Table of Contents

Eilean Donan


Basic Info


Name: Eilean Donan
Location: Highlands, Nr Dornie
Country: Scotland

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Content


There is only one major road from the east to the Skye ferry at Kyle of Lochalsh. After leaving the Great Glen it runs beside Loch Cluanie for a while, then threads its way through the awesome Glenshiel before descending to the head of Loch Duish. Although the waters here are tidal, there is no glimpse yet of the sea. The road follows the right bank of the loch until it meets with Loch Long, stretching away to the north-east. Ahead the Atlantic funnels into Loch Alsh, and the mountains of Skye are visible in the far distance, framed between the wooded hills of the mainland. It was here, on a small island a short distance from the shore of Loch Duish, that Donan, an early Celtic saint, decided to settle and live as a hermit. He may have built himself a but from the remains of an earlier Pictish fort on the island. No doubt he was visited from time to time by disciples bringing him food or asking about the revolutionary new gospel he proclaimed, but most of the time he spent in that lovely and remote spot was devoted to quiet prayer. Though the island was subsequently named after the holy man, rarely since his time has it witnessed such blessed tranquility Only those fortunate enough to see Eilean Donan in fair weather are able to appreciate fully the beauty of the castle's situation. All too often the views up Loch Duish and westwards over Loch Alsh are obscured by rain and mist; the waters of the lochs are gray, the hills reduced to colorless shapes and the horizons lost in cloud. But on a bright day, particularly in autumn when the colors are so warm and varied, Scotland can boast of no more picturesque castle. It appears a photographer's dream, yet each year more disappointing pictures must be taken of this site than any other in the country, for no photograph can begin to capture the totality of the scene. However, those wishing to disprove that statement may like to start by climbing the old road to the isles, running through the trees above the A87. Purists are disappointed to find that Eilean Donan is a twentieth century construction. It is no mere Disney fantasy, however, for it was put together in an attempt to recreate the original castle. The only blatantly unhistorical part of the modern stronghold is the bridge linking it to the mainland. The present owners wished for more frequent intercourse with the outside world than St Donan, and their sturdy means of egress also provides thousands of lucrative tourists with a more comfortable and rapid means of access than the boat which once served the island. On the other hand, the bridge ensures that at the height of summer the confined site is transformed into something more akin to a multinational rabbit warren or Tower of Babel than a citadel. It is said that at some time early in this century Farquhar MacRae had vision. He saw the castle of Eilean Donan, then in ruins, rebuilt to its former glory and restored as the headquarters of the Clan MacRae. The work was eventually undertaken at considerable expense by Lt. Col. John MacRae Gilstrap. The workmen were instructed to stick as closely as possible to the original methods of construction, shaping the stone and timber by hand. Their labors were supervised by George Mackie Watson and the eventual outcome, although apparently not accurate in every detail, is a fair replica of the fortress which once stood on the island. The dream had come true. The first medieval castle on Eilean Donan was a simple enceinte of curtain wall, no doubt entered through some sort of gatehouse and protected by an overhanging platform and arrow slits. The fortifications need not have been very elaborate in the days before artillery, for any attack could be foiled by setting fire to hostile vessels with flaming arrows launched from the wallhead. The keep was built in the late fourteenth century, when the castle was in the hands of the Earl of Ross. It served as a look-out, a final point of refuge and a secure and comfortable lodging within the walls. In the original tower the stone-vaulted basement (now dubbed the 'Billeting Room') had no access from the outside and was entered from above by a wooden stairway. It was used for storage. The present vaulting is largely the handiwork of the visionary Farquhar MacRae The room known as the 'Banqueting Hall' is where the Great Hall of the Ross keep once stood. It is now full of historical knick-knacks and fine furniture. A splendid wrought iron yett, recovered from the well at the time of the restoration, serves as a reminder of less settled times. The main entrance to the castle was on this floor and was reached by means of timber stairs ascending from the courtyard. Although Eilean Donan hardly compares with the mighty castles built at about the same time, such as Kildrummy or Tantallon, it was a secure seat, proof against such small-scale and lightly-armed raids as were to be expected in the remote north-west. Since it was safe against a shore-based attack, the only real threat had to come by sea. And that, as we shall see, was precisely from where it came.


Visitor Accounts


Beth Zecca, 27, from Colorado, USA, wrote:
I have always been fascinated with castles and the time period. My first trip to Europe was last year and I get to go to my favorite castle in the world, Eilean Donan. Just wanted to remark that this was my unofficial first date with my fiancé Ralph, a born and raised Scotsman, from the area of Inverness. So.. this castle holds extremely fond memories in my heart and will continue to for the rest of our lives!!
Angela, 22, from East Coast USA, wrote:
I LOVED this castle! You can photograph it from very many angle. If you are going to go visit Skye I recommend you drop by Eilean Donan, because it's not that far away!
Keith cook, 59, from Victoria Australia, wrote:
This magical castle was the highlight of a recent tour of the UK and Scotland and even surpassed the Edinburgh tattoo as a place I would love to return to but lets not tell too many people and keep it to ourselves.
Alex Gato, 12, from New England, wrote:
My friend and I did a report on this castle we found it very interesting. We learned a lot of new things like it was destroyed and rebuilt at the turn of the 1900's. It was in films like Highlander and the latest James Bond movie The World Is Not Enough.
Angela McCrea, 22, from Canada, wrote:
I have yet to visit the castle that belonged to my family centuries ago but it has been my dream for many years. Each year we have a McCrea Reunion in eastern Canada (75-150 people) and this castle is always one of the topics. Please keep the reviews coming!
J M Norman, 40, from Eastern Kentucky, wrote:
This Castle is truly magical…make sure to make time for the Isle of Sky Just a bit down the pike..
Lord Martyn Rae of Lochalsh, from U.K. wrote:
The castle was built in 1220 by Alexander II as a defense against the Vikings. It became a stronghold of the Mackenzies of Kintail who eventually installed the MacRaes as hereditary keepers. In 1719, it was destroyed, and was ultimately restored to it's current state at the turn of the 1900's, from the original plans held in Edinburgh. This work was completed until 1932. The castle is now held in trust
Castle lover from Texas wrote:
This is one of the most spectacular castles in all off Scotland. Picturesque can be used to describe it-mountains in the background and surrounded by a calm loch, most beautiful at sunset. It is the setting of the movie Highlander. One thing I love about it is that it is in it's original state which is quite old. The parts they let you see have not been remodeled to modern times as have many others, Dumbarton for example. Be sure to check this one out-it's a beauty.