Life’s a beach………………   6 comments

One of the things I love most about living on the west coast of the Scottish Highlands is exploring all its hidden and sometimes secret nooks and crannies. It often amazes me how many Scots actually know more about Meditteranean countries than they know about the riches of their own homeland.

I’ve just returned from a few wonderful days in Sutherland, one of the most remote parts of the Highlands and Islands, and often referred to as Britains last great wilderness. I’ve not been up there for a number of years, and have to confess that I’d forgotten the sheer scale of its grandeur. Many visitors to our shores don’t manage to get up there, and do miss out on a really stunning region simply because it’s slightly off the main well-trodden tourist routes.

As well as the mountains, lochs and scenery, part of its magic is the incredible number of majestic beaches the area offers, often to be found completely deserted.

I have four kids, and we always try to make the most of the area when the sun does actually make an appearance. Over the years we’ve enjoyed wonderful family days on many of the highland’s finest beaches either on foot, or sometimes by our wee boat; so seeing as it’s officially summer, and some of you might be heading up this way, I thought I’d play Tourist Information Office and share a few of our own personal favourites. I’ve included our own Top 10, but in no particular order as they all have their own individual charms. The hardest thing was actually narrowing it down to only 10, as there are so many to choose from, and it was with some regret that I had to exclude a few.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy them, and if you’re up here in the future they’re all worth a visit!

White Sands of Morar

Big Sand Beach, Torridon

Balnakeil Beach, Durness

Coral Beach, Skye

Gruinard Bay, Wester Ross

Luskentyre Beach, Harris

Rispond Bay, Sutherland

Sandwood Bay, Sutherland

Sanna Bay, Ardnamurchan

Tolsta Bay, Lewis


Posted July 8, 2011 by eileandonan in Miscellaneous

Happy Birthday to us!   15 comments

It was with a true sense of amazement that I realised this morning that we have just reached something of a landmark. The Eilean Donan Blog is now exactly one year old today, so HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO US!!!

I use the words “we” and “us” in the above paragraph quite deliberately, as without the continued interest, support and feedback of you all out there in cyberspace, there would be little point in me sharing my inane ramblings of Eilean Donan with the wider community.

Looking back to when we first started, I’m not 100% certain what my initial expectations for the blog truly were, but in reviewing the WordPress statistics page this morning, I find that in the last year I’ve apparently submitted 53 entries, (across a variety of different topics); and posted quite a significant amount of assorted photos. These have been viewed an incredible 31,000 times, whilst hundreds of you have also added some great comments, contributions and observations to the content and the audience still continues to steadily grow.

It has also been fascinating to see what type of blog post appeals to you all. Over the last year the 5 most popular and most read posts have been:-

  1. Reconstruction Photographs discovery
  2. Clachan Duich & The Clan MacRae
  3. Great Castles of Scotland
  4. Modern technology, what do you think?
  5. The Best Laid Plans

So to each and every one of you, I offer my heartfelt thanks and sincere appreciation for all your encouragement, support and involvement! I can honestly say that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my introduction to the fascinating world of blogging, even though there have been one or two moments when the dreaded writers block has presented itself! I’ve “met” (electronically) and chatted with some fascinating individuals from all over the globe and from all walks of life, and even had the pleasure of personally welcoming many of you to the castle itself.

The one thing I do recall from the blog’s 2010 conception was thinking that I would have to commit to writing it for at least one full year, and it’s more than a little surprising just how quickly that 12 months has flown by.

So I now find myself having to make the decision as to whether or not to continue with the “blogging experiment” and have decided that given we exist in a democracy, to leave the decision entirely up to you. Would you like to continue with more of the same, something different, or has the whole thing run its course and is it time to just bow out gracefully?

Anyway let me know your thoughts if you have a minute, have a great day wherever you are in the world and once again, Thank You………

Happy Birthday!


Posted June 23, 2011 by eileandonan in Uncategorized

Well Clearance Part 2   6 comments

So yesterday we started the first step in the process of opening up the Great Well area. Skye Rope Access Ltd came along to start clearing the ancient ivy from the well walls in order that we can assess the level of re-pointing work that’s going to be required to safeguard and conserve this beautiful little gem.

We already knew that we were likely to be opening up a bit of a can of worms with this one, but when you’re faced with a difficult challenge, sometimes you just have to grit your teeth and get on with things. Potentially, the area will be a real asset to new visitors and repeat visitors alike, but it’s going to take a number of months of conserted effort to get the area ready for public access. As you can see from some of these pictures, it’s not a job for the faint hearted, but the boys from SRA seemed to take it all in their stride.

The next step will be to spray the interior well walls a number of times with weedkiller to stop any possibility of regrowth. Following this we’ll have to invite the company back to repoint the walls with lime mortar (not an easy task), as decades of ivy growth has done some major damage in one or two key areas. Some of the ivy roots themselves were about 8 inches thick! We even discovered a number of nests in various nooks and crannys, including one with three Swallow chicks in residence!

One of the unexpected benefits of the exercise has been the increased amount of light that appears to have been gained inside the well, and it’s really been brought back to life. Some people might think that all that ivy was quite attractive, but the damage it can do is really unbelievable. Anyway, enjoy the photos.











Posted June 1, 2011 by eileandonan in Uncategorized

Well, well, well……………   1 comment

As many of you will already know, over the next few years, I’m keen to open up previously closed areas of the castle for visitors to explore, so I though I’d give you a wee update on one of our current projects.

