The castle has appeared in several movies but that’s not why this 6th-century castle is so important to Scotland.
Eilean Donan is one of the most-visited places in the Scottish Highlands and once you’ve been there, it’s easy enough to see why. This historic castle has been featured plenty of times in film and on TV, and it’s also the meeting place of several lochs (lakes), making it a naturally dramatic background for a myriad of things. Its beauty is only part of its significance though, as this iconic land holds a place in both the heart of the locals, of Scotland, and of the visitors who leave with a better understanding of its history.
The History Of Eilean Donan Is A Long One
The earliest-known date associated with the island of Donan is 580 A.D. The island and, by extension, its castle, was believed to have been named after Bishop Donan, who was an Irish saint during the 6th century. By the 7th century, it’s believed that he was responsible for creating a community that centered around Donan. However, the iconic castle that sits there today was not built until the 13th century when the lands of Kintail needed protection from the Vikings. The Vikings were in control of northern Scotland as well as much of the Highlands from 800 to 1266, and for centuries the land was somewhat of an ongoing battleground for those who could come by sea to take control of the land. Eilean Donan became a beacon of hope for those hoping to defend their land against sea-venturing intruders, and its defenses provided just the protection needed.
Interestingly enough, the size of the castle has increased and decreased over time depending on how many men were available to defend it. It held up through the centuries and between the 17th and 18th centuries, the castle was introduced to a new struggle: The Jacobite Rising.
The Destruction Of The Castle
Ultimately, the castle did fall to its demise during this struggle. It was occupied by 46 Spanish soldiers who were fighting on behalf of the Jacobites during 1719 when the destruction happened. With a wealth of gunpowder as well as awaiting a weapon delivery, the English Government heard of their planned attack and when the army finally reached the castle, it took merely three days before it was nearly dismantled. The final blow came with an extraordinary amount of gunpowder – 343 barrels, to be exact – which finally did the job on the remaining 14-foot barrier walls of the castle.
From that point on, the castle lay in ruin with what little was left standing as a reminder of the glory and craftsmanship that went into making it such a well-built fortress. By 1911, though, it had caught the attention of someone else: A man by the name of Lt Colonel John Macrae-Gilstrap. It was he who restored the castle to its former glory and by 1932, Eilean Dunan was standing once again after 20 years of construction. There are four generations currently who Constables for Eilean Donan, and they allow the castle to be explored in full from top to bottom, allowing visitors to learn about every aspect of its intense history.
Visiting The Castle
Visiting Eilean Donan is a tremendous experience and those who do should know they stand on the same spot as many famed others. Not only will they be walking into a piece of living history, but they’ll also experience the castle as it was seen in the 1986 film Highlander as well as its most famous Hollywood setting, The World Is Not Enough. Fame aside, visitors have access to the visitor center which is home to the ticket office as well as a coffee shop. Visitors can gather information on the castle here as well before their tour and can pick up souvenirs and castle gifts in the gift shop section of the center.
Bus tours of the castle are also available and run from both Inverness as well as Edinburgh. For those interested in scoping out the castle virtually, they can check out the Eilean Donan website and watch through various webcams as they take in live, up to date footage of the castle in real-time.
The castle is also home to the Eilean Donan apartments, which can be accommodated for a minimum of two nights. These apartments have one, two, and four-bedroom units and can be rented out for holidays or an extended stay near castle grounds. The self-catering apartments are equipped with a kitchen as well as all the amenities a traveler would need, located not far from the castle itself.