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Eilean Donan Castle (Scotland)

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Eilean Donan Castle lies at the point where three Scottish Lochs Meet, Scotland's Most Romantic Castle. In a superbly beautiful and romantic setting, Eilean Donan Castle possesses a dream like quality. The most photographed castle in the world? Certainly Eilean Donan is Scotland's most romantic and recognizable. Although the island of Eilean Donan has been a fortified site for at least eight hundred years, the present building dates largely from the early 20th century. Today's castle, which rose from the ruins of it's predecessor, was rebuilt between 1912 and 1932 by Lieutenant Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap.

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      02.11.2009 14:41
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      A beautiful castle you have to see if in the area

      Eilean Donan Castle is one of the most recognisable Scottish landmarks, although many people may see pictures of it without realising what they are seeing. It's shape and position on an island are favourites with calendar and postcard producers, as is the almost perfect reflection it gives on the loch on a still day.

      Eilean Donan is located beside the village of Dornie, in the north west Scottish Highlands. It is on the A87 Road to the Isles, which goes from Inverness to Skye. It is in Loch Duich, at the point where it meets Loch Long and Loch Alsh. On a clear day you can see down Loch Alsh to the mountains of Skye - unfortunately during my stay in the area, we didn't have such a day!

      The Castle as it stands today is a recreation of how it was in the early 18th Century, when it was reduced to ruins during a Jacobite uprising. In the early 20th Century the Castle was restored to its former glory by the MacRae family, who still own it now.

      My first view of the Castle was as my parents and I were driving to our rented cottage in Balmacara, a little further along the road from Dornie, from Inverness. They told me to look out for something, although didn't say what. When I saw the Castle it was instantly recognisable, but somehow disappointing. After seeing it so many times on calendars and postcards, and always in perfect weather conditions (whether bright sunlight or pristine snow), it was something of a letdown to see it in grey and gloomy weather. The famous reflection was there, but the sky and loch weren't the perfect blue I expected (silly, I know, given that I am Scottish and I know the weather!).

      We went back a few days later to stop and have a proper look at the Castle. The weather was even worse - heavy rain and strong winds. One of my photos turned out a blurry mess as I was blown over while taking it! We quickly went into the visitor centre for a look around. There is a café and shop, all in nicely refurbished buildings which look like they may have been stables at one time. The shop really is a very good example of a Scottish gift shop. There are the usual tins of shortbread and tacky souvenirs, but the majority is fairly classy. It has a wide selection of products, including clothes, bags, ornaments, souvenirs, local food products, music and books.

      The interior of the Castle is open to the public, but we chose not to go inside. My parents has been before, and I'm not overly fussed about seeing inside castles. They told me it was interesting, but not something to go out of your way for. The important thing for me was seeing the iconic exterior of the Castle. Entrance to the interior is only £5.50 for adults, and given some prices I've seen for historic buildings, this seems like very good value indeed. It's worth pointing out that outside visiting hours (which are 10am-6pm March-Nov, and 10am-5pm the remainder of the year) you can walk around the grounds of the Castle free of charge. This option is not available during the opening hours.

      A few days later we stopped again on the way past, and I got my chance to take some goo, non-blurry photos of the Castle and its reflection. Unfortunately I still didn't get my blue sky, but it was dry and not too cloudy, so I was happy with my photos, although not postcard standard!

      One thing you must see if you are in the area is Eilean Donan at night. The Highlands are a very dark place, there are few cities and lights, and so the impact of this iconic building all lit up is all the more striking.

      Eilean Donan Castle is somewhere I would definitely call a must-see if you are in the area, but I wouldn't say it is worth a trip on its own. However, there is so much more to see in the area that I can't imagine anyone would want to go just for this! It is a Scottish icon, perhaps overused by the tourist board, and worth seeing.

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        06.02.2008 19:44
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        The most photographed castle in Scotland

        Anyone who has driven along the A87 in the Scottish Highlands towards the Kyle of Lochalsh and the Isle of Skye will have seen Eilean Donan Castle. Even if you have never been anywhere near this remote part of north west Scotland there is still a pretty good chance that you may have still seen this castle, because Eilean Donan Castle is officially recognised as the most photographed Castle in Scotland.

