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Visiting Scotland’s Iconic Eilean Donan Castle

Visiting Scotland’s Iconic Eilean Donan Castle

The infamous Eilean Donan Castle is one of the most photographed attraction sites in Scotland. It is a picturesque castle located in the Scottish Highlands. You will quickly realize why millions of tourists flock to its stout doors every year when you visit it.

The Eilean Donan Castle is strategically located on a small, isolated island overlooking the Isle of Skye where three great sea lochs meet. The castle is also surrounded by the forested mountains of Kintail, creating a panoramic aerial view.

The Eilean Donan castle is a must-see structure in Scotland for its iconic status. If you plan your next trip to this UK country, prepare for the best experience. We will tell you everything you need to know about it in this article, some of which you can confirm when you get there. Read on for details!

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Location of Eilean Donan Castle

The Eilean Donan is a small tidal island in the western Highlands of Scotland, where the castle is located. It is situated at the confluence of three sea lochs: Loch Duich, Loch Long, and Loch Alsh. 

The island is a fraction of a mile from the village of Dornie, which is the access point.

The Eilean Donan is connected to the mainland via a footbridge constructed in the early 20th Century. It is part of the Kintail National Scenic Area, one of the 40 scenic areas in Scotland.

Eilean Donan

The address of Eilean Donan Castle is Dornie, Kyle Of Lochalsh, Inverness-shire, IV40 8DX. Don’t say we don’t do anything for you!

The History of Eilean Donan Castle

Eilean Donan means an “island of Donnán”. The name originated from a Celtic saint, Donnán of Eigg, who was martyred in 617 AD. It is believed that his followers built a church on this island. However, no proof of that has been discovered to date.

island of Donnán

Scottish historians believe that the Eilean Donan castle was founded by a seemingly mysterious warrior who could speak to birds. This was back in the 1200s. The island was a prime spot for defending the Kintail land from Viking raiders that still raided Scotland long after their defeats at the hands of the Anglo Saxons in England.

During this time Viking longboats still battled to conquer the region’s seas and lochs. Kintail was part of the sea kingdom and was a prime target. The Eilean Donan Island was the most appropriate position to guard the passageway to Loch Long, Loch Duich, and the rest of Kintail.

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The Mysterious Warrior of Eilean Donan Castle

The castle has a rich history. We will briefly mention the most-discussed episodes, the rest is your assignment to find out more when you visit Eilean Donan Castle!

Legends of Highlands will tell stories of a warrior of Clan Matheson with supernatural powers. His mysterious life began when he took his first drink from a raven’s skull.

Yuck.

Shamus, the child who would become the mystic warrior, had quite a usual childhood. He was a happy child, and no one noticed anything strange until his father found him talking to birds. His father forced his son to keep his strange power a secret out of fear of being killed for witchcraft.

However, that did not last for long. One day, Shamus’s father asked him to interpret what the birds on the beam were communicating. Shamus used his strange powers just as his father requested, but the revelation was shocking.

So shocking that his father banished him. So, Shamus had to face the world all alone – with only the company of the birds.

Shamus traveled from country to country across Europe while using his strange powers to command birds. He became a famous sellsword who used birds to steal enemies’ secrets which could be used to defeat them.

A wealthy Shamus returned home years later when his father was aged and amended everything with him. Apparently, time (and money) heals all wounds.

The return of Shamus reached Alexander II, King of Scotland, who made him the guardian of the island of Eilean Donan because of his strange powers and talent. That was supposedly when he founded the castle.

The Medieval Eilean Donan Castle

The present-day castle was constructed after World War I by Lt. Col. John MacRae-Gilstrap. The original castle was believed to be even bigger.

The Medieval Eilean Donan Castle was believed to have 7 towers, one of which was constructed on a 12 x 12-meter rock base at the highest point of the island. Its lower isle was surrounded by a thick curtain wall and had a sea gate for access.

