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Urquart Castle on Loch Ness, Scotland

Urquhart Castle – Guardian of Loch Ness and The Site of Bloody Scottish Battles


Urquhart Castle, overlooking Loch Ness from a rocky outcrop, is strategically placed in terms of defense and saw a great many conflicts during its 500 years as a medieval fortress, embroiled as it was in Scotland’s battles for freedom. The ruins tell the story of the castle’s medieval history, the history of the region, and that of its noble residents.

Control of one of the largest castles and strongholds of Medieval Scotland passed back and forth between the Scots and English during the Wars of Independence. The power struggles continued as the Lords of the Isles regularly raided both castle and glen up until the 1500s.

The Land Before the Wars

Evidence exists that St Columba (521 –597) visited the area in around 580 AD. He was on his way to the court of Bridei at Inverness when called to the bedside of a dying man. And the discovery of a Pictish brooch dating to the late 8th century confirms that there may well have been a Pictish fort where Urquhart stands.

Archaeological discoveries indicate that the area around the castle was populated much earlier, since 2000 BC. It is believed that a fort has existed on this spot since ancient times.

Hammer of the Scots

The land had been granted to the Durward family in 1229, and it was most likely this family who built the castle, but as with so many castles in Scotland, Urquhart was at the center of the ruthless struggle between the English and Scottish, in this case lasting from the 14th to the 17th century. 

When Alan Durward died without an heir in 1275, the estate was granted to John Comyn. It fell into English hands more than once, the first time following the invasion in 1296, after which it was reclaimed by the Scots and then lost again to the English. By this time the Comyn family had sided with the English king, King Edward I known as the ‘Hammer of the Scots’, and Sir Alexander Comyn was granted the castle.

After every siege the castle was repaired, and new military features were added. Conquering the fortification was no easy task - defenders inside the castle could resist the attacks for months since supplies were provided by boat.

In the 14th century Urquhart came under the control of Robert the Bruce when he became King of Scots and the Comyns fled into exile. Upon Bruce’s death in 1332, Urquhart was the only Highland castle holding out against the English. And as one threat was vanquished, a new one arose - the Lords of the Isles.

The MacDonalds rampaged through Glen Urquhart in their pursuit for power and the castle was once again passed back and forth between the Scottish Crown and the clan.

Grant Tower and the drawbridge (Bedin, D / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Grant Tower and the drawbridge (Bedin, D / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

In 1479, to protect the area from the MacDonalds, Sir Duncan Grant was brought in. They were relatively successful, and Lordship of Urquhart was granted to the Grants in 1509. They built the Grant Tower, a five-story tower house and put their own flag on the top. Ruling the castle meant ruling the whole region.The bloodshed continued in the 15th and 16th centuries due to frequent MacDonald raids. Their last raid in 1545 proved the worst as they escaped with an enormous hoard. And it didn’t end there.

The Glorious Revolution and the Castle’s Decline

In 1688, the much-disliked King James (VII of Scotland and II of England) was driven into exile. The crown passed to his daughter Mary II and her husband William of Orange. This incited the first of the Jacobite Risings. Much of their support came from the Highlands, and Urquhart once again became a garrison for government forces, However, in 1692 the gatehouse was intentionally blown up so that the castle could never again be used as a military stronghold.

Remaining masonry from the destruction of the gatehouse (WKNight94/CC BY-SA 3.0)

Remaining masonry from the destruction of the gatehouse (WKNight94/CC BY-SA 3.0)

Urquhart fell into decay and part of Grant Tower crashed to the ground in 1715 during a powerful storm. In the years following, locals used the stones to build their houses and artists came to admire the beauty of the ruins. It passed to the National Trust for Scotland in 1913 and is now one of Scotland’s most visited castles.

Legends, Myths and Possible Treasures

Loch Ness is perhaps better known internationally as the home of Ness and many of the 'Loch Ness Monster' sightings have taken place around this Scottish castle. The earliest sighting took place in the 6th century when, according to Pictish legend, a man was mauled by a sea monster.

There are also tales of two mysterious vaults hollowed in the rock below Urquart. One contains a treasure of gold, the other a dreadful plague. If released, it would wipe out the population after first killing the man that dares open the door.

The Journey to The Captivating Castle

The site is approximately 37 kilometers (23 miles) from Inverness. Visitors can learn about the history of the castle and the surrounding area and view some of the archaeological artifacts which have been unearthed in digs.

Boat cruise on Loch Ness to Urquhart Castle (Burgess, A / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Boat cruise on Loch Ness to Urquhart Castle (Burgess, A / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Look out over the incredible scenery from the top of the towers or take a boat trip offered at the nearby village of Drumnadrochit. Seeing the formidable ruins of Urquhart Castle rising from the shoreline of Loch Ness is an unforgettable experience. 

Accommodation is plentiful in the village and visitors can also delight in the Loch Ness Exhibition.

Top image: Urquart Castle on Loch Ness, Scotland. Source: Public Domain

By Michelle Freson

Updated on January 8, 2021.


Bojanov, I. 2017. Urquhart Castle: The legendary ruins on the banks of Loch Ness. Abandoned Spaces
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Staff Writer. Urquhart Castle. Historic Environment Scotland
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Staff Writer. 2010. Urquhart Castle. Which Castle
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Sue and Annie. 2010. Urquhart Castle. Scottish at Heart
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What a captivatingly beautiful place! We were the last couple to ever get married there in September last year. Forever part of the history of this amazing castle

Michelle Freson's picture


Michelle Freson is a professional writer and editor and has spent many hundreds of wonderful hours working with and learning from fiction writers based all over the globe.

Born in July, 1971, Michelle has long since stopped working out her... Read More

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