Hey everyone, welcome back to the last in our first tour of Scotland ,We’ve truly had the best time discovering new and old places but had to save the best till last, in our opinion of course until the next time we venture up North. Please join us in wandering an iconic and ruinous stronghold set on a beautiful location on the banks of the famous Loch Ness, which is home to the legendary Loch Ness Monster and near the village of Drumnidrochit in the highlands of Scotland this is Urquhart castle.

It’s known as one of the largest castles and strongholds of medieval Scotland and today, its popularity is well known as the top ten tourist attractions in Scotland and it’s really not hard to see why it has this claim. As with many other Scottish ruins and castles, Urquhart has a really picturesque and dramatic setting and is very much strategically placed in terms of defence.

It gained the title of a ‘Royal Castle’, and was used by Kings of both Scotland and England – King Edward I of England occupied it in 1296, King David II of Scotland stayed there in 1342. Urquhart castle was at the centre of a tug-of-war between the English and Scottish which lasted from the 14th to the 17th century. It was also fought over by the Crown, the Clan MacDonald and the Grant family.

Excavations have provided evidence of settlements in this area going back to as early as 2000BC, and it seems that during the 6th or 7th century, a simple fort may have existed at the location of the present castle and may have been the home of Bridei, the King of the Pictish. However, the first records of Urquhart castle indicate it existed in the early 13th century, probably built by the Durward family.

At the point in time that Alan Durward was given the property and control of Urquhart, He was responsible for at least the earliest parts of the medieval castle from his time. He was also once one of the most important political figures of 13th century Scotland and in fact was ruler of the country at several points during the minority of Alexander III. But after his death in 1275, the castle passed on to John Comyn, appointed by Edward I of England. After a series of humiliating defeats John had abandoned his kingship and much of Scotland and many of it’s castles, it was now under English control. This was now the time that William Wallace appeared, and began his campaign against English rule when he killed an English Sherriff at Lanark.

Later in 1297 Andrew Moray led a night time attack of the castle along with his armed rebels, who demanded that the castle was to be surrendered to him. This backfired when Moray met his march with the countess of Ross and Fitz Warin when she stormed the castle in dramatic fashion armed with her entourage forcing Moray to abandon his siege at the castle. But that certainly wasn’t the end of it, in 1303, Edward again took the castle, but his garrison under Alexander Comyn was soon destroyed by Robert the Bruce who was to be crowned King of Scotland in 1306.

By 1346, owner of the castle passed from the earls of Moray to the Scottish crown again and it seemed that with the crown money they were able to make substantial building and repair works throughout this time. Into the 1400’s the castle fell in the hands of Clan MacDonald, but this was by their frequent raiding off the castles, they tried to gain power, wealth and supplies. On one raid named the great raid of 1545, the clan took everything they could get their hands on, including 20 guns, 3 boats and even the mattresses.

For 150 years, the ownership of the castle changed hands between the two sides, before order was somewhat restored by George Gordon, the 2nd Earl of Huntly. But In 1689, Urquhart Castle saw its last action, when a small garrison supporting the monarchy of William and Mary held off a much larger Jacobite force. Later that year a force of 500 Jacobite laid siege to the stronghold, but the castle held out until the main force of the Jacobite rebellion was defeated in 1690. When the soldiers left, they blew out the gatehouse to prevent reoccupation of the castle by the Jacobite forces. Grant was then compensated by Parliament, but did not undertake any repairs. Afterwards, the locals started plundering and using the stonework and other material for re-use in other buildings, which further reduced the ruins of the castle. The Grant Tower partially collapsed in 1715 after a storm, and by 1770 the castle was roofless. It turned to the National Trust for Scotland and the Historic Environment Scotland who care and maintain the castle for our pleasure.

The walk takes you through the 16th century gatehouse which comprises twin D plan towers with an arched entrance passage, formally the passage was defended by a portcullis and a double set of doors with guard rooms at either side. Over the entrance as you walk across you can get a great idea of the ditch, cut from solid rock to help with defending the castle from an attack. The causeway connected to the castle still does exist, but now with a fixed bridge, that would have once been a drawbridge back in its day. The gatehouse is home to the entry of the castle, it was up to the gatekeeper who was allowed to come in and out at all times, this part of the castle had enough room so that the constable and would be comfortable, inside the first room we venture into, we find a prison on the right, this was a small dismal windless chamber where the prisoners were held whilst they awaited trial.

Just above as you climb the stairs you’ll notice a series of rooms which may indeed have served as accommodation for the castles keeper. He would have run the castle whilst in his lords absence. The first known constable of the castle was William Fitzwarin in 1296. The lodgings had its own garderobe which indicated the high status and importance of a person. Outside of the castle walls there is a large open space, this once held a variety of workshops, including metalworking, leather tanning and iron and bronze smelting, they also produced a number of household items like nails.

On ground level and In the 1500’s one of the rooms in the castles gatehouse was converted into a corn drying kiln. Grain was dried in the gatehouse basement before it was ground into flour, most of the food came from four farming townships that were located on higher ground overlooking the castle and the loch. The staples of food they ate here were oatcakes, porridge and oat bread, this was made to ensure people were eating a good balanced diet. Only the wealthy were able to afford to eat meat.

What is very interesting is the many displays and historic artefacts that are stored safely found during excavations on the site inside the modern visitor centre just before you enter the castle, you are able to learn about the long history and some of its visitors!

Just down below is where the water gate is, it would have been the quick and easy way to transport food and drink from the loch. Today it’s a stunning reminder of how beautiful the loch and its surroundings truly are.

Reaching the top of the castle you can totally understand why the castle was built here, on this shore, you can enjoy panoramic views of the castle and the loch ness whilst taking in that naturally beautiful landscape. Or maybe marvel at the loch and try and witness one of the many ‘Loch Ness Monster’ sightings that have taken place here. The earliest legendary sighting takes place in the 6th century, when Pictish legend describes a man being killed by a sea monster, and St. Columba is said to have saved a second man from a similar fate. Sadly on our trip we didn’t witness the monster, but who’s to say she isn’t lurking below.

On our way back down the stairs we can make out the ruins of the castle stables, they would have housed riding horses or work horses more suited to pulling carts, beyond the stables is the ruined great hall, the heart of any medieval fortresses where the lord and his constable entertained their guests and a place where they were able to administer justice. We can walk the vaulted cellars below the hall and the hall was built by the powerful Comyn family in the late 13th century, to it’s left is the great chamber, this was a private apartment for the lord and his family. The great hall was damaged in the attack in the early 15th century and replaced by a less impressive one, the chamber and the kitchens were abandoned.

Towards the end of the castle and dominating the views is the Grant tower, this was once the five storey hub of the castle that was capable of being defended even if the rest of the castle fell to whoever needed the ownership at the time, the tower is the best preserved part of the castle and extends from the vaulted cellars up to the original wall, you’re able to explore on various levels but on our visit we were only able to go up a very narrow spiral staircase to enjoy the views over the castle itself and the views over the Loch.

In terms of admission, it’s worth every penny to visit here, with a large carpark free when visiting and other amenities that make your visit easy and smooth, the place has it all. But for us, this was a bucket list castle and we are so so glad we visited and explored this gorgeous castle and would urge you to do the same if you haven’t already. Sure, there are more complete castles but this one is full of history, the walls scream with stories and the views are just next level.

That brings us to ending our series in Scotland for now, If you liked the blog please hit that like button, watch the full video below and consider subscribing if you haven’t already.

Till Next Time!