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Urquhart Castle

Urquhart Castle
Urquhart Castle 131

Address: A82 road, between Fort William and Inverness
Postcode: IV63 6XJ
Telephone: 01456 450 551

The earliest history of the castle may begin in the time of St. Columba in the 6th century, when the predecessor of the castle may have been mentioned in Adomnán's Life of Columba: it is probably the site called Airchartdan, visited by Columba in the latter half of the sixth century during one of his visits to King Brude son of Maelchon of the northern Picts. Columba took the opportunity to convert Emchath, who was on his deathbed (Anderson & Anderson 1991, 202-3), and his son Virolec to Christianity. Unfortunately, Adomnán’s text gives no specific link to the castle and the location of the episode is described as being the agrum of Airchartdan. This probably means the estate and certainly does not refer to the settlement in which Columba stayed. In view of the use of the term agrum, it would be as easy to see Drumnadrochit as the location of Emchath's residence as there is no mention of a fortified structure. However, one of the radiocarbon dates obtained by the late Professor Leslie Alcock in his 1983 excavations within the castle was in the range 460-660 AD. It is thus probable that there was a fortified settlement on Strone Point during the time that Columba visited the area, and it is reasonable to assume that this would have been the home of Emchath. No other noble is mentioned in this episode, so it is probable that Columba stayed at Urquhart Castle on his way to visit Brude at Craig Phadraig, Inverness.

It is not known precisely when the castle was built, but records show the existence of a castle on this site from the early 1200s. The area had been granted to the Durward family in 1229, and they were probably the builders of the castle. It was certainly in existence in 1296, as it was captured by Edward I of England at this time. Sir Robert Lauder of Quarrelwood was Constable of Urquhart Castle in 1329, and his grandson Robert Chisholm succeeded him in 1359. The castle was seized from the Crown in the mid-fifteenth century by the Earl of Ross, but recovered shortly afterwards. In 1509, it was given as a gift to the Grants, whose ownership lasted until 1912. During this period, the MacDonalds captured the castle in 1545, while it was also captured by a Covenanter force in 1644. The castle was then largely destroyed in 1692 by Williamite troops who had been holding the castle against Jacobite forces (Gifford 1992, 217). The intention was to ensure that the castle could not become a Jacobite stronghold, an intention that was fully achieved as the castle was never repaired and remained as a ruin. Subsequent plundering of the stonework for re-use by locals, and natural decay, further reduced the ruins.

The castle is now owned by the National Trust for Scotland, having been given as a gift to NTS in 2003 by Mrs Eila Chewett of Bushey Heath, Hertfordshire, and run by Historic Scotland as a site within the Guardianship of Scottish Ministers. It is Historic Scotland's 3rd busiest site. In 2000-1, Historic Scotland undertook a major construction programme to create a proper (but non-intrusive) visitor centre at the site, and to improve the parking. The visitor centre includes a display on the history of the site, including a series of finds from the medieval period, a cinema, a restaurant and shop. The Castle is open all year (entrance charge). Due to changes in Scots law, it is now possible to hold a marriage ceremony in a wide variety of locations. Urquhart Castle can host marriage ceremonies.