Urquhart Castle

Urquhart Castle

Location: Scotland Map

Open: 1 Apr- 30 Sept 9:30am- 6pm

1 Oct- 31 Oct 9:30am- 5pm

1 Nov- 31 Mar 9:30 am- 4:30pm 

Tel: 01456 450551


Description of Urquhart Castle

Urquhart Castle

Urquhart Castle is one of the largest and most important medieval castles in Scotland.  Urquhart Castle stands on the shore of the Loch Ness Lake close to a village of Drumnadrochit along A82 road. Despite it present poor condition it is still one of the most visited sites in Scotland. This interest lies partially in the castle itself and partially due to numerous sightings of the legendary Nessie that said to inhabit the lake of Loch Ness. This location was used for defensive purposed for the past 4000 years. Unfortunately little information is known from the first hand accounts. The last citadel build here was no later than early 13th century. English kings Edward I captured this castle in 1296 during his campaign against the Scots of the Highlands. The castle changed several times in the course of its history. Unfortunately it was blown up in 1692 by Williamite troops to prevent rebellious Scottish Jacobite forces to use it as their stronghold. The remains of whole portions of walls are still littering of what used to be one of the best defended castles in the region.

Urquhart Castle



The first traces of settlement in the area date back to before Saint Columban's visit in the 6th century. In Adomnán's Life of Columba, a forerunner of the fortress is mentioned as the residence of a Pictish nobleman. Artifacts have been found on the site during various excavations, but an earlier suspected Pictish fort has not yet been proven.

The castle through the ages
By 1230, King Alexander II had put down a revolt against his rule in the Moray region. To secure his reign, he gave this region to his son-in-law Alan Durward. He began immediately with the construction of a strategically located castle complex, which was planned as a fortress. Nevertheless, the complex was to have all the comforts of a residence expected of a chief of Clan Urquhart. This castle was one of the largest in Scotland in its heyday. The stone ring wall surrounded an extensive area and thus protected the wooden residential buildings inside.

In 1275 Alan Durward died without heirs and the castle passed to the Comyn family. In 1296 it was taken by the English, in 1303 it was recaptured by the Scots, but fell back into English hands in the same year. After becoming king, Robert the Bruce was able to finally bring the site under Scottish control in 1306. After that, the complex gained more and more strategic importance and from 1395 it was further expanded into a medieval fortress. For example, the heavily fortified gatehouse and the keep were added as a second point of defense to the north of the complex. However, over the next 150 years many of the erected structures were badly damaged when the Clan MacDonald 'Lords of the Isles' opposed the Crown. The northern part of the castle was strengthened as it was easier to defend a smaller compound with few people.

From 1545 the castle was largely abandoned as a defensive structure, and instead the keep was renovated and converted into a residential building for a laird. By this time, part of the defenses had already fallen into disrepair.

By 1600 the castle was deserted as the lairds now preferred more comfortable residences in more acceptable areas. As a result, the castle no longer played a strategic role, the last garrison left it after the Scottish Jacobite Rising of 1689 in 1692. From then on, the castle was left to decay. After it was abandoned, the buildings were systematically looted; their stones and roofs were partially removed for the construction of houses. 10 tons of lead stolen from the roof construction of the plant alone were found in the surrounding cottages and barns.

 Urquhart Castle


You approach the castle from the west across a gently sloping meadow. The former drawbridge A (now a fixed structure) spans a ditch up to 30 meters wide and up to 5 meters deep. The castle is entered through Gatehouse B, a passage protected by two round towers. These towers formerly contained the guardrooms, a prison cell and the mechanisms for raising and lowering the drawbridge.

If you turn right after entering the castle, you reach the upper bailey, the upper courtyard J. This is the oldest part of the complex and at the same time the part lying highest on the rock, this is also where most Celtic artefacts were found during excavations. Only ruins of the foundations are evidence of the former buildings K; the use of most of these rooms has not been clearly determined to this day. However, a round foundation L can be identified as a brick pigeon tower, another area M has been identified as a smithy. The transition between the upper and lower courtyard is formed by Water Gate I, located opposite the gatehouse, with access to Loch Ness.

The nether bailey, the lower courtyard C, gives access to the other buildings of the castle, which were built later and are better preserved in large parts. However, the courtyard is dominated by a small hill on which the foundations of a former chapel D can be found. On the right are the remains of the "Great Hall" G and H, where the kitchen and accommodation for the lord of the castle and his guests were also to be found.

The best-preserved part of the castle has also been in use the longest, and is sometimes called the citadel in English and sometimes in German. It consists of a small gatehouse with additional rooms of unknown purpose E and the keep-like tower house F. Its massive foundation dates from the 14th century, the floors above were only built after 1509.
Protected by another small moat, you enter this tower on its first floor, which once contained a single large hall. The cellar vaults below could only be reached from here. Living and sleeping quarters were found on the two floors above, including the private room of the lord of the castle. Big chimneys and small latrines offered a certain comfort. The top floor was designed for military purposes, with guardrooms and sleeping quarters for the soldiers, as well as some defensive oriels.


Urquhart Castle today

Around 1930 a Mr. Chewett bought the ruins, today the castle belongs to the National Trust for Scotland and is managed by Historic Scotland. Urquhart Castle is a popular part of Scotland tours, and the ruins are correspondingly well visited. The facility includes a bus parking lot and a large visitor center which, in addition to a small museum, also has a large souvenir shop, an information cinema and a café. The facility is open all year round. In 2019, Urquhart Castle was visited by around 548,000 people. The ruin is located directly on the A82 and is also served by regular buses.