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Eilean Donan Castle

Dornie, Inverness-shire

Featured Location Guide

The name Eilean Donan, or island of Donan, is most probably called after the 6th century Irish Saint, Bishop Donan who came to Scotland around 580 AD. There are several churches dedicated to Donan in the area, and it is likely that he formed a small cell, or community on the island during the late 7th century.

The Iconic View of Eilean Donan Castle

The current castle is situated on an island in Loch Duich, at the point where three sea lochs meet, and is surrounded by some fantastic scenery. It is little wonder that the castle is now one of the most visited and important attractions in the Scottish highlands and it is probably the most photographed Scottish castle appearing on all sorts of objects from biscuit tins, calendars to book covers and more. I have visited it twice, once in March 2005 and again in May 2012, the photographic opportunities it presents with its pristine scenery and location is spectacular. On our May visit the reflections were almost perfect as you can see, stunning!

The castle was first inhabited around the 6th century but the first fortified castle wasn't built until the mid 13th century as a defensive measure,  to protect the lands of Kintail against the Vikings who raided, settled and controlled much of the North of Scotland and the Western Isles between 800 and 1266. From the mid 13th century, this area was the separate "Sea Kingdom" of the Lord of the Isles where the sea was the main highway and the power of feuding clan chiefs was counted by the number of men and galleys at their disposal. Eilean Donan offered the perfect defensive position.

A view from the other side of the

Since then, over the centuries, the castle itself has expanded and contracted in size, at least four different versions of the castle have been built and re-built as the feudal history of Scotland unfolded. What you see today is the ruins of it's fifth re-incarnation re-built from earlier ruins in the first half of the 20th century.

The medieval castle was probably the largest, with towers and a curtain wall that encompassed nearly the entire island. The main keep standing on the islands highest point. Around the end of the 14th century the area of the castle was reduced to about a fifth of its original size, and although the reason is unclear,  it probably relates to the number of men required to defend the structure. By the 16th century a hornwork was added to the east wall to offer a firing platform for the newly introduced cannons.

It also played a role in the Jacobite risings and in 1719 the castle was garrisoned by 46 Spanish soldiers who were supporting the Jacobites. They had established a magazine of gunpowder, and were awaiting the delivery of weapons and cannon from Spain. The English Government caught wind of the intended uprising and sent three heavily armed frigates The Flamborough, The Worcester, and The Enterprise to sort things out. The bombardment lasted three days, though met with limited success due to the enormity of the castle walls, which in some places are up to 14 feet thick. Finally, Captain Herdman of The Enterprise sent his men ashore and over-whelmed the Spanish defenders. Following the surrender, the government troops discovered the magazine of 343 barrels of gunpowder and these were used to blow up what had remained from the bombardment.

A more distant perspective of the castle on it's island in in Loch Duic

From this point Eilean Donan lay in ruins for the best part of 200 years until Lieutenant Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap bought the island in 1911 and proceeded to restore the castle to its former glory. The rebuild was started on 23rd August 1913 and it was rebuilt according to the surviving ground plan of earlier phases. Building resumed after the First World War and after 20 years it was completed in July 1932 at a cost of a quarter of a million pounds. It was opened to the public in 1955 by his Grandson and today is run by the Cochrane Trust to preserve it for future generations.

Today, you can explore nearly every part of the castle itself, and enjoy a journey through the history of the area from it's exhibitions and visitors centre.

You begin your visit by crossing the arched bridge added during the rebuild, which links the island to the mainland and approach the castle past a bastion designed to dominate. The main gate is protected by galleries, murder holes and a fierce looking portcullis, and your visit begins in the south west wing. From here you go into a large courtyard which has a sea gate offering views along Loch Alsh and then you visit the main keep where there are three stories of accommodation. The ground floor as a vaulted Billeting room and steps up to the Great Hall or Banqueting Hall and above this are a number of bedrooms to be explored. From the Great Hall you can access rooms which recreate the kitchens and there is also access onto the battlements.

If you get your visit right you can get some great reflection images as above

There is no disabled or wheelchair access into the castle itself, but they do have a computer-based Virtual Tour available at the visitor centre for those that are unable to manage the large number of steps.

In the local area

From the Castle you can walk to Dornie at the mouth of Loch Long, see the Cuillin of Skye in the distance across Loch Alsh or look to the head of Loch Duich towards the dramatic Five Sisters of Kintail. Or you can travel a short distance to visit the outstanding brochs of Glenelg built over 1500 years ago, wander through the Lochalsh Woodland Garden at Balmacara, or if you're fit climb up to the Falls of Glomach.

A closeup view of the castle with it's reflection in the surrounding waters of Loch Duich

Further information Grid



Eilean Donan Castle, Dornie, Inverness-shire

Ceremonial County: Inverness-shire

Grid Reference:


Map Link:


Aerial photo:  



Best Times to Visit:






Other useful websites:

Wikipedia     Undiscovered Scotland 

Nearby Locations:  
Other Relevant pages:  


Planning Grid


Eilean Donan Castle, Dornie, Inverness-shire

Grid Reference:


Getting there:

On the side of the A87, the main tourist route to the Isle of Skye.


Over a bridge from mainland to it's own little island in the Loch


Large FREE car park.


Visitor centre, coffee shop, gift shop, tourist information for the area, toilets.

Things To Do, See and Photograph:

Castle, Lochs, Mountains both on the mainland and the Isle of Skye, reflections

What to take:


Nature highlights:



Eilean Donan Castle


by Kyle of Lochalsh



IV40 8DX


01599 555202

Opening times:

Castle and Exhibitions: 1st Mar-31st Oct; Daily 10am-6pm (9am July and August)

Visitor Centre and Gift Shop: 1st Mar-31st Oct; Daily 10am-5pm


Adults 6.00; Concessions 5.00; Family (2+3) 15; Under 5's FREE

Photo Restrictions:


Other Restrictions:  
Special Needs Access: No disabled or wheelchair access to the castle, but you can admire it from the outside from the vantage point of the car park.
Special Needs Facilities:  
Children Facilities:  
Dogs Allowed:  

Please let us know any other information that we can add to the Further information and Planning Grids or page and any errors that you discover. Before making a long trip to any location it is always wise to double check the current information, websites like magazines may be correct at the time the information is written, but things change and it is of course impossible to double check all entries on a regular basis. If you have any good photographs that you feel would improve the illustration of this page then please let us have copies. In referring to this page it is helpful if you quote both the Page Ref and Topic or Section references from the Grid below. To print the planning grid select it then right click and print the selected area.

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By: Tracey Park Section: Castles Key:
Page Ref: eilean_donan Topic: Castles Last Updated: 06/2012


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