Sunday, May 6, 2012

Scotland’s Beautiful Eilean Donan Castle

Eilean Donan Castle (the one pictured on my blog) is one of the most recognized castles in Scotland. It is a Scottish icon and certainly one of the most popular visitor attractions in the Highlands. When you first set eyes on it, it is easy to understand why so many people flock to its stout doors year after year. Strategically located on its own little island, overlooking the Isle of Skye, at the point where three great sea-lochs meet, and surrounded by the majestic splendor of the forested mountains of Kintail, Eilean Donan’s setting is truly breath-taking.

Crossing the bridge to the castle, which is the fourth version of the original, you can understand why Bishop Donan chose the tranquil spot back in 634AD to settle a monastic cell. The first castle was established in the 13th century by Alexander II in an effort to help protect the area from Viking incursions. At that time, the original castle encompassed the entire island and is believed to have been constructed with seven towers connected by a massive curtain wall. Over the centuries, the castle contracted and expanded for reasons that still remain a mystery, until 1719 when it was involved in one of the lesser known Jacobite uprisings. When the British Government learned that the castle was occupied by Jacobite leaders along with a garrison of Spanish soldiers, three Royal Navy frigates were sent to deal with them. On May 10, 1719, the three heavily armed warships moored a short distance off the castle and bombarded it with cannon. With walls of up to 5 meters thick, these cannon had little impact, but eventually the castle was overwhelmed by force. Discovering 343 barrels of gunpowder inside, the commanding officer gave orders to blow the castle up. After that, Eilean Donan lay in silent ruin for the best part of two hundred years.

The castle as it is today was reconstructed as a family home between 1912 and 1932 by Lt Col John MacRae-Gilstrap, and incorporated much of the ruins from the 1719 destruction. The bridge was added at that time which is now as much a part of the classic image as the castle itself.

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