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Urquhart Castle (Scotland)

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Urquhart Castle is beside Loch Ness in Scotland.

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      07.11.2013 13:56
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      Something a bit different if you're up near Loch Ness

      ===Castle-mania===

      In October this year (2013) I took my partner off to loch Ness for his birthday. There isn't an awful lot to do there that doesn't involve water sports and sight seeing, so accordingly, I made sure I'd planned a wee excursion or two. We'd go and visit the famous loch (obviously) and we'd also hit one of the many distilleries on route (Loch Ness is in the centre of a route that takes in good few Whiskey distilleries) The one I was most excited about was going to see, however, was Castle Urquhart which brags of being one of the most visited Castles in Scotland. My camera was at the ready for a fun day of getting in people's way!

      ===Getting there===

      The best thing you could probably do is bring a sat-nav. Failing that you'll be able to find maps online directing you straight to the castle. If you don't want to drive there are bus tours you can arrange and we saw a couple of busses parked up when we got there. Being that Loch Ness is huge, you'll want to aim for a little village called Drumnadroicht (which is apparently pronounced Drum-na-draw-kit, though the locals just call it Drum) which is about half way up the west coast of the Loch. If you have Sat-nav, visit the historic Scotland website and it will let you download a package to install that gives your device the locations of all of their attractions. That being said, you might not need to do that; my sat-nav already had the place in its banks!

      If you are driving, you'll be happy to know the parking is free. I'd also advise that you slow down as you get nearer, especially in the summer when the trees are going nuts as you can't really see the castle from the road if you're coming in from the south end of the loch. You might spot it from the north but I don't know. Either way the turn off came as a little bit of a surprise. The roads are a little better than what you'd expect in the Scottish highlands but they are quite thin and lorries like to hurtle round them in the centre of the road so please be careful. I was pushed off the road by one and I'm pretty sure that's what's to blame for all the car repairs I've had recently. Deep joy.

      If you are using sat-nav, here's the address for Drum:

      Drumnadrochit,
      Inverness,
      Inverness-shire
      IV63 6XJ

      ===Going deeper underground===

      When you get into the car park, you'll go down a slope and see the visitors centre. The castle is still nowhere in sight at this point unless you are tall enough to see over the car park walls down the slope to the loch. To get to the castle, you need to go into the visitors centre, pay your entrance fee and go down a large spiral staircase decorated with lovely and informative tapestries. If you are disabled, there's plenty parking for you and there's a lift that will allow you to skip the stairs. They also offer motorised wheelchairs if you need one, which may be a good idea if you're in a chair as there is a bit of a steep slope to get down into the castle.

      I would say that if you are in a wheelchair, you probably won't be able to get the full experience of the place. Historic Scotland have tried their best to make everything accessible, but there's really only so much they can do without rebuilding the castle. That being said, you may still be able to take in some of the nicer views without having to go up any steps.

      ===Going to the flickies===

      You come off of the stairs (or out of the lift) at the entrance to the Gift shop and café. This is also where the toilets are so take note. To get out to the castle, you need to walk directly to the far end of the gift shop. Before you do that, however, you'll have been told at the desk that there is a short film that you can watch about the history of the castle. The film is 8 minutes long and is in a little theatre to the left in the gift shop. Allan and I didn't really want to be sat inside watching a film, so we decided to skip it which means I can't tell you if it was worth it. I know I don't feel like I missed out on anything. You can also get tour guides around the place and there are one or two staff available for questions wandering about.

      ===Working the whole day through===

      On the day we visited we were met with building works around the castles entrance. You could either view this as really unlucky (I couldn't get an unspoiled photo of the castle from this brilliant view points you get on the way down to it, boo!) or really lucky (we got to see them doing repairs and historic Scotland even had plaques up explaining the restoration work that was happening in detail; bonus learning! Also, hot workmen). It was nice to see that they are taking care of the place, but it also meant that we got the slightly hairy version of entering the castle over some rickety scaffolding that had been temporarily erected to allow you to cross the drop at the castles entrance.

      Before you reach the Castle, you'll also find a huge reconstructed trebuchet (a giant catapult) outside. The workmanship on this beast is beautiful, with Celtic knots carved into the wheels. It can also throw giant stone balls (of which there are a few at its base) about 200 meters and is (roughly) what Edward the 1st of England used when he attacked the Castle in 1296.

