Urquhart Castle ( 57°19′27″N 4°26′41″W  /  57.32417°N 4.44472°W  / 57.32417; -4.44472 Coordinates: 57°19′27″N 4°26′41″W  /  57.32417°N 4.44472°W  / 57.32417; -4.44472 ; Ordnance Survey grid reference NH530286) sits beside Loch Ness in Scotland along the A82 road, between Fort William and Inverness. It is close to the village of Drumnadrochit. Though extensively ruined, it was in its day one of the largest strongholds of medieval Scotland, and remains an impressive structure, splendidly situated on a headland overlooking Loch Ness. It is also near the castle where the majority of Nessie ( Loch Ness Monster) sightings occur.

The earliest history of the castle may begin in the time of St. Columba in the 6th century, when the predecessor of the castle may have been mentioned in Adomnán's Life of Columba: it is probably the site called Airchartdan, visited by Columba in the latter half of the sixth century during one of his visits to King Brude son of Maelchon of the northern Picts. Columba took the opportunity to convert Emchath, who was on his deathbed (Anderson & Anderson 1991, 202-3), and his son Virolec to Christianity. Unfortunately, Adomnán's text gives no specific link to the castle and the location of the episode is described as being the agrum of Airchartdan. This probably means the estate and certainly does not refer to the settlement in which Columba stayed. In view of the use of the term agrum, it would be as easy to see Drumnadrochit as the location of Emchath's residence as there is no mention of a fortified structure. However, one of the radiocarbon dates obtained by the late Professor Leslie Alcock in his 1983 excavations within the castle was in the range 460-660 AD. It is thus probable that there was a fortified settlement on Strone Point during the time that Columba visited the area, and it is reasonable to assume that this would have been the home of Emchath. No other noble is mentioned in this episode, so it is probable that Columba stayed at Urquhart Castle on his way to visit Brude at Craig Phadraig, Inverness. It is not known precisely when the castle was built, but records show the existence of a castle on this site from the early 1200s. The area had been granted to the Durward family in 1229, and they were probably the builders of the castle. It was certainly in existence in 1296, as it was captured by Edward I of England at this time. It was besieged by Sir Andrew de Moray in the course of his clearing the English from northern Scotland. Sir Robert Lauder of Quarrelwood was Constable of Urquhart Castle in 1329, and his grandson Robert Chisholm succeeded him in 1359. The castle was seized from the Crown in the mid-fifteenth century by the Earl of Ross, but recovered shortly afterwards. In 1509, it was given as a gift to the Grants, whose ownership lasted until 1912. During this period, the MacDonalds captured the castle in 1545, while it was also captured by a Covenanter force in 1644. The castle was then largely destroyed in 1692 by Williamite troops who had been holding the castle against Jacobite forces (Gifford 1992, 217). The intention was to ensure that the castle could not become a Jacobite stronghold, an intention that was fully achieved as the castle was never repaired and remained as a ruin. Subsequent plundering of the stonework for re-use by locals, and natural decay, further reduced the ruins. The castle is now owned by the National Trust for Scotland, having been given as a gift to NTS in 2003 by Mrs Eila Chewett of Bushey Heath, Hertfordshire, and run by Historic Scotland as a site within the Guardianship of Scottish Ministers. It is Historic Scotland's 3rd busiest site. In 2000-1, Historic Scotland undertook a major construction programme to create a proper (but non-intrusive) visitor centre at the site, and to improve the parking. The visitor centre includes a display on the history of the site, including a series of finds from the medieval period, a cinema, a restaurant and shop. The Castle is open all year (entrance charge). Due to changes in Scots law, it is now possible to hold a marriage ceremony in a wide variety of locations. Urquhart Castle can host marriage ceremonies.

The walled portion of the Castle is shaped roughly like a figure-8 aligned northeast-southwest along the bank of Loch Ness. The main gate is on the inland side near the middle, narrow portion, of the walls. A much smaller gate on the Loch side is located roughly across from the main gate. The castle is quite close to water level and offers little in the way of physical boundaries, but a dry moat was excavated on the inland side with a drawbridge leading to the main gate. There is considerable room for muster on the inland side, and further inland a hill rises quite close to the castle. Most of the remaining built up area of the inner courtyard is on the northeast portion, which is quite close to water level. It is anchored at its northern tip by the main tower house of five stories and an upper castellated wall. The tower's south-west side blew down in a storm in the early 18th century, but the remaining sections can be accessed via the circular staircase built into one corner of the tower. Although no upper floors remain, the cuts for support beams are visible in the stone walls and illustrate construction methods of the era. Below the tower are the Great Hall, kitchen, various trades and the chapel, mostly in ruins. The castle formerly had another built-up area at its southern end, located on a small hill of about 5 meters rise. Opposite this, on the Loch side, was a more recently built smithy and a dovecot. This entire area is now in ruins, and the uppermost portions of the tower house remain the tallest portion of the castle still standing.


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