Eilean Donan Castle is recognised as one of the most iconic images of Scotland and has featured in many films, including Bonnie Prince Charlie (starring David Niven, 1948), The Master of Ballantrae (starring Errol Flynn, 1953), The New Avengers (1976), Highlander (1986) and James Bond – The World is Not Enough (1999). It is also a popular spot for wedding celebrations, billed as Scotland’s most romantic castle.
Situated on a small tidal island at the point where three sea lochs meet (Loch Duich, Loch Long and Loch Alsh) the location is spectacular, surrounded as it is with 360 degree views of spectacular scenery. The name Eilean Donan, or island of Donan, most probably derives from the 6th century Irish Saint, Bishop Donan who came to Scotland around 580 AD and settled there. However, the first fortified structure was not built on the island until the mid 13th century, as a stronghold of the Clan MacKenzie and their allies, the Clan MacRae. Since then, at least four different versions of the castle have been built and re-built as the feudal history of Scotland unfolded through the centuries. The Castle also played a role in the Jacobite uprisings of the 17th and 18th centuries, which ultimately culminated in its destruction in 1719. It then lay in ruins for the best part of 200 years until Lieutenant Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap bought the island in 1911. Along with his Clerk of Works, Farquar Macrae, he proceeded to restore the Castle to her former glory. The Castle was rebuilt according to the surviving ground plan of earlier phases, with the addition of a footbridge connecting the island to the mainland. Work was formally completed in 1932 and the Castle opened to the public in 1955. In 1983 ownership of the castle was transferred to the Conchra Charitable Trust, established by the MacRae family to restore and maintain the Castle.
The Castle including exhibitions is open from 10.00am to 5.00pm, April to October, and from 10.00am to 3.00pm, February, March and November. We visited on a perfect Autumn day, sunny and warm. We began with the introductory exhibition, which provided a fascinating history of this remarkable Castle. As we proceeded to explore the Castle itself, we found the guides in each room to be excellent, helpful and informative, whether answering questions about ‘that piece of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s hair’ or the fine Chippendale and Sheraton furniture. All in all, we spent about two hours exploring almost every part of the Castle. I loved the Kitchens, with their reconstruction of the people who worked there, along with original recipes, accounts and letters to browse through. Also the Banqueting Hall with its period furniture, Jacobean artefacts, displays of weapons, family photographs and fine art. From the Banqueting Hall a spiral stone staircase leads to an upper floor which has only been on display since 1995. The views of the surrounding lochs and landscapes are simply breathtaking. No photography is allowed of the interiors, but shots of the surrounding landscape more than compensate.
Although there is no disabled or wheelchair access into the Castle itself, a computer-based virtual tour is available for those who are unable to manage the large number of steps. There is also a Visitor Centre, coffee shop and gift shop. Ample car parking is available at no extra charge. Entrance prices are £7 for Adults, £6 for Senior Concessions, free to under 5s and discounted rates for families.