Urquhart Castle is accessible by road from Inverness or Fort William. Alternatively you can arrive by boat – the option I took when I visited the Castle. It allowed me to enjoy the largely unpopulated vistas either side of Loch Ness and the approach to the huge ruined Castle nestled on a rock strewn promontory, hugging the shore. There is a Water Gate near the Gatehouse; before modern roads Urquhart Castle used water as an accessible transport route for people, food and goods.
Urquhart Castle has changed hands frequently during its lifetime. It is now managed by Historic Scotland and is one of Scotland’s most popular tourist attractions. Urquhart has been in Scots and English ownership, although the three main families associated with it are Durward, MacDonald and Grant.
St Columba is said to have visited Urquhart on his way to Inverness. It is told that at Urquhart he baptised a dying Pictish man and his family, possibly on the site where the Castle was built. St Columba may have been the first to sight the Loch Ness Monster – legends tell of his taking a boat to meet a water beast who had captured a man and challenging the Monster, thus saving the man.
The original Castle was built in the thirteenth century by the Durwards who were granted the Urquhart lands by King Alexander II after he quelled a local uprising. The Castle was built to ensure they had a stronghold which could withstand any future rebellions in the area. The Castle was not the main residence of its owners, but the staff always needed to be prepared for visits from lord or king. Edward I of England captured the Castle as part of his ravagement of Scottish lands in 1296. Scots regained control only to have the Castle once more fall in to Edward’s grasp in 1303. Some years later Robert the Bruce successfully reclaimed Urquhart Castle for the Scots.
In 1395 the Castle was invaded by the Lord of the Isles, Donald MacDonald. The Castle passed between Royal and MacDonald ownership frequently over the next 150 years, culminating in the Great Raid in 1545 when MacDonalds plundered Urquhart lands. The Grants, who had been given the Castle by the King in 1509, repaired the damage and built the Castle back in to a residence fit for nobility. The Grants presided over a long and peaceful period in the Castle’s history until invaded in the mid-seventeenth century by Covenanters.
When the garrison left the Castle it is said they destroyed some of the buildings to help prevent others taking it over, remains of which can be seen to the present day. The impressive Grant Tower still broods over Loch Ness - part ruin, part testament to the Castle’s former glory.