Thursday, July 8, 2010

Exploring Scotland 1 Castle at a Time, Part 25, Eilean Donan Castle

Eilean Donan Castle sits on a small island connected to land by a bridge. At around 600 a monastery, or actually just a small group of huts that housed the monks, occupied the island. St Donan was responsible for their being there and thus the island and the castle attained its name. Evidence of a small iron age fort still occupied the land when the current castle was constructed. 

      (When I took this picture, I almost cried. This is the exact angle and composition for the cover of my book, Highland Moonlight. Had I traveled to Scotland 3 years ago they could have used my picture for the cover.)

In the year, 1200 Kenneth MacKensie built a massive castle that nearly enclosed the entire area of the island. It had a four story tower house with walls over 4 feet thick, a keep and a curtain wall that bordered the island. From this fortress he fought the Norse invasions that plagued the area. 

Some time around 1400 parts of the castle were dismantled leaving a much smaller fortress. The keep and some outbuildings were just about it. The curtain wall and the massive tower house were destroyed. In the 1500’s a platform for canon was built to more easily defend the entrance to the castle.

In a Jacobite uprising in April 1719, William Murray, Earl of Tullibardine, and George Keith, the Earl of Marischal landed in North west Scotland with a garrison of Spanish Marines and took Eileen Donan as their headquarters. To follow them was a Spanish armada of 7,000 men to invade Southern England. The fleet hit a storm in the channel and turned back. In the meantime, a call for the Jacobite clansmen went out and about 1200 showed up.

 In May, three royal Navy frigates sailed down Loch Alsch and attacked the castle. The men surrendered and the castle was blown up by the Royal Navy using 320 barrels of gunpowder the Spanish had brought with them. (I groaned aloud when I read this) Damn pesky Jacobites!

The uprising was quelled, the clansmen melted back into the countryside, and the Spanish marines 250 of them were captured..

For the next 200 years the castle remained a ruin. Until, Lt. Col. John MacRae- Gilstrap, the current laird, and his clerk, Farquhar MacRae,(How's that for a character's name) designed and started construction on a castle that would be a family home.

The structure was begun in 1913 but work was delayed during World War I. After the war, work began in earnest and the castle was completed in 1932.

We arrived at Eilean Donan by way of Loch Maree. I was later told by a very entertaining and helpful gentleman named Richard, who worked as a guide in the Billeting room, that we were brave women because tourists don’t normally take that route to Eilean Donan. It was a one lane road with lay-bys and went over mountains the size of the grand canyon. It is that route they advertise ferry tours down the loch to Eileen Donan. So you can take your car down Loch Duich to the castle. Had I known I’d have done that in a heartbeat!!!

If any of you have seen the latest movie featuring Eilean Donan, Made of Honor, featuring Patrick Dempsy, the people invited to the wedding ferried down the loch to the castle, just as he mentioned.

We entered the castle through the Billeting room. I actually got to lay my things down on the table there so I could write the name of our guide, Richard, down. The plan was to leave one of my books there, but Richard talked me into signing it for him since he collects things about Eilean Donan castle. He even promised to read it. 

In the billeting room, you could imagine military men sitting around the table planning a campaign to quell the next Jacobite uprising because it was certainly a room for men.  Stone walls, stone ceiling, and stone floor covered by a neutral colored rug.  And the large table in the center.  There were single shot muskets hung over the fireplace.  The vaulted ceiling arches over your head. 

Eilean Donan did what we had seen in a couple of other castles, they had figures depicting life in the castle set in place.  They had created some that represented  Lt. Colonel MacRae- Gilstrap and Farquha MacRae as they studied plans on how to construct the castle. 
They also had figures in the scullery that were very humorous.  I would have loved to have taken pictures but was afraid it wasn't allowed. 

The Banqueting Room was beautiful. Oil paintings of family members  hung on the walls and a tartan rug woven specifically for the castle by the grandson of the Colonel covered the floor depicting the MacRae tartan. Wooden beams crossed the ceiling. Weddings are often performed there.  You can see the hall up close and personal in the movie I mentioned earlier.


I loved that there were window seats in the bedrooms so you could look out on the loch.  I pointed out a set of bedwarmers that hung on the bedroom wall. Wish they were still in style today.

Mitsi and I have laughed at how many of my pictures have her back in them.  She said she was going
to create a slide show of them and set them to music.


I didn't get a picture of the portcullis and we weren't allowed to take pictures in doors, but I'd have loved to take pictures of the winding gear that controlled it. (A portcullis is a spiked gate that is lowered to bar the castle entrance.) 


