Urquhart, located on the famed Loch Ness, Scotland, is a stunning historical site that can be impossible to describe for people who have not set foot there. Visiting is literally standing on history and must be seen to believed. The history of the castle can be traced back as far as the 1500s, although there is a legend that Saint Columba had an experience with a “monster” living in the loch in AD 580.
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The castle was garrisoned for the final time in 1689, when the gate house was purposefully destroyed so that it could no longer be used as a fort. It has been maintained by the state since 1913.
Permanent Attractions and Exhibits
The most popular thing to do while visiting Urquhart is to take a tour of the castle itself. Below are a few things to make sure not to miss while viewing the castle.
1. Guests should make sure to start by appreciating how strategically the castle was built, set specifically on a rock filled promontory that allowed the occupants to have an unobstructed view of Loch Ness in both directions. This was incredibly important for safety and defense of the castle.
2. Take some time to appreciate the beauty and atmosphere of Loch Ness, arguably Scotland’s most favorite loch.
3. While inside the castle, make sure to visit Grant Tower. The views from the top of the tower’s battlements are absolutely stunning and unmissable.
4. Check out the Great Hall and try to envision what it must have been like in its heyday, with great feasts and splendid banquets.
5. Visit the dark and dingy prison cell, which is said to have been the cell to hold the Domhnall Donn, a famous Gaelic bard.
6. View the castle artifacts that were left by previous castle residents. Of special note is the Urquhart Ewer (a large jug used to carry water).
7. Check out the still working, full sized trebuchet (a stone throwing machine that was used for defense of the castle).
Guests who may have trouble getting around or those with physical disabilities should be aware of a few things. Certain areas of the castle are only accessible via staircase. However, there are lifts employed that allow access to the shop, the exhibition area, and the cafe. There are also electric as well as manual wheelchairs available for guest usage. There are also a few steep paths, some of which are unpaved, so guests should plan ahead for accessibility and wear comfortable shoes for walking. Assistance dogs are welcome on the premise within any roofed area.
The site is open from 9:30 am to 6 pm all week from April through September, from 9:30 am to 5 pm in October, and from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm from November through March. There is a small admission fee.
Urquhart participates in Scotland’s program of offering free educational visits to students to help them understand Scotland’s history. Tours should be booked more than ten working days in advance. Once a date has been selected, contact the castle’s learning services department to reserve. There are also occasional School Activity Programme’s that can be added to any field trip with advance notice, if the staffing is available. They use a multi-sensory approach to education to engage students in a more immersive, hands on type of learning that inspires them to be more interested and to learn by doing. However, sometimes these activities do carry a fee. Contact the site for additional information and to inquire if any fees will be required when booking a tour or programme. Teachers should be aware that there are cancellation fees for groups who do not cancel within ten working days or for those who show up late.
There are many special events held in and around the castle, most are based around holidays. One of the more popular is the celebration for Hogmanay. This event features many traditional activities, as well as learning opportunities for guests who did not grow up in the area to learn more about the history of the holiday and why it is celebrated.
The venue is also available for rent for guests’ own special events. The main draws are usually weddings/receptions and corporate events. Make sure to contact the castle and check the website for booking information, guidelines for the event, and any venue related restrictions that may apply to the event (noise restrictions, number of guests, timing, etc). As the venue is a very popular destination, it is highly recommended to contact with as much as advance notice as possible to verify availability and to get on the calendar.
Urquhart Castle, Drumnadrochi, Inverness IV63 6XL UK, 0131 668 8600