Castles of Scotland

To try and capture as many Scottish Castles that I can.

Duntulm Castle, Skye, Scotland

Duntulm Castle with spectacular views of the Outer Hebrides, you can understand the reason they built it there, and no, not just for the view, although I would have done.  The castle, with sheer cliffs on three sides, stands ruined on the north coast of Trotternish, on the Isle of Skye in Scotland, near the hamlet of Duntulm.  We were on our round the ‘Island Road Trip’, a week ago on holiday and I suddenly noticed the ruins, not sure how I missed them in pervious years…..most probably busy looking at the view.  We didn’t have time to stop, as we had a ferry to catch and we still had a long way to go, so the photos were taken out of the car window….. again.

 

A little history…..Duntulm is believed to have been first fortified in the Iron Age, and the site continues to be associated with the name Dùn Dhaibhidh or “David’s Fort”.  Later in life it was fortified by the Norse, and subsequently by their successors, the MacLeods of Skye. It would have been while it was under the MacLeod’s tenure that James V visited the castle in 1540, where he was impressed by its strength and the quality of the hospitality on offer.  In the 17th century it was the seat of the chiefs of Clan MacDonald of Sleat.  The MacDonalds abandoned the castle in about 1730 in favour of nearby Monkstadt House and then Armadale Castle in Sleat.  We did visit Armadale Castle, which has a lovely garden, and I will post about it later.  

 A little haunting for you…. a nursemaid accidentally dropped the baby son of the clan chief from a castle window above the cliffs.  The ghost of the nursemaid, killed in retribution, is still said to wander the ruins. She is apparently kept company by the ghost of Hugh MacDonald, who plotted against the rightful clan chief in the 1600s, and who was starved to death in the dungeon at Duntulm.   

There were quite substantial ruins left in the 1880, a large keep several stories high, which would have looked quite impressive on the cliff top.  But, as with many of theses castle ruins, the stone work was removed for building projects and other parts corroded away, or just fell into the sea.  

May 2017

 

The Royal Castle of Tarbert, Argyll, Scotland

We finally made the climb up to Tarbert Castle, on our visit of May 2016, and it was worth the effort in the hot sunshine.  The views were beautiful, but there isn’t that much left of the castle, and really what you can see is a remains of a Tower House or Keep, built in 1494 by James IV, and I have taken photos of  the notice boards which will tell you about it.  As you walk up to the Tower House or Keep, you walk through the inner and outer baileys, which are just humps in the ground now, and all that is left of the ancient 1292 castle.  When the castle fell into disrepair in 1760, most of the stone disappeared down the hill to the village, and I’m guessing that a lot of those village cottages have Royal Castle walls.  But what I really remember most about the visit, apart from the fantastic views, were the hundreds of bluebells just covering the hillside, really beautiful.  We then had to rush down the hill to catch our ferry to Islay, as we had lingered far too long in the sunshine.

 

Dumbarton Castle, Dumbarton, West of Glasgow, Scotland

Last year May 2016, we stayed over night at Dumbarton in Scotland, on our way back from staying on the Islands of Jura and Islay, two Inner Hebridean Islands off the west coast of Scotland.  Dumbarton, is really just somewhere we pass through on our way to the West Coast, but it does have a castle and we were meeting up with some of our family for the night, at a hotel, so it was a chance to see the castle.  The only snag was……. I had to get up early to visit, well we both did, that was husbands condition for having a look.  So these photos were taken at 7.00 am ….thank goodness it wasn’t raining or foggy.  I had ten minutes to run from the car park, take photos and run back…….we had a long way to drive home.

I had always thought the castle was on an island, seen from the other side of the Clyde, it looks like it could be, but it sits on Dumbarton Rock, a plug of volcano basalt.  Of course it was closed at that time of the morning and also lots of scaffolding, which is always a good sign of maintenance work being carried out.

There is very little remaining of the castle, but there is enough to fire your imagination, from just the location.

A little history ……..This rock was home to a settlement called Alcluith (meaning ‘Clyde Rock’), whose first records appear as early as 450AD. There was likely a simple fortress as part of this settlement, “Dun Breatann” meaning ‘Fortress of the Britons’.

 

Over the next several hundred years, Dumbarton Rock was besieged, fell, was regained and fell again before the settlement was destroyed by Viking raiders.

