Today we experienced a rather lovely drive to Inverness broken into three parts with two stops at castles: Eilean Donan and Urquhart.
Eilean Donan is an old castle built on a tidal island at Dornie. It is located where three large lochs meet: Loch Alsh, Loch Duich, and Loch Long (ha – that’s Long Lake; a heck of a lot longer than our Long Lake).
Urquhart is an old castle built on a promontory on the shores of Loch Ness, at the northern end of the Great Glen.
Both pieces of land were first inhabited by about the sixth century AD: Eilean Donan by a Christian bishop probably from Ireland who established a cell there; Urquhart by a Pictish tribe that was visited by St. Columba and converted to Christianity.
Scottish King Alexander II granted the lands to two different noblemen in the early 1200s, tasking them with building the castles and governing the people. Both did what was required of them, and both suffered raids and various attacks over the centuries that eventually led to both castles being abandoned and left to ruin.
In 1911 Col. John MacRae-Gilstrap regained possession of Eilean Donan for his family and began rebuilding the castle to what it is today, with the significant help of Farquhar MacRae. Unfortunately, while the Colonel came to realize his dream, he did not survive to witness it, passing away a mere six months before its completion.
Urquhart Castle, on the other hand, had been purposely and spectacularly destroyed by the occupying Grant family when they realized they were about to lose it to the Jacobites. It remained empty and left to ruin. Historic Scotland came into possession and preserved the ruins and established them as a significant tourist facility, preserving the history not only of the castle and nobility, but also of the household hierarchy of its staff and tenants.
Dan and I found both visits very informative, and the respective architecture and engineering interesting. The two sites provided a juxtaposition between restoring a site to a ruin and restoring a site to a functional contemporary residence. Eilean Donan continues to be used by the MacRae family as a temporary residence on occasion.
On a side note, you can check Eilean Donan in the Highlander movie with Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery, and you can check out Urquhart Castle in the PBS-NOVA special on trebuchets.
All in all, an interesting day. Our host at Inverglen Guest House seems very nice, our room is very bright and lovely, and we had a truly fantastic Italian dinner at a place called Little Italy.