About 2 miles southeast of the village Drumnadrochit and 15 miles south of Inverness, along the A82 road, lie the spectacular ruins of Urquhart Castle on a peninsula surrounded by the breathtaking Loch Ness.
In its 500 years of being a medieval castle, Urquhart has played several important roles and been a popular recurring feature in and of Scottish history. In particular, the castle faced a considerable amount of action and bloodshed during the 13th to 17th centuries. It was seized by the English after Edward I’s invasion, reclaimed and seized again, was under the control of Robert the Bruce, King of Scots in the 14th century and was repeatedly attacked during the 15th and 16th centuries by the MacDonald Lords of the Isles arriving from the West; to recap the very least from its thrilling history.
Having seen the last of its historical turmoil in 1692 where it was largely destroyed in the fight between the Williamite and Jacobite groups, it was gifted in 2003 by the widow of its most recent owner of the time (‘Mr Chewett’) to the National Trust for Scotland. Should any avid historians wish to delve deeper into Urquhart Castle’s history, they would be most welcome to do so at the visitor centre at the caste, run by Historic Scotland. However although the stone ruin stands a mere shadow of its former self, its present-day life is as eventful as its past; let’s find out why.
The current day castle consists of a visitor centre newly built in 2002, which came with sizeable new car and coach parks, both of which are to be found in slopes underneath the A82. In order to explore the beautiful ruin, you will have to pay (at the time of writing) a reasonable admission fee at the Visitor Centre; £7.50 for adults and £4.30 for children, all year round. Furthermore, whether you prefer exploring the castle in summer with the sunlight sparkling on Loch Ness or whether you wish to enjoy the castle cafe during the blue winter hues, the castle is open in both seasons with the following timings; 1st April – 30th September, Mon-Sun, 9:30 am – 6:00 pm; 1st October – 31st October, Mon-Sun, 9:30 am- 5:00 pm; 1st Nov- 31st March, Mon-Sun, 9:30 am – 4:30pm. Please note that the castle is usually closed on 25th and 26th December.
A trip to the visitor centre serves as an interesting prologue to the castle visit and consists of four main attractions. Most appealing is the exhibition which includes a sizeable model of the castle, depicting what it might have looked like in its prime. The exhibition also consists of a theatre which runs an informative movie for visitors about the history of the castle from the 6th century to the 17th century, when it was demolished. There is also a cafe which provides stunning views of the castle and Loch Ness and is therefore often unsurprisingly chosen as a venue for wedding receptions. In fact, the adjoining terrace area is also available during the summer months, giving a fairy tale like quality to this setting; something to remember if you are planning an exotic wedding! Moreover the visitor centre also has a gift shop in the event that you want to take back souvenirs to friends and family.
Since the castle was often a sight for historical warfare, the main entrance to the castle from the land side (the other three sides are surrounded by Loch Ness) was through a draw bridge. This drawbridge has now been replaced by a wooden gangway, over which tourists can walk to enter the site of the castle ruins. Crossing the gangway leads to the main gate house. When you are at the gate, take a quick peer to your left; you will find a Historic Scotland exhibit and a dungeon which was used to hold prisoners. If you look left again and turn towards the south of the ruin, you will notice a kiln which is a few metres from the main ruin… this is where grain used to be dried for the inhabitants of the castle! Once you have stepped into the ruin site, it would be worthwhile to take the path leading to the tower house which is on the left most are of the ruin, as seen from the gate house.
The 5 storey tower house, which can be accessed by crossing through another drawbridge, provides a clear view of the entire ruin, which is mainly comprised of demolished stone structures that can be somewhat discerned as to have served certain purposes; as explained by the available guide books. Probably the most distinguishable of these structures are the ancient chapel which left its mark behind in the form of a decidedly rectangular ruin close to the tower and the dovecot which has retained its circular shape and is placed on the end further away from the tower. The structure facing the loch and placed next to the dovecot is suggested to be a blacksmith’s workshop. Furthermore, if you look to your very close left, you will see structures adjoining the tower that are very near the loch; these are chambers, a great hall and a kitchen. If you have children with you, they will undoubtedly love a scamper around the ruins and there is also said to be a piper available on the site occasionally. There is also a gate that leads from the castle right onto the shores of Loch Ness, a divinely beautiful specimen of nature.
However, as attractive as the ruin might be, it is impossible to overlook the magnificent views of Loch Ness which are available from the tower. The mesmerising bright blue waters of this loch alone draw flocks of tourists from neighbouring countries and around the world; because not only do they provide a breathtaking ambience, but also a possibility of sighting the legendary Loch Ness Monster! The Loch Ness monster is purportedly a dinosaur-type creature, supposed to have been sighted many a times since the 1930’s. Most accounts of its sightings are said to have been in Loch Ness, where scientists and explorers alike have claimed witness to evidence. The shores of Loch Ness have also been a popular spot for ‘skeletal findings’ of such a creature, all of which have turned out to be pranks played by local youth. Whether it exists or not; the idea of sighting this mystery of nature is quite tantalizing and if you are satisfied with your exploration of the castle ruins… it would almost seem tempting to find your own evidence of this monster…! Therefore a trip down to Urquhart castle is absolutely worthwhile, and if you consider yourself to be quite the photographer, wait around till dusk, the castle is floodlit which exponentially enhances its beauty and that of the orange skies awash over beautiful Loch Ness.