Urquhart Castle is situated on a little peninsula in Loch Ness – a very imposing and also picturesque spot on the large Loch. No wonder it is one of the most popular destinations in Scotland and often filled with people. But they also have long opening hours and it was less crowded in the evening.
Entry is free when you have the Historic Environment Scotland Membership or the Explorer Pass.
The walk down the hill from the visitor centre (and gift shop) to the castle is a nice possibility to take all the views in. And look out for Nessie – the mystical creature living in Loch Ness, or not – just a few days ago and new sighting has been reported. Nessie definitely adds to the romantic flair of Urquhart Castle.
You can think of Urquhart Castle as being build in a sort of “B” shape. You approach from the straight side of the “B”, and the gatehouse is offset slightly to the left or north of the centre of the site. Beyond it is the lowest and narrowest part of the castle, complete with the water gate which would have allowed the occupants access to a pier. More than once during its troubled history the castle held out because it could be resupplied by ship.
From this central part of the castle, the ground rises in both directions. To the southern end, the highest part of the castle is the summit or upper bailey, commanding extensive views. At the other end of the castle lies the Grant Tower, once the five storey hub of the castle capable of being defended even if the rest of the castle fell to whoever wanted ownership at the time. (Undiscovered Scotland)
There might have been a Pictish Fort on this site and there defiantly was a Pictish settlement in this area.
St Columba may have visited around AD 580. Adomnan, his biographer, tells of the saint’s encounter with a monster in the loch. (Historic Environment)
Around AD 580 St Columba travelled from his Isle of Iona monastery to the Inverness court of Bridei, king of the Picts.
As he was travelling up Loch Ness, Columba was summoned to visit an elderly Pictish nobleman at Airdchartdan (Urquhart). Emchath was close to death, and Columba baptised him and his entire household.
Emchath’s residence may have stood on the site of the castle. The discovery of a fragment of Pictish brooch from the late 700s or early 800s hints that the promontory was possibly a high status Pictish site.(Historic Environment)
The first notion of a castle dates back to around 1230 when Alexander II crushed a revolt in Moray and defended this strategic route through the highlands.
From being in English hands to Scottish and again into the English – Urquhart Castle has a turbulent history. It also was one of the castles keeping alive Robert the Bruce’s claim to the Scottish Crown. Urquhart was one of the great castles taken by the English when Edward I invaded in 1296. The Lords of the Isles then seized the castle repeatedly in the later Middle Ages, in an effort to expand their territory into the north-east.
By the 1390s the focus of conflict had switched. Now it was the Scottish Crown trying to defend itself against incursions from the Macdonalds, the Lords of the Isles, from the west. And again Urquhart Castle was pivotal, with ownership moving back and forth between the two sides for a further 150 years. (Undiscovered Scotland)
After another conflict between the Clans around 1513, the castle was besieged and subsequently plundered by the western clans in 1545. Even so, Urquhart Castle was repaired, the decline of the castle started at this time.
In 1689 Urquhart Castle saw its last action, when a small garrison supporting the new Protestant monarchy of William and Mary held off a much larger Jacobite force. The garrison later left, blowing up much of the castle as they did so; and signs of this can still be seen around the gatehouse. (Undiscovered Scotland)
From now on Urquart Castle was mainly used as a convenient quarry for the houses in the area which also explains why so much of the buildings is gone.
The Grand Tower crashed to the ground in 1715 during a violent storm. In the 19th century, the frame of mind around the ruins changed and Urquhart Castle was seen as a noble ruin in a majestic setting. It passed into state care in 1913 and is now cared for by the Historic Environment Scotland.
Make it a day out when you visit Urqhart Castle, have a picnic along the shores of Loch Ness, walk to Drumnadrochit and do a boat tour on the Loch and look out for Nessie.