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Publication Account

Date 1995

Event ID 1016683

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Publication Account


This great castle stands on a Iow promontory jutting out into Loch Ness, beside the strategic northeast-southwest route along the Great Glen, a promontory which had been used earlier for a vitrified fort, possibly of dark-age date. As a royal castle, Urquhart played its full part in the power struggles in the area, both in the Wars of Independence and later in the conflicts between the Kings of Scotland and the Lords of the Isles. During these centuries 'Urquhart was continually taken and retaken, pulled down and rebuilt, sacked and replenished'. Since a detailed guidebook may be bought at the site, only a brief survey is given here.

If there was a castle here in the 12th century, nothing of it can be identified; what exists today originated as a great 13th-century fortification, held by Alan Durward from 1229. This castle consisted of a citadel, the stone-walled enclosure on the top of the highest mound with buildings at each end, and an outer walled courtyard or bailey perhaps with other buildings an it. Except for the citadel, most of the buildings we see today are of 14th century or later date, including the gatehouse, the 'massive foundations of domestic buildings 111 the Nether Bailey, and the great tower-house.

The castle was defended to landward by a huge dry ditch, crossed by a stone causeway and, originally, a wooden drawbridge. The gatehouse with tumbled fragments lying round it was blown up, perhaps by royal troops after the accession of William and Mary to prevent the Jacobites making use of the castle. This strong gatehouse may have been built in the 14th century and possibly housed the lodging of the constable or keeper of the castle. The gateway was flanked by two half-round towers and defended by a portcullis and double doors. The buildings against the old curtain wall on the south of the Nether Bailey have immensely massive walls, but only the vaults survive of what was once a substantial structure several storeys high. On the first floor of this range was the great hall and chamber of the 14th-century castle, and perhaps also the lord's private apartment, used on his periodic visits.

A more or less self-contained tower-house stands at the end of the promontory, thought to have been built for the Grants to whom James IV gave the lordship of Urquhart in 1509. This tower stands on an earlier basement, and its upper works were repaired in 1623. Although the south wall has fallen, the visitor can sti ll climb to the wallwalk by the original spiral stair. At the top of the tower were four square gabled corner turrets, each containing a small room with a fireplace, a tiny window with gun-loop below, and a privy. Over the main door, and again over the postern on the other side, platforms were corbelled out from the parapet from which missiles could be dropped on any enemy below.

From the later 17th century the castle decayed, and was plundered for its stone, lead, timber and other building materials. Finally in 1912 it was put in the custody of the then Office of Works, and today it is once again maintained by the State.

Information from ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: The Highlands’, (1995).

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