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The 1719 Bloodshed at the Eilean Donan Castle

Little is known about the Medieval Eilean Castle because it was reduced to smithereens in 1719. It was caught amidst the Jacobite risings, a series of rebellions, and endless battles. The aim was to restore the exiled Catholic monarch, James II (and VII), to the throne. The foreign-backed Jacobite rebellion turned the Scottish Highlands into a battlefield.

With the rebellion floundering, Spanish soldiers came in to support the Jacobites in 1715. At that time, Spain was engaging France and Britain in a world war of empires. So, supporting Jacobites seemed the ideal approach to defeating the Britons in their own backyard.

300 Spanish soldiers came to Loch Duich, 46 of which garrisoned Eilean Donan. The British responded with ships from the Royal Navy when they heard the news to try to prevent any uprising spurred on by Spanish reinforcements. They attempted a peaceful negotiation, but it did not work.

The Spanish soldiers were the first to open fire, which led to a 2-day fire exchange before the Spanish garrison gave up.

After the fall of the castle, the Royal Navy used the gunpowder stored in the Eilean Donan castle to blow up the remaining walls. This was to prevent such future incidents from occurring.

Old pic of Eilean Donan Castle

The Reconstruction of Eilean Donan Castle

Iconic Stone Fortress

The remnants of the iconic Medieval Fortress were left to decay and reclaimed by nature. That was the case until 1912 when the idea to reconstruct it came up.

John MacRae Gilstrap was the man behind the construction of the modern castle. He bought the ruined fortress in 1912 and decided to rebuild it.

However, his aim was not to restore the lost glory of the castle but to prove his worth. He hoped to clinch the Constable of Eilean Donan title once he successfully completed the new structure.

John MacRae-Gilstrap, a British Army officer from the famous Black Watch regiment, viewed various plans and settled on one. Reconstruction began on the loose and decaying debris from the Medieval Fortress after World War I.

The reconstruction took around 20 years to complete between 1919 and 1932. The modern Eilean Donan castle was more beautiful with additional features that the fortress never had. They added machicolations, teetering towers, and the grand entranceway.

It was first opened to the public in 1955.

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Visiting the Modern Eilean Donan Castle

The modern castle is a popular attraction in Scotland. Many visitors come to this country each year to relive the history of this iconic structure. Though it is not the original castle, it is still a Scottish icon that brings back the memory of what life was like yesteryear.

Banqueting Hall

The castle looks modern with electrical lighting and a central heating system. You will also be amazed by the rooms and barrel-vaulted ceilings.

The Banqueting Hall is one of the castle’s main highlights. Its grand ceiling is made of the finest douglas-fir available at that time. It also has many holes believed to be secret spy holes. And to relive the pride of John MacRae-Gilstrap, look above the door of the castle where you will see his coat of arms.

Conchra Charitable Trust

Today, Eilean Donan Castle is operated by the Conchra Charitable Trust and is open to visitors every day of the week from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.

Why is Eilean Donan Castle Famous?

The castle is incredibly scenic. It has the best views and is the most photographed tourist attraction site in Scotland. When you get inside the Eilean Donan castle, you will marvel at its various rooms. These include the kitchen, Inner Courtyard, Banqueting Hall, and the Main Keep.

Also, the castle is famous for its film publicities. Many movies and TV shows have been shot here, including the following:

  • The New Avengers in 1976
  • Loch Ness in 1996
  • Made of Honor in 2008
  • In Elizabeth, the Golden Age in 2007
  • In the James Bond movie, The World is Not Enough, in 1999
  • Highlander in 1986 – as the seat of Connor MacLeod’s family

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How to Get to Eilean Donan Castle

The Eilean Donan Castle is far from most large Scottish cities. If you want to visit this place, we recommend including it in a multi-day trip to make it more time-efficient than having it as the only target. You can add the Isle of Skye as a stopover point on your way to this island. It has a lovely café and a bright modern visitor center.

tour to Eilean Donan Castle

You can use a public bus or guided tour to Eilean Donan Castle. If you choose the former, you can take Citylink buses to Dornie from Inverness, which is the closest city. It is a two-hour journey, but it can be longer if you come from Glasgow or Edinburgh. Alternatively, you can use a train at Kyle of Lochalsh, a 15-minutes-drive away.

