Today we’re going on a castle run through the Scottish Highlands. Scotland, land of bagpipes, kilts, haggis, golf, and whiskey is littered with castles. Remnants of their feudal and fractious history, the castles of Scotland served many purposes. From Edinburgh Castle, guardian of the Scottish Crown Jewels, to Stirling Castle, site of Mary Stuart‘s (aka Mary, Queen of Scots, 1542-1587) coronation, to Balmoral the Scottish home of the British Royal Family, to the remote Muness castle in the northernmost Island of Unst, the Scottish castle served as a fortress, armory, palace, prison, treasury, courthouse, and home.
Today, many Scottish castles are roofless ruins, others are fully restored museums, and still others are for rent or sale. We begin our tour with two lesser known favorites I had the good fortune to visit in the West Highlands.
Doune Castle: A Catapulting Cow Type of Castle
Our first stop is Doune Castle. This beauty was built in the 1300s for the Duke of Albany, Robert Stewart. Doune Castle was originally a hunting lodge and royal retreat. It is an excellent example of an intact Medieval castle. It contains spiral staircases and a maze of various rooms including a great hall, lord’s hall, cellars, and kitchen. The ownership of Doune Castle passed through many hands over the years. Historic Scotland, a cultural preservation agency, currently holds a 999-year lease on the property.
Doune Castle is best known for its showbiz history. It was most famously featured in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Remember King Arthur’s run-in with the French that included hamster insults, catapulting cows, and a Trojan rabbit? Click here for a hilarious clip. Terry Jones, one of the Monty Python boys, narrates the Doune Castle audio tour. More recently, Doune Castle has appeared in the television series Outlander and Game of Thrones.
Kilchurn Castle: A Raw and Roofless Ruin (Repeat 3 times with a Scottish Brogue!)
Built in 1450 by Sir Colin Campbell, the first Lord of Glenorchy, Kilchurn Castle is situated on the banks of Loch Awe. Throughout the years, the Campbell descendants added turrets and a variety of halls. In the late 1600s, it was converted into a garrison and used to harbor prisoners after the Jacobite uprisings in 1715 and 1745. Kilchurn castle was struck by lightning in 1760 and subsequently abandoned. A short hike across the heath (where sheep still graze!) takes you to the skeletal remains of the once grand castle. Thick stone walls contain the remnants of the ancient halls, barracks, and courtyard. The five-story tower house is still intact and a climb to the top offers a breathtaking view of Loch Awe and the castle grounds. Click on this short aerial tour of Kilchurn Castle for a look-see.
Fun Scottish Facts: Last week, I asked if you knew what creature is the national animal of Scotland. I’m happy to report, it is the unicorn. I kid you not! The mythical unicorn is featured on the many Scottish and British coats of arms. An ancient Babylonian folktale tells the story of how unicorns and lions are natural born enemies. The national animal of England is, you guessed it, a lion. A 17th-century nursery rhyme aptly named, The Lion and the Unicorn, is a quirky description of the animosity:
The lion and the unicorn were fighting for the crown
The lion beat the unicorn all around the town.
Some gave them white bread, and some gave them brown;
Some gave them plum cake and drummed them out of town.
Next week we’ll continue our castle run with a tour through Inveraray Castle. I’ll share some bits about how socks, elephants and Scottish highlander, Rob Roy MacGregor (1671-1734) are all connected to Inveraray Castle. We’ll also discuss what NOT to ask the highlander guarding the front door. Have a great week!