The second stage begins in the 13th century, when documentation suggests that a medieval castle was built on the the summit by Alexander II of Scotland.

Only the Portcullis Arch (built in the 1300’s) and the Guard House (built in the latter half of the 16th century) remain today.

The third stage of the castles’ development took place between the late 17th and late 18th centuries.  What was left of the existing castle structures were destroyed, and yet another castle was built on this lofty perch.

Artillery fortifications and the ‘French Prison’ are all that’s left today, with very little of the medieval castle (and none of the earlier one) still standing.  

We will return, because the views from the top, on a clear day, must be amazing……thats if I can climb the 547 steps to the remains of the White Tower Crag.   

 

Inverness Castle, Scotland

We visited Inverness, which is on the east coast of Scotland, just before Christmas 2016, and again at the start of  March 2017, unfortunately on each trip, we were unable to stop in the centre of the city….. we had run out of time on both occasion.  I could only managed to get a few photos from the car window.  Also the visits were late in the afternoon and the light was fading.  To top it all, the castle had scaffolding around one of the towers, but then I noticed, very small people looking out over the city.  I want to keep a record of the scaffolding, as we will be visiting again, and although the castle is not open, the castle grounds and gardens are.  I would like to go back in the sunshine and take some more photos.  Inverness is growing at a great rate of knots and soon will become another large Scottish city.  So I would like to try to collect some little bits of Inverness, before they all vanish.

A little history ………The sandstone Inverness Castle, was built in 1836 to plans drawn by architect William Burn.  It was constructed on a mound overlooking the city and the River Ness.  In 1848, a building known as the North Block was added and served as a prison.  But a castle had occupied the site from possibly as far back as the 11th Century.  Over the centuries, the fortification fell under the control of the forces of Edward I, Robert the Bruce and James I, II and IV.  In 1562, it was attacked and damaged by soldiers loyal to Mary, Queen of Scots, before it was almost destroyed by Royalist troops in the 1600s.
Bonnie Prince Charlie’s forces blew the castle up in 1746 to prevent it from falling into the hands of government troops.  It was said that a French sergeant, who had brought his poodle with him to Scotland, set off the explosives.  The soldier was caught in the blast, and his body was blown across to the opposite side of the River Ness, his dog survived.  Today the castle houses Inverness Sheriff Court. The Drum Tower houses an exhibition of castle history and is open daily in the summer season. The castle itself is not open to the public.

Claig Castle, Heather Island, Jura, Scotland

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Last year, 2016, we stayed on the Isle of Jura an island off the west coast of Scotland, to attend the ‘Whisky Festival’…….it was brilliant, more to come about that.  Part of this trip was for my husband, who is an avid whisky collector, mind you by the end of the visit, I got a liking for a wee dram.  The other part of the visit, was for me to explore the island and find interesting sites, which I did.  But the one thing I thought I wouldn’t find was a castle, as everyone told me there wasn’t one.  In the hotel we were staying. I found a small old book about the island and low and behold there was a reference to a castle.  Ok not much left, but I have seen less, now to find out where it was……no one in the hotel knew, some of the locals had no idea there was a castle or the ruins of one.  I was beginning to think maybe it had crumble away to dust, when one of the gamekeepers came in for a drink in the bar and told me exactly where it was.  As we left the next day and I had been told the exact spot to look right, we found it, otherwise you would miss it.  This was as close as we got, plus we did have a ferry to catch, so a zoom view had to do, but you can see the reason it was built there to control the sea traffic.  I have added a small amount of history.

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The castle ruins are situated on a very small Island, Fraoch Eileen, in English, Heather Island, off the coast of Jura, but still in the parish of Jura.

The castle was once a massive fort described as a sea fortress, which allowed the Macdonald Lord of the Isles to dominate and control the sea traffic north and south through the Hebrides for more than four centuries.

The castle remained a stronghold of the MacDonalds until they were subdued in the 17th century by the Clan Campbell.

All that remains now from the slight historical evidence and features suggest a late medieval, probably 15th century tower house. Only a ruinous ground floor remains but it is likely that it comprised two main storeys, together with perhaps a garret contained within the roof.

