Urquhart Castle, now a Historic Environment Scotland Property, sits on a rocky outcrop overlooking the waters of Loch Ness a little south of Drumnadrochit in Scotland’s Highland Region.
The castle is set in a stunningly beautiful location set within the Great Glen, a geological fault line which provides a natural route for traffic on the Caledonian Canal and the main A82 road linking Fort William and Inverness.
Urquhart Castle Loch Ness
With the chance that Loch Ness’s best-known resident ‘Nessie’ might make an appearance it’s unsurprising that Urquhart Castle is one Scotland’s top visitor attractions. The views over the loch from the Grant Tower, the best-preserved part of the castle, are quite magnificent.
The first mention of Urquhart Castle comes from a hagiographical account of the Life of St Columba, by the remarkable Adomnan, Abbot of Iona between 679 and 704.
St Columba’s journey from Isle of Iona
He tells the story of St Columba’s journey c 580 from the isle of Iona to the court of Bridei, King of the Picts, near Inverness. According to Adomnan, Columba stopped en-route at Airdchartdan (Urquhart) to baptise a local family. However despite later Pictish archaeological finds at Urquhart no definitive proof of the saint’s visit exists. It’s an intriguing tales, as is Columba’s sighting of a ‘water beast’ on the same journey.
Much more evidence of life at the castle during the 13th and 14thcenturies remains. We know for example that around 1230 King Alexander II granted the Urquhart estate to Sir Thomas le Durward and later it was his son Alan who built the first castle.
Scottish Wars of Independence
During the Scottish Wars of Independence Urquhart was taken by Edward I of England, the Hammer of the Scots) but was subsequently surrendered two years later. In 1308 Robert the Bruce gained control for the Scottish crown.By 1395, the focus of conflict had altered. This time it was the powerful MacDonald clan, the Lords of the Isles who seized the castle and surrounding lands, holding them until control was granted to the Clan Grant in 1509 by James IV.
However despite the Grant’s residence at Urquhart Castle, the MacDonalds would not give up and the castle passed back and forward between them. In 1545, the MacDonalds made their final and biggest raid, carrying off guns and boats as they left.
English Civil Wars
During the English Civil Wars, Urquhart Castle and the wider Scotland were drawn into the conflict and the Grants, followers of King Charles I, were driven out by the Covenanters.
In 1690, the castle garrison, supporters of the Protestant monarchy of William and Mary, abandoned the fortress after blowing up some of the buildings in order to stop Jacobite sympathisers making use of them.
Despite a later government grant to enable restoration, repairs were never made. Over the years stormy weather and the use of the stone for other local buildings added to the decay. In 1913 what was left of Urquhart Castle passed into state control.
The Lord of the Isles was a title which first appeared when John of Islay wrote to King Edward III of England, signing the letter “Dominus Insularum” the Lord of the Isles.