Places to Visit in Scotland
- Urquhart Castle, Loch Ness
The Great Glen which runs diagonally across Scotland from the Moray Firth in the north to Loch Linhe in Argyll, formed an important route from earliest times. So it was only natural that a stronghold should be built at a suitable point along the way. There was a Pictish fort on the promontory overlooking Loch Ness on which Urquhart Castle now stands and there may even have been an Iron Age stronghold before that. King William the Lion may also have built a wooden fortress on the site before the first stone castle was established.
Capture and Recapture
Around 1230, Alan Durward was appointed lord of Urquhart - the name came from two Brittonic words "air" and "cairdean" meaning "at the woods" which later became "Orchar" hence the current pronunciation "Urchart". Durward began the fortifications but the work was continued by the Comyn family later in the century. When King Edward of England marched into Scotland in 1296 he occupied Urquhart Castle and left an English garrison there. During the Wars of Independence which followed, the castle changed hands a further three times and was finally taken by Robert the Bruce in 1308. The king granted the castle to one of his main supporters, Sir Thomas Randolph who was appointed Earl of Moray who repulsed attempts to capture Urquhart Castle by Edward Balliol.
The castle later returned to the crown and was an important stronghold in the fight against the Lords of the Isles. In the middle of the 15th century, however the Lord of the Isles captured Urquhart but he was later forced to give it up.
In 1509, King James IV gave the castle to John Grant of Freuchie but after the Battle of Flodden in 1513, Sir Donald MacDonald of Lochalsh captured the castle and held it for three years. During that time he destroyed much of the castle and similar depredations took place in 1545.
By the 17th century, however, the castle had been rebuilt and was occupied by the Urquhart family. But it was raided by the Covenanters in 1644 and everything of value removed. By the end of the 17th century it was no longer a stronghold and became a ruin again.
In the 20th Century
In 1912 Urquhart Castle was handed over to the state and has been looked after by Historic Scotland. Due to its position on the main road from Fort William to Inverness, its location overlooking Loch Ness, its long, romantic history and its extensive size, Urquhart has become one of the most popular tourist attractions under the care of Historic Scotland. So much so, that visitor numbers have risen beyond the capacity of the site - cars were left parked on grass verges on the main road. After much debate - and opposition - a major upgrade of facilities is being carried out in 2000/2001 to create a larger parking area and improved visitor facilities. Historic Scotland have had a lot of experience of balancing preservation with the demands of visitors so it is likely that the end result will be an improvement.
The extensive range of buildings include the ruins of a 16th century tower house, a gatehouse, domestic buildings and curtain walling overlooking Loch Ness and the outline of a hall and a chapel. The site stretches over a length of over 150 metres, shaped into an hourglass shape. There was a dry ditch on the landward side of the castle, crossed by a drawbridge - a modern bridge (see above) provides the main visitor access.
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