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Castle Sween – Possibly the Oldest Stone Castle in Scotland

 

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Last summer, in 2016, while on holiday in Scotland, we visited Castle Sween which is near Lochgilphead, in Argyll and Bute.  It was a beautiful warm sunny day and it was perfect for exploring.  The castle is in the most wonderful location, except for the static holiday homes, which you have to pass through, while making your way to the castle.  Unfortunately you are not allow to park near the castle, so there is quite a hike down from the road.  I think it might be to stop people coming to look at the castle, but the walk down is quite nice, its just a little steep coming back up.

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This is the entrance to the site, we had already driven down, but had to come back up and park on the road verge.

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All the way down to the Castle were hundreds of Bluebells, the smell was wonderful.

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We saw the castle through the trees and did wonder how we would actually get to it, there were no signs, so we just headed towards it, through the buildings, through a small gate in stone wall that surrounds the castle and then it was hunt the entrance.

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A a little bit of history ………Castle Sween is thought to be the oldest stone castle on the Scottish mainland that can be dated with any certainty. Architectural details show it was built in the 1100s and occupied for about 500 years.

The castle stands on a rocky roll in southern Knapdale, looking over Loch Sween and out to Jura. To its west is a small islet cleared to act as a boat landing, illustrating the vital importance of the sea as a major transport link.  The castle change hands many times over the medieval period

The castle changed hands multiple times over the medieval period, passing in turn from the MacSweens to the MacDonalds, to the MacNeills, and the MacMillans. The MacDonalds recaptured Sween in 1647 and slighted the castle, making it uninhabitable.

The castle has never been restored, though it is maintained and preserved by Historic Scotland.

The interior of the castle and regrettably the stairs were locked, as there was work being carried out on that side of the castle.  The views from the castle are beautiful, you can see the mountains of Jura in one of the photos.  When we returned from following the road further down, you could see the caravan site with castle in the background.  Afterwards we visited the site shop and bought some ice-cream, which was quite a treat, as it was Scottish and did taste rather nice.

 

Inverlochy Castle, Scotland

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Last May 2016 we visited Inverlochy Castle, just outside of Fort William in Scotland.  The castle has little altered since before the outbreak of the Wars of Independence.  It was built in about 1280 by John Comyn, the Lord of Badenoch and it commanded the strategic southern entrance  the Great Glen and three battles were fought at the castle.

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The stronghold was part of a nationwide network of fortifications that helped to secure the Comyn’s place as one of Scotland’s most powerful upwardly mobile families.  Its ten metre high angled walls, designed to protect against scaling ladders, have survived remarkably intact behind a once deep moat.

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From one of the many information boards dotted around the site, you can see how the castle would have looked in 1280.  Its control of the River Lochy at the southern entrance to the Great Glen brought armies and merchants the Castle.  There was probably a small harbour, supples may have come through a first floor doorway, which is now blocked.  A naval battle was fought close by in 1297.

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Before you is Comyn’s Tower, the strongest point and focus of the castle.  Visitors were entertained in the tower’s first floor hall.  John Comyn’s private apartment was on the floor above, reached by a curving stairs within the wall.

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All did not go well for the Comyns or their castle, according to the following information board.

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After the Comyns were driven out, their castle was no longer a noble home and the castle was virtually left abandoned.  But it remained useful.  It was a court of Justice and in the 1500’s and a storehouse for the Ivergarry Iron Works in the 1700s.

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In 1431, a royal army camped around the castle was routed by a smaller force of Highlanders, some arriving by galley.  Two centuries later, in 1645, Royalist clansmen, mostly MacDonalds, destroyed a Campbell led covenanting army here, after marching through snow clad Highland passes to outflank their enemies.  The bard lain Lorn MacDonald wrote an epic account of the battle.

I climb early on Sunday morning

The brae of the Castle of Inverlochy:

I saw the army get into order,

And victory on the field was with Clan Donald.

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The castle declined through the ages and in 1873 the Victorian tourists exploring the Highlands were drawn to these romantic ruins.  Queen Victoria herself decided to join them in 1873.  The then owner of the Castle, William Scarlett added battlements and patched up the stonework for the royal visit, but Victoria was unimpressed and thought there was little to see.  The below photo is the castle as seen today and there is ample remains to view, compare to some I have visited….. a few rocks in field some times.  The castle is looked after by Historic Scotland and there is no entry charge and its well worth a visit on a sunny afternoon.

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All the information is from the boards dotted around the site 2016.