In August my partner Nick and I visited the beautiful Scottish Highlands. Whenever we visit a new place we always want to check out the local heritage sites, and despite the pandemic this time was no different. Cue our wonderful visit to Dunstaffnage Castle near the seaside town of Oban, Argyll.
Upon checking the website in advance we discovered it was reopening the week of our visit with appropriate safety measures in place. To manage visitor numbers there is a booking system in place, so we booked our slot for 10:00-10:30 on Thursday.
As we drove along to the castle it was chucking it down so we had our raincoats at the ready, but rain or shine the castle remains an incredibly impressive sight.
We made our way up to the visitor office where it's one person/group in at any one time with masks required for all enclosed spaces. This made me feel safe, which meant I could enjoy my visit so much more. After getting our tickets it was time to explore!
Dunstaffnage Castle was first established around 1220 by Duncan MacDougall, whose father Dougall founded the MacDougall clan. For context, the area had been fought over by the local lords, King of Norway and King of Scotland, but by the mid-1100s it was Duncan's grandfather Somerled who was the true King of the Isles. The castle Duncan built is a ruin today, but as you walk up the steps to the Gatehouse entrance it is still an imposing sight. Upon walking through the entrance we entered the Courtyard from which you could survey the inner workings of the castle layout.
There was a clear one way system in place with blue signs and stickers, so we followed these as we made our way around. In a ruin it can be difficult to convey the history of the site to visitors if they don't purchase a guidebook, however, the staff at Dunstaffnage have created informative interpretation panels. These were interesting and concise, allowing us to discover more about each area of the castle we were in.
The wall-walk offered us stunning views, and I happily took many photographs trying to capture the majesty of it all. It doesn't take too long to walk around the site, and on the recommendation of staff we walked to the nearby woodland chapel, now a ruin, which was used by the family.
The castle has survived and seen a lot, and has many notable moments from its long history...
The MacDougalls supported King John Balliol in the Wars of Independence (1296-1357) but once Robert the Bruce claimed the Scottish throne, this put them in direct conflict with him. Robert battled them at the Pass of Brander, before laying siege to the castle itself. This was a huge turning point, as the castle fell to Robert and the MacDougalls were ousted from Argyll. The castle belonged to the crown for the next 150 years.
In 1463 a bloody dispute took place between Alan MacDougall and the keeper of the castle John Stewart. As John walked to the castle's chapel, where he was to be married, he was tragically stabbed and died soon after. Alan took this as an opportunity to take Dunstaffnage, but he was evicted shortly afterwards by the crown.
In 1746 Flora MacDonald was imprisoned in the castle after aiding the escape of Charles Edward Stuart (better known as Bonnie Prince Charlie), but she was later released after being moved to the Tower of London.
Due to Covid-19 and government guidelines the exhibition room above the visitor centre and top floor of the gatehouse were closed, which was disappointing but completely understandable.
Overall it was a fantastic visit and highlight of my trip! Old castle and great views - what’s not to love?
The castle is located at Dunbeg, Oban, Argyll, PA37 1PZ.
If you’re in the area and want to visit all the key information you need to know like opening times, prices and access is available on their website.
Please note at present you need to pre-book a time and date to visit so they can manage visitor numbers, you can do this through the website or ring them on: 01631 562 465.
Official Souvenir Guide Dunstaffnage Castle
Dunstaffnage Castle and Chapel website.
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Hi I'm Dominique and I manage the history blog Some Sources Say where I dive into archival records & secondary sources to discover fascinating historical people, places & events. I love too many different eras to commit to a niche, so this blog is a general historical ride, one month we might be in Edwardian England and another in 1950’s America!
You can follow me on Twitter @somesourcessay, I also have a Youtube Channel Snapshot of History.