Last October 2012 we spent a few days in the Isle of Skye and one of the places we visited was this castle. The castle is about a mile and a half to the north of Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye and is the seat of the MacLeod of MacLeod, chief of the Clan MacLeod. This amused me as the only Macleod I had come across before was the rather eccentric female caretaker of our school and I imagined her here and it just make me smile.
OPENING TIMES AND PRICES 29th March to 15 October Daily 10am - 5.30pm (last entry 5pm)
16 October to 31 March Open for Groups by appointment - weekdays only Castle & Gardens closed Christmas & New Year
GARDENS ONLY ADULT £7.50 CHILD £4.00 STUDENTS/SENIORS/GROUPS £6.00
There is a free car park just the other side of the road from the castle ticket office which I can imagine gets very busy during the summer season but was pretty empty when we visited as it was October and we were quite early too.
We arrived early and it was a bit drizzly and overcast which was a shame as the gardens are lovely and part of the castle's attraction is its setting on the loch. We bought our tickets from a young man in the ticket office wearing a kilt and speaking with an Aussie accent!
We then headed up the drive towards the castle passing parts of the garden as we made our way up. The driveway is not paved but you could push a pram or wheel chair up with
very little difficulty. They may even allow disabled access for a vehicle but I don't know.
GARDENING The gardens were interesting with curved paths and hidden corners. It was not a neat formal garden but more creative and natural which I liked. There was a wooden bridge and a waterfall , as well as ponds and burns ,secret nooks and covered walkways.
There is a small formal round garden and throughout the entire area you can see many Rhododendrons but sadly they were well past blooming when we visited but I bet they look stunning when they do. The Castle Gardens were originally created back in the 18th century but since then more has been added and constant re planting keeps the gardens looking as creative and interesting to visitors today.
A HISTORY LESSON Dunvagen castle is the only stronghold that has been continuously owned by the same family and has been lived in by the same family for all that time except for during the Potato Famine. It has been added to over the eight centuries and there is distinct evidence of different architectural periods.
To me the castle itself is stunning for its position on a rocky crag overlooking the loch but inside the castle are many pieces of historical Macleod heirlooms. I am not alone in finding the castle and its position striking as this was written describing it in 1549; "Ane starke strengthe biggit upon ane craig". Dr Johnson was also impressed when he visited in 1773 " Rising sheer from the almost perpendicular edges of the rock, its massive grey towers and hoary battlements stand forth against an unrivalled background of sky and mountain and islet-spangled sea. "
The first time the castle was open to the public was in 1933 but since then hundreds and thousands have visited the site.
INTO THE CASTLE WE GO
Outside was very impressive but inside was more like a stately home than a castle. As you entered the large front door the first thing that you see is the huge staircase which dominates the entrance hall. You are greeted at the door and welcomed to the castle and items of interest pointed out for you to look out for which I thought was handy.
It was not huge inside compared to some castles and stately homes and I suspect that part of the building is closed to the public as the family still live there. There was a lot of Scottish clan history and particularly the Macleod clan which I don't really know a lot about.
It was all very nicely laid out and if you were interested in Scottish clan history then there was plenty to read and things to see but it wasn't really our sort of thing. We were more excited by the views from the windows and the atmosphere and general feeling in the rooms of the castle. Some were large and others had interesting nooks and crannies which had bits hidden there for visitors to find.
Under the castle were more rooms on display including cellars , a dungeon and medieval kitchen . Also display boards telling about the castle and the history and some stories about local customs etc. There was a shop or two down there selling souvenirs but we are not into souvenirs so we passed these by although my husband was slightly tempted by their own single malt whisky .
OUT IN THE COLD AGAIN It was a bitterly cold day with a cold wind but we braved this to take photos around the castle capturing it against the Loch Dunvagen as it really is a classic photographer' dream; even though the day was not bright and sunny we managed to get some lovely photos.
FOR THOSE WITH DISABILITIES
Parts of the castle and grounds are difficult but if you are planning a visit then take a look at the website as they have a list of all the places with limited access and which areas have hearing loops and some with brail signs. You are asked to identify your needs when buying your ticket and then assistance will be given. As needed.
Dogs are allowed in the garden on leads but assistance dogs are allowed everywhere with their owners.
There are changing facilities for babies and storage for prams and pushchairs as they cannot be taken to the first floor of the castle.
A STARRING ROLE It is not just my husband and I who think this is a stunning location as the castle has been used in a number of films and TV productions. It was used in 'Highlander' in 1986 , it was seen in 'Mountain' a BBC series with Griff Rhys Jones and is also in 'Made of Honour' which is a recent Colombia film.
GETTING PECKISH? The MacLeod Tables Cafe was quite pleasant and offered snacks and soup as well as coffee at reasonable prices.
FANCY SEEING SEALS? You can take a trip on a boat oiut towards the se and look for seals from the castle boat landing. This is at extra cost of course. Adults are £6 and children £4, OAPs and students £5. These boats operate when weather permits and then only from April 15 to September 30 from 10 am to 5pm So we were too late in the season to try and see them which was a shame as I would have loved to do that.
WRTH A VISIT
Yes it is beautiful, especially outside but inside is worth a good look too.. In summer the gardens must be beautiful but even in the late autumn they were lovely to walk around. If you are on Skye then do make an effort to see this castle as it is just what you imagine a Scottish castle to look like; picture perfect.
I will add the photos when I find they have hidden themselves!!