Urquhart Castle on the shores of Loch Ness | Loch Ness 360°

When you conjure up an image of Loch Ness in your mind, you’ll probably think of the deep, dark water, the rolling hills and maybe even a special monster having a swim. But chances are, you’ll also picture Urquhart Castle. You might not know its name, but you have probably seen its photo.

Perched on the shore and jutting out into the water, the ruins of Urquhart Castle date from the 16th Century. It’s a well-known landmark, visited by thousands of tourists each year. It’s a castle Loch Ness tucks around. Urquhart Castle was also in Outlander, as the place where Claire spots the “water horse”. But why is there a castle here, and what happened to it?

We’re glad you asked. 

urquhart castle lit up at night

Urquhart Castle History

Some archaeological evidence suggests that the site of today’s castle was once a Pictish residence. It is thought that it was visited by St Columba in AD 580 in order to give the last rites to a Pictish elder. St Columba not only brought Christianity to the area, but is said to have had a run-in with a monster in the loch. Alas, all of the details are lost to history.

However it isn’t until the 1200s that we start to really understand the history of the area. In the 1230s, King Alexander II of Scotland gave the Durward family permission to build a castle on the land. Unfortunately, in 1296, the English captured the castle during the Wars of Independence. These wars are creatively depicted in the film Braveheart, focusing on freedom fighter William Wallace.

And it was under the name of his enemy, King Edward I that the castle was captured. After the Scots won this war and the English were sent home “tae think again”, there was peace in the land…for six years. In 1303, Edward took the castle by invasion again, and held it for five years until the forces of Robert the Bruce reclaimed it. 

The end of the beginning

In 1509 the castle was gifted to the clan Grant. However another local clan, the MacDonalds, were on a quest for power in the region. Urquhart Castle would be a diamond in their collection. So they undertook multiple raids of the area, ending in 1545 with the “Great Raid”.

The MacDonalds managed to take away practically everything of any value from the castle. This included twelve beds, six pans and two brewing cauldrons. The castle never recovered its wealth, and when Oliver Cromwell invaded Scotland in 1650, he didn’t really bother with the place. He just took over some of the fortifications at Inverness and Fort William instead. 

Which takes us to 1692, the year the castle became a ruin. In the Jacobite uprising of 1689 – the one with Bonnie Prince Charile where he went over the sea to Skye – trouble came again to Inverness. This time, after King James VII went into exile, Government forces stationed at Urquhart Castle blew up sections of it, so stop it falling into enemy Jacobite hands. 

And that is the state of the castle to this day. A beautiful ruin by a beautiful loch with a remarkable history. Visiting the castle is something you must do on your trip to Loch Ness. You’ll find it on Section 1 of the Loch Ness 360° trail. Urquhart Castle is a gem of the Scottish Highlands, not to be missed.