Here's the flag that flies over the MacRae War Memorial honoring the soldiers of World War I.


Here's the castle at a little different angle so you can see the bridge. 

My final image of Eilean Donan was the hardest to get since it doesn't get dark until after 10:00 at  night during the summer.  It's a trick of the light that makes it look dark and mysterious. 

And just like the cover of my book.

Tomorrow we'll be taveling to Urqhuart  Castle on Loch Ness. Write on, Teresa R.


Amy Durham said...

I can't imagine what a thrill it was for you to visit the castle and take the pictures that are so like the cover of "Highland Moonlight". I'm so happy that you had the opportunity to take this trip! I'm enjoying every blog post and all the pictures!


Teresa Reasor said...

Thanks for reading the blog!!
I wish we could have gone as a group. KYRW would have loved it!!! And yes it was a thrill to be there and get to take so many pictures of the place.


Jody said...

I was waiting for this one and you did it justice. This is the most photographed castle in Scotland. I love how the weather can change within minutes there. I have a few pictures from one trip with the surrounding hills with cloud cover so low it looks like the mists of time.

Its also the location of this castle that just screams history. I had to laugh in the last movie ELIZABETH THE GOLDEN YEARS that when they imprissoned Mary of Scotland in what should have been an English castle now in ruins, they used this castle for the front pictures of where she was. Had a good laugh over that one. It think it was also used in a bond movie once and in one of the highlander series.

They have a great webcam as well check it out

Teresa Reasor said...

Thanks for the webcam address. I'm checking it out.
And yes, I've seen that scene that movie and recognized the castle as well. As though we don't know the difference in English and Scottish castle construction!!

Thanks so much for continue to follow the blog and offering your unique insights on the history of Scotland. I appreciate it.
Teresa R.

Teresa Reasor said...

I did have a picture of the Portcullis!! Look at the picture of the front door. Just at the top you can make out the spikes.

I'll have to go blow it up and check it out.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

WONDERFUL! My favorite castle and you captured it wonderfully. Thank you so much. I think the first Scot I saw in a kilt was the docent inside this castle. He was delightful. Thank you so much!!!!

I must have your book so am ordering it today. Great cover!

Teresa Reasor said...

Thanks so much for continuing to follow the blog. And I'm so glad you liked my photos.

That's really sweet of you to say you wanted my book as well. The thrill never disappates when someone says that.

Teresa R.

Caroline Clemmons said...

Teresa, Oh, I'd love to go back to Scotland and see these castles. We only saw two besides Edinburgh the last time. I don't remember any except Edinburgh the first time. We weren't there long enough, but we did get to see some lovely locks. I've enjoyed your series very much. Thanks for sharing! How eerie it must have been to see the exact angle of the castle that's on your book cover. What a thrill, though.

Teresa Reasor said...

It was amazing seeing the castle up close and personal.

I have a poster of my book cover framed and hung on the wall in my office. I thought I'd print out some of these pictures and frame them in small black frames to go around it.
Next time you go back you need to do a castle tour like we did.

Devon Matthews said...

Teresa, seeing these pictures gave me goosebumps. For some reason--above all the others--this particular castle and surrounding landscape is absolutely haunting. Also, I couldn't help but recall the night you received your cover, and how happy you were. I'm so glad you got to do this.

p.s. If there was any place that might inspire me to tackle a Scottish Medieval, Eilean Donan would be it.

Teresa Reasor said...

Thanks for saying that about the pictures. And yes, the area is very special. All those highland mountains and the three lochs coming together in just that spot.

It's a beautiful place.


Annabelle Ambrosio said...

Thank you so much for your generosity in these postings. And your book cover is so good. I know I have to get that book now.

Teresa Reasor said...

Thanks so much for saying that. I appreciate it. I'm so glad you're enjoying the blog.
Teresa R.

Ellis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ellis said...

What lovely photos. They spark the imagination. Now I'll have to look for your book--I'm a sucker for Scottish settings.

Teresa Reasor said...

Thanks you for thinking about the book. Moonlight is a special story.

I'm not going to plug it, just say
it's a Scottish Medieval.

And I'm glad my pictures are being so inspiring to everyone.


Sandy Blair said...

Hi Teresa,
I'm loving this. You're a wonderful narrator and the photos are fantastic!!

Teresa Reasor said...

Thank you Sandy:
I appreciate your reading the blog and enjoying it.