Eilean Donan Castle

Situated at the meeting point of three sea lochs – Loch Alsh, Loch Duich and Loch Long – and looking west to the Isle of Skye, the castle of Eilean Donan, or island of Donan, combines spectacular location and colourful history in a way that makes it everything a British castle should be.
The MacKenzie clan held Eilean Donan until the 16th century, during which time it survived feuds with the McLeods and the MacDonalds. It also saw a great deal of action during the 17th and 18th centuries w h e n Jacobites – s u p p o r t e r s of the deposed King J a m e s VII of Scotland (II of England) – rose up against the English in attempts to take the throne for him and his heirs. In the spring of 1719 the Jacobites garrisoned 46 Spanish soldiers in Eilean Donan. On 10 May three government frigates bombarded the castle. The government force accepted the garrison’s surrender and blew up what was not already in ruins with the help of 343 barrels of gunpowder.
Given its long and often violent history, it is not surprising that the castle of Eilean Donan has been rebuilt a n u m b e r of t i m e s . The earliest s t r u c t u r e on this site was built in medieval t i m e s as a defence against the Vikings, and the most recent rebuilding was by the MacRae-Gilstrap family between 1912 and 1932.
The approach to the castle is understated, and crosses a graceful bridge that was added at the time of the last rebuilding. From this bridge there are views of the lochs, the nearby village of Dornie and the m o u n t a i n s of Skye. A l t h o u g h its outline s l i g h t l y r e s e m b l e s  a broken tooth the castle looks good from almost any angle, set as it is within a fragrant and typically Highland landscape of heather and wild flowers.
Its severe beauty, however, cannot disguise the fact that the castle’s p r i m a r y f u n c t i o n has always been defence.  There is no retreat f r o m an island battle, and the finality of Eilean Donan’s position certainly contributes to its atmosphere.
The end of the bridge is protected by the b a t t l e m e n t s of the bastion and a w a l l that extends outwards f r o m the main castle. A doorway leads into the courtyard, which has a sea wall that looks out on to the lochs. Steps lead up to the door of the keep and into the billeting room. Above is the most impressive room, the banqueting hall, c o m p l e t e w i t h beams made f r o m Douglas f i r f r o m B r i t i s h Columbia, given by the Canadian MacRaes during the rebuilding. The
hall also has a huge fireplace decorated with coats of a r m s and a table believed to be from one of Admiral Nelson’s ships.
At low tide the island is fringed with seaweed and tide pools, but at high tide its exposed position gives it a sense of defiance and it is possible to imagine enemy ships sailing down Loch Alsh, or besieging troops planning to fight their way across to the castle.
Reflected in the waters of the loch and framed by mountains, the castle is now a place of dreams rather than drama.
Eilean Donan Castle is in a fairly remote location 16 km from the bridge to the Isle of Skye. Driving from Glasgow takes about 7 hours, primarily on the A82, but the road passes through some essential scenery, including Ben Nevis, Glen Сое,
Loch Lochy and Glen Shiel. Driving from Edinburgh also takes 7 hours, and from Inverness 3 hours. The nearby village of Dornie is small and has limited hotel and bed-and-breakfast capacity, especially in the summer months, so booking
ahead is advisable. The road leading up the hill behind Dornie has good views above the castle, especially at sunset.