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Accommodation in the Highlands
Moray Council

Urquhart Castle, Scottish Highlands

Location: Drumnadrochit, Inverness, IV63 6XJ (map and directions)

Located directly beside Scotland’s most famous loch, Loch Ness, Urquhart Castle is a magnificent and impressive structure despite its ruinous state, with over 1,000 years of history to tell.

Urquhart Castle, Scottish Highlands copyright Wknight94
Urquhart Castle © Wknight94

History of Urquhart Castle

Urquhart Castle inspires a sense of romance in its visitors. This is not only due to its shape and location on the famous Loch Ness, nor to the fact that the castle sits on the doorstep of the Scottish highlands. It is also thanks to famous Scottish monster known as Nessie, The Loch Ness Monster, who has been ‘spotted’ most frequently near the banks of Loch Ness at Urquhart Castle.

Records of a visit by St Columba from Iona to Loch Ness in AD 580 indicate that there may have been a Pictish fort on the rocky promontory where Urquhart sits, and the discovery of a Pictish brooch dating to the late 8th century seems to confirm this, as does radio-carbon dating done in 1983 which puts the structure’s origins between 440-640AD.

No exact data exists for when the present structure of Urquhart Castle was built, but the land had been granted to the Durward family in 1229, and it was most likely this family who built the castle. When Alan Durward died without a male heir in 1275, the king granted the estate to John Comyn. The castle fell into English hands more than once, the first time following the invasion of Edward I in 1296, after which it was reclaimed by the Scots and then lost again to the English. By this time the Comyn family had sided with King Edward I, and Sir Alexander Comyn was granted charge of the castle.

In the 14th century Urquhart came under the control of Robert the Bruce when he became King of Scots and the Comyns fled into exile. Urquhart Castle became property of the Crown at this time. Upon Bruce’s death in 1332, Urquhart was the only Highland castle holding out against the English.

The bloodshed at Urquhart continued in the 15th and 16th centuries due to frequent raids by the MacDonald Lords of the Isles. Urquhart passed back and forth between the Crown and the Lords of the Isles several times throughout these two centuries.

Urquhart Castle, Scottish Highlands copyright Wknight94
Urquhart Castle © Wknight94

In 1479, in attempt to fend off the MacDonalds, Sir Duncan Grant was brought in to stabilise the area. This attempt by both himself and his grandson John was met with limited success, and as such Lordship of Urquhart was granted to the Grants in 1509.

Urquhart was last garrisoned in 1692, when a small group of supporters for the Protestant monarchy of William and Mary held off Jacobite forces. When the garrison left, they blew the gatehouse and much of the castle to pieces in order to prevent the castle’s future role as a military stronghold.

After this explosion, the castle fell into a derelict state, which was worsened when Grant Tower crashed to the ground during a storm in 1715. The castle is split essentially in two parts and the odd shape of the ruined castle is an interesting highlight for visitors to the castle today. Owned by the National Trust for Scotland and run by Historic Scotland, Urquhart is one of Scotland’s most visited castles.

The remains of Urquhart Castle which can be visited include a main tower house of five stories and an upper castellated wall, including the Great Hall, the kitchen and the chapel, all of which are in various states of ruins.

Map and directions

Urquhart Castle is open daily year round, with opening hours running from 10am-5:30 pm in the summer. Winter hours are from 10-4:30.

View Urquhart Castle in a larger map

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