Eilean Donan Castle is situated in the Highlands of Scotland on an island at the confluence of three different lochs, making it one of the most picturesque castles in the world.
Eilean Donan means "Island of Donnán," the island's name probably comes from Saint Donnán of Eigg, a 6th century Irish priest who is said to have started a Christian cell here. He was martyred on the island of Eigg in 617.
During the Reign of Alexander II in the first half of the 13th century, a large curtain wall castle was built, which enclosed much of the island, to protect the lands of Kintail from Norwegian expeditions. By 1274, the castle was in the hands of Kenneth Mackenzie. William, Earl of Ross, demanded that Kenneth Mackenzie, his relative, give him the castle to support his expansion into the islands, but Kenneth refused. The Earl then led an assault on the castle, which was repulsed and unsuccessful.
It has been suggested that Robert the Bruce took shelter in the castle in the winter of 1306, soon after seizing the throne. In 1331, Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray, sent a crown officer to Eilean Donan Castle to announce his intention to visit. In preparation for the visit, 50 local "mysdoaris" (mis-doers) were gathered and executed, and their heads displayed on spikes on the castle walls, which pleased the Earl of Moray.
In 1350, a later William, Earl of Ross, tried to gain control of the castle by signing a charter at Eilean Donan, indicating he still held seniority over the Mackenzies. However, King David II granted Kintail to Murdo Mackenzie in 1362. By now, the MacRae clan had established themselves in the area and were known as the "Mackenzies' coat of mail," loyal defenders of the Mackenzie clan chiefs. By the mid-14th century, the Norwegians' threat of invasion from the sea had long passed, and the castle was reduced in size.
In 1509, John Mackenzie of Kintail obtained a crown charter for the lands of Kintail, including Eilean Donan Castle. From this time forward, the castle was often occupied by the MacRaes on behalf of the Mackenzie chiefs. In 1511, the MacRaes became Constables of the castle.
In 1715, as the Jacobite uprising got underway, Eilean Donan Castle was garrisoned by Government troops but was retaken by the Jacobites, who were said to have danced on the roof of the castle the night before setting off to the Battle of Sheriffmuir, where 58 MacRaes would lose their lives among the Jacobite dead in the indecisive battle. The rising collapsed soon after.
In 1719, The Jacobite cause was renewed when they found new support from Spain, opposing England and France. An advance party of 300 Spanish soldiers arrived at Loch Duich in April of 1719 and occupied Eilean Donan Castle to support the Jacobites. The Royal Navy sent ships to the area, and early on the morning of May 10th, 1719, three ships, the HMS Worcester, HMS Flamborough, and HMS Enterprise, anchored off Eilean Donan intending to negotiate by sending a small boat to the island under a flag of truce. When the Spanish Troops in the castle fired at the boat, it returned, and the three large frigates opened fire on the castle for over an hour. The bombardment carried on until the next day. That evening, under the cover of intense cannon fire, a detachment went ashore and captured the castle with little resistance. The Worcester's ship logs record that in the castle were "an Irishman, a captain, a Spanish lieutenant, a serjeant, one Scottish rebel and 39 Spanish soldiers, also 343 barrels of powder and 52 barrels of musquet shot". The British removed much of the gunpowder, leaving some of the barrels, which were used to blast the castle asunder.
Eilean Donan Castle would be left in ruins for the next 200 years until it was restored between 1920 and 1932 by Lt. Col. John MacRae-Gilstrap, architect George Mackie Watson, and local clerk of works Farquhar MacRae. The castle would be restored based on a dream in which the clerk, Farquhar MacRae, saw the restored castle in a dream. The restoration was completed in 1932 with the Arched Bridge to the island being built, linking the castle to the mainland. The castle has been open to the public since 1955, though the MacRaes still use the castle for holidays and entertaining members of the Clan MacRae.
Eilean Donan Castle is a top destination in Scotland, given its beautiful setting on an island where the three Lochs of Alsh, Duich, and Long converge. It is the most photographed castle in Scotland, a must-see for castle lovers and anyone traveling through the Highlands to the Isle of Skye.
The castle's exterior is the highlight to see. Try and see it not only from the island or across the bridge near the visitor centre but from other points across the Lochs to take it in from multiple angles. A side road from the town of Dornie leads up the hill behind the visitor centre, which has a scenic overlook of the castle. Another good spot is just over the Loch Long Bridge from the Dornie Community Hall.
The castle is open for self-guided tours, and audio guides are available. No photography is allowed inside the castle. The Billeting Room was divided into a kitchen and storage cellar in medieval times and later probably severed as a billet for off-duty soldiers, giving it its current name. The room contains the architect's drawings used to rebuild the castle, a set of dueling pistols, and several cannonballs fired into the castle in 1719.
The best part of the castle's interior is the Banqueting Hall on the first floor of the keep. The main doorway is part of the medieval castle that survived the 1719 demolition. The Hall contains a carved stone fireplace depicting a hunting scene and some heraldry, with the MacRae-Gilstrap coat of arms at its center. The second floor of the keep contains bedrooms still furnished, mainly as they would have been when the castle was restored in the 1930s.
Above the main entrance are the kitchen and, behind that, the scullery, which have both been decorated to show how they would have looked in the 1930s. The scullery is an annex to the kitchen where preserved goods would have been stored. Eilean Donan Castle also has a working portcullis that visitors occasionally see being lowered or raised.
During my visit, I stayed over a weekend and booked a room at the Eilean Donan Apartments just over the Loch Long Bridge, which has views of the castle. The castle is also stunning at night after dark when the floodlights are on. The car park is still accessible after the castle closes, making it easy to get great night pictures.The castle may look familiar as it has been used in a few movies, including Highlander (1986), Loch Ness (1996), and James Bond - The World is Not Enough (1999).
Eilean Donan Castle is also haunted.