich, Long and Alsh provide the stunning foreground to a panorama where the eastern-most tip of the Isle of Skye fills the horizon while the hills of the Kintail National Scenic Area surround the castle in all directions. It’s a truly beautiful sight and one that has to be seen by any visitor to Scotland.
But there’s more to Eilean Donan castle than picture-perfect photos, and its long and turbulent history is worth investigating just as much as the gorgeous lochs and Highland landscape that surround it.Read more...
What can you do there?
Today Eilean Donan is popular with tourists from all over the world who come not only to admire the views but also to explore the battlements, maze of rooms, spy holes and cannons that make the castle such an extraordinary ancestral home.
As you walk through each room you can’t fail to be impressed by the traces of clan history that are dotted about in every nook and cranny, and it’s easy to forget that these buildings were ‘only’ re-constructed a hundred years ago.
But there’s a sensation you get in every room that you’re experiencing something special, a sensation that becomes overwhelming once you step outside and see the three lochs merging into each other against the skyline. If you have the time during your visit you should wait until dusk and watch the colours of the setting sun bounce off the loch as it fades into the landscape. It’s spine-tingling stuff.
Tourists are well catered for during their visit with a bright and modern visitor centre on the far side of the bridge which also houses a really good restaurant (the yummy home-made shortbread is recommended), and there’s a well-stocked gift shop where you can pick up some decent souvenirs and MacRae clan memorabilia.
If you really fall in love with Eilean Donan then you can even have your wedding held there for the ultimate romantic day, and there are self-catering apartments just a couple of minutes away if you fancy staying nearby for a relaxing break. All in all Eilean Donan castle is possibly the most perfect Scottish experience you’ll find anywhere in the country.
The history of the attraction
The first known inhabitants on the island were a Christian order who dedicated a church to the 7th-century Saint Donnan of Eigg, but it wasn’t until the 13th-century that the island changed from a site of religious worship to a fortified castle.
Around this time Scotland was under frequent attacks from Norse expeditions that were moving in from the Western Isles, so the Scots ruler Alexander II decreed that a castle was necessary at the point where the three great lochs meet in order to defend his realm. And so it was that the first incarnation of Eilean Donan was created, a huge fortification of seven towers connected by massive curtain walls that ran around the entire perimeter of the island.
Over the years Eilean Donan castle was used primarily by clans Mackenzie and MacRae as a stronghold, but it was the early 18th-century Jacobite uprising which eventually led to its downfall.
At this time the castle was inhabited by several Jacobite commanders accompanied by a garrison of sympathetic Spanish soldiers, and it was rumoured that an enormous stockpile of gunpowder was secreted away inside the castle walls.
On hearing about this the British government sent three Royal Navy frigates to bring the Jacobites under control, and through a combination of cannon bombardments and ground-based attacks the Jacobites and Spanish were forced to retreat.
As the English troops moved in a search was ordered to discover if the supposed stockpile of gunpowder actually existed, and in short order it was confirmed that it did, with more than 300 barrels of the explosive black powder uncovered.
The commanding officer of the British forces gave the order to blow the castle up, which was achieved with devastating effect, with the fortification being completely destroyed in the process.
It was to be nearly two hundred years before Eilean Donan castle was resurrected into the structure that we see today, thanks to the efforts of Lt Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap (a descendant of the MacRae clan) who had the buildings completely re-built as a family home using the stones from the original fortification.
As the castle was rebuilt the iconic bridge was also added and a central keep was constructed to serve as the MacRae clan family home, all of which you can explore during your visit.
What I liked about this attraction
- The view across the loch is beautiful
- The castle is fascinating to explore. There’s plenty to see inside
- I loved the cafe!
What I didn’t like about this attraction
- I haven’t got any negative comments about this attraction
Kyle of Lochalsh,
Prices and opening times
Castle Admission Prices 2018
- Adults: £7.50
- Concessions: (Seniors Aged 60+) £6.50
- Family: (2 Adults + 3 Children Age 5-15) £20.00
- Children over 5: £4.00
- Under 5s: Free
- Group Rate (min 12 persons): £6.50
The Castle and Exhibitions Opening Times
Opens at 9.00am during July & August, and 9.30am in September.
- Every day 1st Feb – 24th March: 10.00am – 4.00pm (Last Admission 3.00pm)
- 25th March – 27th Oct: 10.00am – 6.00pm (Last Admission 5.00pm)
- 28th Oct – 30th Dec (Closed Christmas Eve, Christmas Day & Boxing Day): 10.00am – 4.00pm (Last Admission 3.00pm)