      ===Metal, Stone, wood and rope===

      Inside the castle, you'll be met with a mixture of the old castle and a little modern construction to help you access areas. The main paths are all smooth tarmac, stairs have rope banisters installed and some areas have plastic sheeting over the plasterwork to discourage vandalism. In the first area you'll come into, The Guardroom, you'll find a set of metal spiral stairs so you can access the upper floor of the block. The metal construction will also allow you to take a peep into the tiny and rather creepy windowless jail cell within the walls of the guardroom. This is where they'd keep any criminals before they went on trial. Up the stairs you'll find the guardsman's lodgings. There's a wee bit of exploring to be done in this area and you'll also find a giant balcony with a beautiful view of the area here. As with any other Historic Scotland site, there are plenty of stands with information about the place dotted about in each area so it's a great opportunity to learn about the place, even if you don't want to get a tour guide.

      ===Towering Ruins===

      When you get into the main area of the castle, you'll spot the main tower off to your left which is Grants Tower, named after Sir John Grant who was gifted the place by King James IV after he smacked down the local yobs about 500 years ago. This tower gives you the best viewpoint of the place, though the spiral staircases that take you to the top are quite claustrophobic and probably won't make you feel incredibly safe. They are, if you are careful, wide enough to allow two people going in different directions squeeze past, but that depends on you both having an ounce of spatial awareness.

      Unlike the rest of the place, the damage in this section has been attributed to a storm that hit in 1715. Let's just thank that storm for the fantastic photo opportunities now afforded by the lack of a back wall to the tower! This tower is where you'll find the plastic sheeting protecting the plasterwork. If you get a chance, have a close look as you'll see some graffiti carved into the plaster dating back hundreds of years. I found an "entry" on the wall under my Dads name carved in 1858. From this I can conclude without a doubt that my Dad is, obviously, a time traveller. The first clue was his fashion sense.

      Most of the castle on the right hand side of the entrance is ruined. There's not an awful lot other than a few walls and plaques to explain what might have once been there. It doesn't mean it's not interesting mind you! There are still lots of stunning views and if you have a bit of an imagination you can ponder on the castles history yourself.

      ===Water laugh===

      To the far right you can see the Watergate where they let people in by boat with supplies and further round from that is a strange little tower that you can only seem to access from the water. This area was the same place I almost threw myself into the loch when I was running on the grass to get in place before the self timer on the camera took a photo of me and Allan. We were laughed at verily by the foreign tourists who had just walked into the area as I slid at speed towards the railings. There's also a Kiln room near the entrance which looks great with some glowing red lights in the kiln making it feel like it's still operational.

      ===The early bird...===

      ...get's a better photo. This is the single most important piece of advice I would give you if you want to get photos that aren't full of other tourists trying to get photos. The castle gets very busy from about 11:30am onwards so if you want a much more people free wander, get there at opening time (9:30am on the dot). We spent about an hour and a half wandering the castle, so I'd also suggest wrapping up warm if you are going in colder months as you'll be outside for a wee while. Closing time for the castle ranges between 4:30pm in the winter months (November to March) to 6pm in the summer months (April to September) with October getting its own special closing time of 5pm. The castle also closes on Christmas day and Boxing day but other than that is open all year round seven days a week.

      ===Cosy and warm===

      Once you've seen everything you want to see and taken roughly a million photos, you'll probably want to stop for a wee bite to eat and warm yourself up. The café has an alright range of food with sandwiches, cakes and a few meal type options for you though I would say that it is quite expensive. We had a couple of scones and helped ourselves to the clotted cream, butter and jam that came with them and they were delicious. Still a bit more than I would have preferred to pay, but at least you get something nice for your money! That being said, if you have a few people with you, it might be better to bring along a picnic basket.

      Talking of getting something nice for your money, the gift shop has a huge range of gifts. If you know any whiskey drinkers they have a good range in stock due to being on the whiskey trail. If you know anyone with a love of all things Scottish then you'll have a tonne of gifts to choose from. We got quite a surprise when we realised that we'd be able to get a large chunk of our Christmas shopping done in the gift shop. We took the chance and piled up a basket!

      ===The Toilets===

      As with anywhere, the toilets are a big thing for me as I hate having to go in horrible dirty loos. Thankfully the loo's here were in top condition (unless you count the old ones in the castle that haven't been used for hundreds of years) nothing at all to fault here. The only issue you might find is that the loo's live in the visitor centre; you won't find any in the castle itself. It's less than a five minute walk away from the castle though, so you shouldn't have any trouble.