        This castle stands on the shores of Loch Duich, at a point close to where it meets two other lochs, Loch Long and Loch Alsh. As well as earning the title of the most photographed castle in Scotland, it is also often referred to as the most romantic castle in Scotland too.

        The setting for this castle is stunning to say the least, in fact it is almost dream like. Some of my earliest childhood memories involve Eilean Donan Castle, for this is a place that I have been to many times. I still recall standing here when I was very young with my older brother, gazing out across the water, looking for the Loch Ness Monster. It was a few years later before I discovered that Loch Ness lies about 50 miles further to the east of here!

        This castle stands on a site that has been fortified for well over 800 years, yet it may come as a surprise to many people to discover that almost all of the castle that we see today is less than 100 years old. Lieutenant Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap largely rebuilt this castle between 1912 and 1932.

        In 1998 a visitor centre was built, but this was not there when I first used to visit here many years ago. In those days it was possible to walk around the castle walls and even cross the bridge for free, but these days it is not possible to get anywhere near without paying the entrance fee. Tickets to visit the outside and the inside of this castle can be purchased from the visitor centre and current admission charges are as below:

        £ 4.95 Adult
        £ 3.95 Senior Citizen
        £ 10.50 Family Ticket
        Extra Child £1.50

        The name of the castle derives its name from the island on which it stands. This island is called Eilean Donan, eilean (pronounced ellen) means island in Scottish Gaelic, the language which is still spoken in this part of the Scottish Highlands. Donan is derived from the name of the Celtic Saint, St Donan.

        The original castle was built in the year 1220. This castle was built by Alexander 11 as a defence against the Vikings. After the threat of Viking attack diminished it become a stronghold for the Mackenzie Clan, who came into this area from neighbouring Kintyre. The Mackenzies later became a part of the prominent Earls of Seaforth family through marriage, and the Earls of Seaforth held the castle until 1719.

        During this time they appointed the MacRaes, another prominent Clan in this area, as hereditary keepers of the castle. It is descendants of this same MacRae family that carried out the restoration of this castle in the early part of the 20th century.

        In 1719 a large part of Eilean Donan Castle was destroyed whilst being used as a garrison by Spanish troops that were fighting for the Jacobite cause on behalf of the 5th Earl of Seaforth. These Spanish troops were defeated at the Battle of Glenshiel, within a month of the castle being destroyed.

        A visit to Eilean Donan Castle is definitely one of those once in a lifetime type moments. If you are in this area then, quite frankly, you would be foolish to dismiss it.

        Once you have purchased your ticket from the visitor centre you then proceed to the gate in front of the bridge. Here your ticket is checked and torn in half and you proceed through the gate, over the bridge and up to the castle walls. Before you reach the castle walls however you have to walk across a short wooden bridge. This bridge dates from the 16th century and takes you over an old well that once provided fresh water for the castle. In the castles heyday this bridge would have acted as a defence, for without it, the castle could not be reached. If any intruders approached, the bridge would have simply been lifted up.

        After reaching the castle the first room that you reach is set out as an exhibition area. There is also a gift shop and some toilets located here, including ones equipped for disabled access. This exhibition area has lots of photographs and artists impressions of what the castle would have looked like. There are also interactive areas, which are good fun for both adults, and kids, where you can push buttons and pull levers to lift up the drawbridge on a model of the castle.

        From here you walk into the main courtyard and then onto the rest of the castle. The castle has been wonderfully restored but it has managed to retain of lot of its original characteristics. There are cannons positioned on the castle walls, I am not sure if these are real or replicas and there are also lots of steep, narrow stairs that lead to the upper reaches of the castle, from where there are splendid views of Loch Duich.

        I have only previously visited castles that have been ruins so a visit to this castle is certainly something different since all of the rooms are furnished and are set out as they would have been several hundreds of years ago. There is a large banqueting hall, a kitchen area and several bedrooms. In this way it is much more like visiting a museum than a historic castle.