Here is the breakdown of possible routes to the castle:

  • Glasgow to Eilean Donan Castle is a 4-hour-drive
  • Edinburgh to Eilean Donan Castle = 4-hour-drive
  • Inverness to Eilean Donan Castle = 2-hour-drive
  • Portree to Eilean Donan = 1-hour-drive

Using tours is the most comfortable means of getting to Eilean Donan Castle. You can choose these from Edinburgh or Glasgow for a multi-day trip or from Inverness as a one-day tour. Consider the following tour options:

Some visitors also choose boat trips from the Pontoons at Kyle of Lochalsh. The available service providers are the Red Moon Cruises and MV Blue Migrant for 4 and 6 passengers, respectively. Contact them about fees and their schedules so that you don’t miss to experience a boat ride to the castle.

How Long Can You Stay in the Eilean Donan Castle?

The interior of Eilean Donan Castle has lots of breathtaking things to see. You need at least one hour to explore everything, including going to the gift shop and café and taking some pictures for memories.

But if you don’t have time, you can just admire the exterior architectural design of the castle in a few minutes. Just choose vantage positions to give you the best views and photography if you have your camera.

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Accommodation near Eilean Donan Castle

The castle offers accommodation services to visitors. You can also get bread and breakfast in and around Dornie, the nearest village to the Eilean Donan castle.

If the Eilean Donan Castle is part of your multi-trip tour, we recommend exploring better accommodation services at Skye. And since tourists always flock to it, the facilities may be overwhelmed. So, it is better to make your reservations in advance.

Alternatively, you can seek better accommodation options at Inverness. It is also a great base to explore the entire Highlands.

You can find the best accommodation deals at Booking.com. Here are some of our top recommendations:

Eilean Donan View

Eilean Donan View
Image by Booking.com

The Eilean Donan View hotel offers accommodation services in Dornie, just 0.4km from the castle. It has a garden, terrace, free Wi-Fi, and mountain views. The beds are comfortable, and rooms are fitted with flat-screen TVs with satellite channels and equipped kitchens.

The Dornie Hotel

Dornie Hotel View
Image by Booking.com

The Dornie Hotel is also located in Dornie. It features a restaurant and bar with spacious family rooms, some of which have beautiful ocean views. Each room is fitted with a kettle, and guest rooms have private bathrooms, hairdryers, and bed linens. It offers a continental breakfast.

Conchra House

Conchra House

Conchra House is located in Kyle of Lochalsh. It features a shared lounge, water sports facilities, and free Wi-Fi for the guests and offers English and Irish breakfast to guests.  

Dunollie Hotel

Dunollie Hotel

The Dunollie Hotel gives you a spectacular view of the sea to Loch Kishon and Applecross Hills. Each room in the facility has a TV, tea and coffee-making machine, and hairdryer. Some have ensuite bathrooms. There is also a restaurant and a bar. And if you are lucky, you can spot dolphins and whales.

Kings Arms Hotel

Two bed room in Kings Arms Hotel
Image by Booking.com

The Kings Arms Hotel is a 2-minute walk from the beach and is close to the Skye Bridge in Kyleakin village. It is the oldest hotel yet the best. Kings Arms Hotel has retained the contemporary appearance that makes it feel homely.

FAQ

Which other Castles should I visit in Scotland?

– Edinburgh Castle Fortress
– Inveraray Castle
– The ruins of Sinclair Girnigoe Castle
– Castle of Dunrobin
– Triangular castle of Caerlaverock

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