      ===The Cost===

      To get into the place, you'll pay £7.90 if you're big (adults), £4.80 if you're wee (children) and £6.40 if you're auld (concessions). That's pretty much standard for Historic Scotland sites. This site in particular is very well maintained so I don't mind paying the fees for entry when we visit. You can get a membership that will make entry cheaper but that's only worth it if you regularly visit Historic Scotland sites. If, like me, you only visit one once or twice a year then it's not really worth it to buy the membership.

      ===The Verdict===

      We both really enjoyed Urquhart castle and I managed to take an absolute tonne of photos which always makes me happy. We enjoyed exploring the place though probably would have preferred if it was a little quieter. If you have kids who love a bit of a ramble in a castle, then it'll be perfect for you. Even if you don't have kids and just want a wee wander through an interesting historical place, it hits all the marks. Obviously weather will severely affect your visit so make sure you plan ahead, but if you are in the area I'd definitely recommend a visit. Five stars out of five

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      • More +
        30.06.2009 20:57
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        Make a visit, you will be glad you did

        I have always wanted to visit Scotland, and finally got to do it last year! We stopped at the lovely village of Dores which is absolutely picturesque, and the cottage we rented was right next to the beach and just breathtaking. Enough of the cottage, that will be another review!!

        I am a big history lover, so i was excited about visiting all the sites that i knew were near to where we were, and especially Urquhart Castle. Now, my other half is not a big history lover, so i thought it was going to take me a couple of days to persuade him to go to Urquhart! I was surprised when on the second day of us being there he took me to Urquhart. He said he knew i was excited, so that was the first thing we had to see!! (romantic really!).

        Lets start from the beginning. Urquhart is about a 20 minute drive from Inverness and the road runs at the side of Loch Ness. There are parking spaces along the road, so you can stop before getting to the castle and take in the views. On a lovely clear day, like we had, the views are spectacular. We could even see the cottage where we were staying! (we do tend to get excited about the smallest of things!). Before you arrive at the castle you drive through the small village of Drumnadrochit, which is also a good place to stop, even if just for the Loch Ness exhibition.

        As soon as you get through Drumnadrochit you can see the castle. It is well signposted, so there is no chance of you getting lost!
        The car park is not as big as what i thought it may be, but there is seperate parking for coaches. We got there early and they were just starting to open up the visitor centre. I think it was around 9.30am.

        It cost £9.50 per adult for a ticket, which you will find is probably the going rate for most of the sites that you visit in Scotland. The souvenir booklet cost me around £6.00, but i think is always a good buy as you can follow the history of the castle with the book as you go round.
        To enter the castle, you are sent down some steps to the entrance and then suddenly you come across this great big castle, and i wasn't expecting it at all. For some reason i did not think the ruins would stretch so far!
        There is a large grass area that stretches from the entrance to the ruins, and placed on the grass is a trebuchet. The path that winds down to the ruins is a walk of about 5 minutes.

        There are lots of information boards that explain to you the history of the castle and what each of the rooms were, so it is really informative. It was the sheer scale of the place that astounded me, and how much is still accessible. I would say, just be careful with the little ones, as the ruins are right on the edge of the loch. The ruins stretch inland, but it is in the keep that you will have to keep an eye on them. (I can be over protective!).

        About 15-20 minutes after we had been roaming around the castle, we did notice that it was starting to fill up with visitors, so beware if you are going to visit it, it can get extremely busy, especially if its nice weather as it is all in the open.

        The views from the keep are beautiful and you can see why so many people enjoy the area it is in.

        All in all it took us about 2 hours to really go round the castle and try and take in as much as we could. There is a gift shop and cafe at the castle, and the cafe does have outdoor space. The cafe is well presented and clean. We just had a coffee and a tea and i think it came to just under £5. I didn't find the prices of the refreshments that high when visiting a cafe that is attached to a historical site.

        The gift shop is the typical one that you will find at most historic sites. Lots of trinkets and childrens items. We did not buy anything from the gift shop, as i find that the prices tend to be pretty high (£6 for a tea towel was not something i was going to pay!).

        When going back to the car park, you overlook the castle and we noticed that is was extremely full of people, as lots of coaches had turned up for the day, so as i said before, get there early to avoid too many of the crowds.

        I am so glad that i visited Urquhart Castle. You can sense how big the castle must have been when you walk around it, as the scale of it today is much bigger than what i, or my partner, imagined.

