In the isolated Donan Island, facing the Isle of Skye in the western Scottish Highlands, there’s Eilean Donan Castle right at the middle point where Loch Duich, Loch Long and Loch Alsh meet. This small castle mixes history and otherworldly landscapes, making it one of the most iconic Scottish destinations. As soon as you step into the castle’s grounds, amid the green scenery, the dark loch water, and the chilly weather, you feel as if you went back in time.
The island’s history
Supposedly, the castle and the island where named after the Irish Saint Bishop Donan after the 6th century. It is said that the Bishop created a small community on the island during the 7th century, explaining the several churches dedicated to Donan in the area.
Even though the island was first populated in the 6th century, the first castle was built in the medieval 13th century as a way of protection for the lands of Kintail when the Vikings used to raid and control the majority of the North of Scotland.
The castle then became a fortress of the MacKenzie and MacRae clans until the 16th century while they feuded with other clans. It also survived a lot of activity during the 17th and 18th centuries when the Jacobites rebelled against the English to take the crown for King James VII of Scotland. In 1719, they imprisoned several Spanish soldiers in the castle and therefore three government warships bombed Eilean Donan. Even though the government soldiers accepted the rebels surrender, they still exploded what was left of the castle with 343 barrels of gunpowder, causing the castle’s destruction.
Eilean Donan laid in ruins for almost 200 years until Lieutenant Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap and his family reconstructed the castle after they bought the island in 1911. The building then opened again in 1932.
The castle’s beauty
Eilean Donan is easily reached and it has a subtle charm. It crosses a graceful bridge that was added by the MacRae-Gilstrap family during the last rebuilding. From this bridge, you can see the three lochs, the nearby village of Dornie and the mountains of Skye.
Some people say the castle’s outline resembles a broken tooth, but this doesn’t take away from its subdued beauty since the building still looks good from almost any angle thanks to the stunning landscape that surrounds it filled with scented heather and wildflowers.
Regardless of how peaceful its surroundings may seem, it’s still clear that the castle’s original function was protection. You can’t retreat from an island battle, and the purpose of Eilean Donan’s location helps to build this kind of atmosphere.
The bridge is also protected by the bastion’s battlements and one of the castle’s walls that extends outwards to the bridge. An entryway leads into the yard, where there’s a seawall that looks out on the lochs. Steps guide to the entry of the castle and into the billeting room.
On the top floor, you can find the most stunning room of the castle, the banqueting hall, supported by long beams made out of Douglas fir wood from British Columbia. In addition, the room has a large chimney decorated with coats of arms and a table that apparently comes from one of Admiral Nelson’s ships.
At high tide, the castle’s position gives it a vibe of defiance and it’s easy to imagine adversary ships cruising down Loch Alsh or attacking troops wanting to fight their way across the castle. However, at low tide, the island is usually bordered with seaweed and tide pools, and the castle that was once a place where historical moments where made, is now a place of dreams surrounded by green mountains and reflected in the loch water.
How you can get there
Eilean Donan Castle is located in a fairly remote area. The bridge is actually 16 km away from the Isle of Skye. You can get to the island by car in a 7-hour long drive from Glasgow. However, you’ll enjoy some of the most iconic Scottish landscapes along the way, including Ben Nevis, Glen Coe, Loch Lochy and Glen Shiel. A car trip from Edinburgh will also take you 7 hours, and if you’re coming from Inverness it’s only a 3 hour-long trip.
We recommend booking ahead of time, since hotels and bed-breakfast capacity is limited in the nearby village of Dornie, especially during summer. The road to Dornie has a clear view of the castle, particularly at sunset.
If your stay in the castle is related to some special event, such as your wedding, anniversary or romantic getaway, you can book the castle’s Holiday Cottage, which has recently been refurbished. This cozy cottage is located in its own headland, where you’ll get staggering uninterrupted views to Eilean Donan Castle across the loch water.
Some of the facilities you’ll find in the castle are a coffee shop and gift shop, when you can get a bunch of cute souvenirs for your friends and family. You can also use the castle’s parking lot at no charge. For more information on this unique destination, go to http://www.eileandonancastle.com
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