        Eilean Donan Castle is easily visited on a day excursion from either Inverness or Fort William, which are the two main tourist bases in this area. It is also a popular stop off location for the coaches heading to the Isle of Skye.

        It is highly recommended. You will not be disappointed.

        The castle and visitor castle is open as follows:

        Between 1st April and 31st October from 10.30am until 5pm
        It is closed during the winter.
        The gift shop is open all year round.

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          07.06.2006 11:35
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          Definitely worth a visit

          Introduction
          On the way to the Isle of Skye, we passed through the small town of Dornie, which houses the beautiful Eilean Donan Castle, famous for apparently being the most photographed monument in Scotland. Intrigued by this tiny castle on a small island just off the west coast of Scotland, we spent one of our precious days of holiday by visiting the castle. Size-wise, it doesn’t take up much space, but what is there has been beautifully restored and is well worth a look.

          The history
          The castle was originally built in 1230 as protection from the Vikings. It was later used during a Jacobite uprising in 1719, when it was occupied by Spanish troops who had been sent to Scotland by the King of Spain to fight on behalf of James Stuart. Unfortunately, the King of England found out about their location and had the castle blown up. Thereafter, it lay in ruins until John McRae-Gilstrap, the new owner of the castle, decided to restore the castle to its original splendour in the early 20th century.

          Since being lovingly restored, it has been the location of a number of films, including Entrapment – I always wondered where that had been filmed!

          Location
          The castle can be reached on the A87, about ten miles north of Shiel Bridge. It is built on a small island, joined to the mainland by a small bridge, at the convergence of three major lochs: Loch Alsh, Long and Duich. Behind the castle are superb views of the mountains.

          The castle
          Three floors of rooms are available for viewing. The first room that tourists reach is the billeting room, which is full of relics from the various wars that Scots have been involved in, including cannon balls found on the beach below the castle and Black Watch artefacts. There is a guide present in each of the rooms, but there are also print-outs pointing out the most interesting aspects of each room – these are available in various languages.

          The Banqueting Hall is probably the most eye-catching room, with spectacular views over the bay. Again, there are a number of artefacts, including a lock of hair from Bonnie Prince Charlie, war medals and some beautiful portraits. There are a number of small rooms off the Hall, the purpose of which seems to be as spy holes for the castle owners to keep an eye on dodgy guests. Everything is beautifully presented and explained.

          I found the bedrooms intriguing. They are all tiny and open out into each other. It is clear that when Macrae-Gilstrap renovated the castle, he stuck to the original design – some of the corridors and rooms are tiny and very low-ceilinged – but this just adds to the charm.

          There is also an imitation kitchen, complete with dodgy fake people, to show what the castle kitchens would have looked like during the time that the Macrae-Gilstraps resided there. I found it interesting, but it is probably more suited to children than adults.

          Everywhere in the castle is well-signposted and the history of the castle is put into perspective by a series of well-presented posters.

          Amenities
          There is plenty of space for cars in the castle car park. There is also a rather expensive and well-stocked shop and a restaurant. I can’t comment on the latter because we didn’t go in, but it certainly seemed popular enough.

          If you don’t want to eat in the restaurant, there is a hotel in the village of Dornie that boasts a restaurant and I also noticed at least one pub sign.

          Cost and opening times
          It cost us just ₤4.95 each to get into the castle. Compared with London prices, I thought this was very reasonable.

          The castle is open from April to October from 10am to 5.30pm. However, there are sometimes evening openings – a fellow tourist mentioned that there had been a light festival a few evenings before our visit.

          Conclusion
          The castle was the perfect size for me. I get bored with places of interest after about an hour and a half – in this case, that was the perfect amount of time to have a good look around and soak up the surroundings. We also picked a good time to visit – in the middle of the week – so there weren’t too many tourists. I can imagine that at the weekend, it could get difficult to move in there.

          I was extremely impressed by the layout of the castle and the way everything was clearly labelled. There were also very friendly guides who proactively volunteered information and were happy to answer any questions that we had. I particularly liked the young one in a kilt!

          Thank goodness there are still places like this in the United Kingdom that can be visited for less than a fiver! If you’re in the area, I thoroughly recommend that you pay this castle a visit.

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