        Oh, just to let you know that after visiting Urquhart, my partner loved it, and he was the one planning out what to visit next! That shows how special Urquhart is!!!

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          25.02.2008 13:11
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          Well worth a visit if you are in the area.

          We often tour Scotland visiting the many spectacular sights there are to visit and enjoy. One of my favourite castles is Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness. This castle has one of the most breathtaking settings.

          Formed many years ago by glaciers during the ice age Loch Ness is approximately 700 feet deep and is one of the lochs situated in the 60 mile long Great Glen. Probably the most famous of lochs, Loch Ness gives Urquhart Castle its romantic and mysterious air bringing many visitors to the castle in the hope of catching a glimpse of Nessie, the Loch Ness monster!

          This spectacular ruined castle, once one of Scotland's largest, is set high on a rocky peninsula on the North bank of Loch Ness giving stunning views of the Loch. Although quite a ruined castle, the ruins are very extensive and there are many places to investigate, explore and read about. The tower house remains are still in fairly good condition, this is where the inhabitants of the castle lived with their families and entertained their guests. Once you have climbed to the top of the tower you can expect even more spectacular views of the loch and surrounding hills.

          In 2002 the castle was gifted to the National Trust for Scotland when a new visitor centre and car park were built. The castle is run by Historic Scotland and is one of their busiest properties. A good-sized car park is available with parking facilities for the disabled and for coaches as well. There is a lift from the car park to the visitor centre although to get to the castle the paths are quite steep. The castle is fully accessible with sound loop facilities and toilets for the disabled.

          The new visitor centre offers a café where visitors can relax with a bite to eat, a lovely shop selling souvenirs and local arts and crafts and an exhibition displaying the many medieval artefacts found at the site of the castle with an audio-visual display giving a brief description of the history of the castle.

          When you first enter the castle you cross over a small wooden bridge where the drawbridge once was. You can still enter into the main gatehouse and the old kiln room where grain was once dried. Once the castle has been fully explored you can take the steep path right down to the shores of the loch where you can stand and try to skim pebbles across the top of the water or just relax on the banks of the loch. The paths around the ruins are good paths and well laid out.

          We visited the castle on many occasions before the visitor centre was built but this was the first time I had visited the visitor centre. I found this display very interesting, looking at all the items found within the castle, tools, eating and drinking vessels, jewellery and much more helped to create the atmosphere of what life must have been like all these many years ago. The turbulent history of the many battles which took place at the site and how the castle fell into English hands, was won back and lost again was very well described by way of a film show and was all very exciting and captivating, but the ultimate part of the display was when the film show had finished, still in darkness, curtains were slowly drawn to reveal a long wall of windows giving stunning views of the castle with the loch and hills as a backdrop. This literally took my breath away, although I'd visited the castle on numerous occasions before the visitor centre opened and have enjoyed the views as often, I was not prepared for the view that sat before me. Built into the rock the visitor centre gives a view like no other. There is also a veranda from the visitor centre where visitors can sit and relax.

          Guidebooks can also be bought giving a bit about the history and plans of how the castle might have looked many years ago.

          In-keeping with the romantic air of this castle there is often a lone piper standing on the ruins playing the bagpipes, which always brings a tear to my eye and sends a shiver down my spine.

          The castle is easily accessible situated on the A82 only 16 miles south of Inverness and is on the National Cycle Network.

          Definitely well worth a visit if you are ever up in that neck of the woods and you never know, as well as visiting a spectacular ruined castle with breathtaking scenery, you might even get a glimpse of the Loch Ness Monster!

          I would advise approximately half a day in order to appreciate what this spectacular, breathtaking ruined castle, visitor centre and panoramic views have to offer.

          Obviously as with everywhere, the views are weather dependent, although we have yet to be disappointed.

          OPENING TIMES
          SUMMER

          1st April - 31st October
          Monday - Sunday 9.30 am - 6.00 pm

          WINTER

          1st November - 31st March

          Monday - Sunday - 9.30 am - 5.00 pm

          Last Entry 45 minutes before closing.

          PRICES

          Adult £6.50
          Child £3.25 (age 5-15) all under 16 must be accompanied by an adult
          Concession £5.00

          This castle can also be hired for corporate events and weddings.

          For more information you can visit the Historic Scotland website www.historic-scotland.gov.uk

          Thanks for reading.

          © lel1969 February 2008

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