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Urquhart Castle

Once one of Scotland’s largest castles, Urquhart’s remains include a tower house that commands splendid views.

Urquhart Castle

A thousand years of history

Urquhart Castle dominates a rocky promontory jutting into Loch Ness. That promontory has hosted some famous names in its long history.

St Columba visited with peaceful intent around AD 580. Not so the English, who seized the castle in 1296. Nor the MacDonalds, Lords of the Isles,  who stormed through the glen time and again in the later Middle Ages, ruling with a rod of iron from the mighty castle.

In the twilight of its days as a seat of the chief of Clan Grant, Urquhart continued to prove its worth. It was last garrisoned in 1692, and legend claims that the towering gatehouse was blown up so that the castle could never again be a military stronghold. Over a thousand years of stirring history were buried beneath the rubble.

A Pictish fort

Urquhart steps into history around AD 580. St Columba was making a long journey from Iona to the court of Bridei, king of the Picts, at Inverness. As he was passing up Loch Ness, he was called to the residence of an elderly Pictish nobleman at Airdchartdan (Urquhart). Emchath was close to death, and Columba baptised him and his entire household.

We cannot be sure that Emchath’s residence was on the rocky promontory. However, the discovery of a fragment of Pictish brooch (dating from the late 8th or early 9th century) strongly hints that it may well have been the location.

A mighty medieval stronghold

From the 13th century, until its demise in 1692, Urquhart saw much military action. In 1296 it was captured by Edward I of England ‘Hammer of the Scots’. Thereafter, the stronghold passed back and forth between Scottish and English control. In 1332, in the dark days following King Robert Bruce’s death, Urquhart remained the only Highland castle holding out against the English.

Soon after the English threat evaporated the MacDonalds, Lords of the Isles arrived. Time and again, they swept through Glen Urquhart in their quest for more power. The castle passed back and forth between the Crown and the Lords of the Isles like a bone between two dogs. Their last raid, in 1545, proved the worst. The Islesmen got away with an enormous hoard, including 20 guns and three great boats.

A noble ruin

When the last soldiers marched out in 1692, they blew it up. The castle soon fell into decay. Part of the Grant Tower crashed to the ground in 1715 during a violent storm. But attitudes changed, and during the 19th century the ancient stronghold came to be viewed as a noble ruin in a majestic setting. It passed into state care in 1913, and is now one of the most visited of all Scotland’s castles.

Events at Urquhart Castle

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31 January 2015

The Nation // Live

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