Castles - from Fairy Tale to Fortress
Scotland is famous for its castles and the area around the Black Isle is no exception. There are castles of all types within a reasonable driving distance of Firth View, from stone ruins over-looking the Lochs and Firths to fairy-tale piles fit for a king and everything in between. Here are just a few of the wonderful buildings which spark imagination of times gone by with some of our images from our own visits.
On the shores of the Beauly Firth, Redcastle lives up to its name with its walls of local red sandstone. The present building looks out over the waters from its position on a rise above the Beauly Firth and dates from 1641awhen it was under control of the Clan Mackenzie. However there was a castle constructed on the site as early as the 1100's. After remodelling over the centuries, Redcastle was requisitioned by the army during WW II and finally vacated in the 1950's. It is now a ruin, protected as a listed building and due to its precarious state can only be viewed from its grounds although there is a pleasant circular walk from the village along the shores of the Beauly Firth.
On the north Shore of Loch Ness stands Urquhart Castle which is open to the public by Historic Scotland. The castle stands on a small promontory giving it an ideal defensive location with views up and down the Loch. It dates from the 13th - 16th Centuries with various owners including the Kings of Scotland after the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 14thC, and subsequently gifted to Clan Grant, but was partially destroyed in 1692 to prevent its use by the Jacobite forces of Bonnie Prince Charlie. The visitor centre provides an interesting presentation of the history of the castle and a café offers refreshments.
Dunrobin is perhaps at the other end of the scale as far as architecture and luxury are concerned. It is the most northerly of Scotland's great houses being the seat of the Earl of Sutherland and the Clan Sutherland. Situated on the Sutherland coast just north of Golspie it is a little further away from Firth View but the drive is interesting and passes through Dornoch and past several distilleries. The Castle's origins lie in the Middle Ages but most of the present-day buildings and the beautiful gardens were added in the 1800s in the Scottish Baronial style with many French influences. The castle has over 180 rooms, some of which are open to the public along with the gardens and a museum of hunting trophies and archaeological finds collected by the Earl and Countess of Sutherland in the Victorian era. A daily falconry display in the gardens by the estate's falconer introduces the public to some beautiful birds of prey.
Cawdor is in Morayshire on the far side of the Moray Firth south of the A96 between Inverness and Nairn. It dates from the 14th C and was built as a private fortress by the Thanes of Cawdor and remains the home of the Campbells of Cawdor, furnished in a very comfortable homely style for the Dowager Countess of Cawdor who resides in the castle during the winter months. It is open to the public together with its wonderful gardens, a 9 hole golf course and nature walks through the woodland. There is a Cawdor connection with William Shakespeare's Scottish Play, Macbeth, although with no small amount of poetic licence.
EILEAN DONAN CASTLE
Perhaps the most iconic "biscuit tin" image of a Scottish castle is that of Eilean Donan which although originated in the 13th Century owes its present appearance to the endeavours of Lt Colonel John Macrae Gilstrap who rebuilt it from a ruin in the traditional style in the 1920s. In 1719 the castle was used as a garrison for 46 Spanish soldiers who were stationed there in support of the Jacobites with a magazine of barrels of gunpowder awaiting supplies of weapons and canon from Spain. The English government discovered this and sent ships to the surrounding sea lochs and when their bombardment failed the Captain sent his men over the walls to ignite the gunpowder and reduce the castle to rubble. 200 years later the castle and its island were bought by Macrae Gilstrap who spent the next 20 years building a home around the plans of the original castle which was completed in 1932.
Another legacy of the Battle of Culloden, Bonnie Prince Charlie and his Jacobite rebellion are the three forts which were built by George II to supress the ambitions of the Jacobites to reinstate the Stuarts to the Throne of Scotland, England and Wales. Fort William, Fort Augustus and Fort George were constructed as garrisons for George's troops along the line of the Great Glen to keep the Clans in order and prevent incursion by James Stuarts supporters.
Fort George, which is located on the far side of the Moray Firth, is the finest example of Georgian military engineering and architecture in the UK, designed to evade capture and provide heavy defences both to the land and the sea. Visitors to the Fort today are able to wander around the fascinating buildings, ramparts and military edifices inside its massive walls thanks to Historic Scotland who protect and maintain many of the buildings. They share the space with current soldiers of the Black Watch, 3rd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland who are stationed at Fort George.