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Castles of Scotland
Urquhart Castle

Urquhart CastleOn Loch Ness nr Drumnadrochit on the A82. Tel: 01456 450551

The impressive ruin of Urquhart Castle sits on a rocky promontory with commanding views along Loch Ness. One of the largest of all Scottish castles, Urquhart has seen many battles and sieges throughout its 500-year history as a medieval fortress. Evidence of the siting of some kind of fortified residence on the promontory goes back to Pictish times during a missionary visit by St Columba about AD 580. The holy man called at the home in Glen Urquhart of an elderly noble Pict named Emchath and converted him and his household to Christianity.

The first record of a castle at Urquhart comes more than 600 years after Columba’s visit. By the year 1250 Alan Durward was lord of Urquhart. As brother-in-law of King Alexander III, Alan was one of the most influential men in Scotland, widely recognised as the power behind the throne. The stronghold that Alan established at Urquhart continued to be of strategic importance throughout the Wars of Independence with England sparked by the untimely death of Alexander III.

Soon after the Wars began in 1296, the English Army captured Urquhart. Within two years, the castle was back in Scottish hands during the resistance, led by William Wallace. Over the next half century it changed hands many times.

Urquhart’s stirring history continued with frequent raids by the Macdonald Lords of Isles in the 15th and 16th centuries. In 1509, the Chief of Clan Grant was granted the castle. It was last inhabited by Government troops following the Jacobite Rising of 1689.

The Urquhart Castle Project, a £4 million scheme to improve visitor facilities, car parking and access to the castle, is currently being carried out by Historic Scotland. The new visitor centre will allow us to tell the story of Urquhart Castle to over 250,000 visitors each year. 

Open all year. Sun. morning open 9.30am. Last ticket sold 45 minutes before closing.

The Royal Castle of Urquhart existed during the reign of William the Lion (1165-1214), though at that time it may well have been a wooden fortification. The Anglo-Norman, Alan Durward was the first recorded Lord of Urquhart, and he refashioned the castle during the reign of Alexander II (1214-1249). On Durward's death in 1268, the castle and lands passed to the Comyn's, Lords of Badenoch.

In 1296, during the Wars of Independence, the castle was held by the English, but it fell into Scots hands. By 1303, however, it had been retaken by Edward I of England. The year 1308 saw the forces of Robert the Bruce bring Urquhart back into the control of the Scots.

King Robert then passed the castle on to Sir Thomas Randolph, later to become the Earl of Moray. In 1333 Urquhart successfully resisted the English Invasion after the defeat of the Scots at the Battle of Halidon Hill.

The castles keeper at that time was Sir Robert Lauder, who held the castle until it was handed back to the Scottish Crown in 1346.

In 1395, MacLean of Lochbay was keeper of the castle. After the death of James I in 1437, the MacDonald's tried, unsuccessfully, to take Urquhart.

They returned in 1452, in support of the Black Douglas’ rebellion, and seized the castle, forcing the Crown to recognise them as castle keepers.

The defeat of the Black Douglas’ rebels in 1458 led to the MacDonald's entering into the Treaty of Ardtornish-Westminster in 1461.

Their intent was to divide the Scots Kingdom with Edward IV and the Black Douglas’.

Urquhart consequently passed into Crown hands, and in 1476 was held by the Earl of Huntly.Keepership was passed to John Grant by James IV in 1509. After the death of James IV in 1513, at Flodden, the castle was taken by the MacDonald's of Lochalsh, but returned to the Crown in 1516.

In 1545 the MacDonald's and their allies the Cameron's of Lochiel, took the castle, and burned Glen Urquhart's homesteads to the ground. The castle was plundered and badly damaged by the Covenanter's in 1644, but underwent repairs to the cost of 200 merks in 1676.

In 1689, a whig garrison held out for 2 years against the Jacobites.

To prevent it being used as a Jacobite base, Urquhart was blown up in 1691.

By 1708, it was being used as the local quarry.

Urquhart Castle - photo by Lynne Motijoane
Urquhart Castle - photo by Lynne Motijoane

See additional information at Burke's Peerage & Gentry

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