The well area in the castle is one of the few areas that actually remained reasonably intact after the 1719 destruction, and was successfully incorporated into the castle’s rebuild at the beginning of the last century. We believe the well to be approximately 32feet deep, and not only is it a truly magical little area, but it offers a good opportunity to see some of the very different construction methods used in the medieval castle.

Although visitors have been able to get a glimpse of it from above on the external ballistrades outside the kitchen corridor, public access has been previously almost impossible. Currently there is a wooden platform at the well-end of the ballistrades which actually disguises the fact that there are steps leading down to an intermediate walk-round level within the well itself. (For the historians amongst you; this intermediate level was the point where the arrow that killed Donald Gorm MacDonald back in 1539 was fired from.)

So the plan is to remove the wooden platform entirely, have a stonemason re-furbish the slightly worn steps below, fit some hand rails and get the area opento the public later on in the year. Health & Safety protocol means that we’ll have to have a blacksmith fit some cross brace bars in the three exterior openings in the well wall, as it’s currently feasible for a child to crawl through the three wide openings that lead to a 20 foot drop (not good for business!)

Before we do this, we have some rather awkward housekeeping to be doing. The interior walls of the well itself have been covered in ivy for decades, and it’s clear that the well-established roots have eaten into the very fabric of the stones pointing. To clear the walls of this incredibly invasive plant is certainly going to be no easy task. There is absolutely no possibility of reaching the problem from below because of the water within the well, and to access it from above is going to require some quite precarious rope access work above a 20 foot drop. Once the ivy itself is cleared we’ll then have to spray the entire area to stop any future regrowth, at which point we’ll also be able to assess the scale of the re-pointing job required to safeguard the area for the future.

So yesterday, we had a specialist contractor come along to have a good look at what should prove to be one of his more interesting projects! Cutting back the ivy from the end of a rope is one thing, but the prospect of repointing the internal walls with lime mortar should present quite a challenge!

A side issue to this whole project is that obviously the cut ivy that falls into the well will require recovery from the water, and the contractor in question has also offered to dredge the 32 feet of its depths to remove the years of rotting leaves and other vegitation that have accumulated over the years. Now as appealing as this idea is to me, I actually believe that the waters may very well contain historical artefacts of great archaeological interest, potentially dating back from previous centuries. A number of large objects have already been found during previous superficial explorations back in the 1890s, including our Yett which currently hangs in the Banqueting Hall. So rather than just have an indiscriminate dredging and pumping out of the wells contents, I think the appropriate thing to do will be, at some point in the future, to have this operation overseen by our team of specialist archaeologists with a view to meticulously sifting through everything that is removed and seeing what we treasures we might discover!!!

Posted May 26, 2011 by eileandonan in Uncategorized

Opportunity Knocks!   11 comments

The Eilean Donan Blog has now been running for about 10 months, and in that time has received over 25,000 views which truly amazes me considering it was purely started as something of an experiment! My initial plan was to run it for just a year to see what kind of response it received, and to be completely honest, that response has far exceeded my initial expectations.

Given the numbers of you that seem to enjoy it, I’ve just decided to create a brand new page on it and invite anyone who might be interested to be a “guest writer” and add a blog entry of their own.

Content or subject matter would be entirely up to yourself, as long as it was related to Eilean Donan obviously. It could be about the story of your wedding at the castle, a humorous story from a visit here, a historical tale, or a memory associated with Eilean Donan. It doesn’t even have to be particularly long if it’s of interest! Pretty much anything goes!

If people are interested, I’ll probably add one guest blog per month onto the dedicated page, so if you’re at all interested in being the first contributor then add a comment here with a brief outline of the story or tale you’d like to tell.

Don’t worry if you don’t think anyone might be interested in what you’ve got to say either! One of the things I’ve definitely learned in the last 10 months is that you’ll often be surprised by what your audience can be interested in!

Anyway, Good Luck, dive in and don’t be shy!

Posted April 29, 2011 by eileandonan in Uncategorized

Two Scottish Icons……….   1 comment

At this time of year we always welcome lots of families and people enjoying the Easter holidays. We also act as something of a Tourist Information Centre for the area too, and as such, I thought I’d give anyone who’s heading this way at the end of the month, a little bit of a heads-up on something that really shouldn’t be missed.

Eilean Donan is often regarded as something of a Scottish icon, but we’re most certainly not the only one! One of my own personal boyhood favourites, and whose decks I have graced many, many times, is the world’s last ocean going paddle-steamer PS WAVERLEY.

Well after a number of years absence, I can tell you that she will once again be visiting the area and offering excursions from Kyle of Lochalsh on the 27th, 28th and 29th of April! If you’ve never had the opportunity to board her and enjoy a trip, well I just can’t recommend it highly enough. If you’ve been on her before, then I’m definitely preaching to the converted!

Built on the Clyde in 1947 to replace the original Waverley that sunk off Dunkirk in 1940, the Waverley was originally built to sail only between Craigen Dorran & Arrochar in West Scotland. She now sails right round Britain offering regular trips on the Clyde, the Thames, the South coast of England and the Bristol Channel.

Although she used to visit up here annually, the last time she graced our shores was back in 2007, and it was during that trip that I managed to get myself in just the right place at just the right time to capture this rare photograph of two of Scotland’s most famous icons together.

PS Waverley & Eilean Donan



So if you’re up this way on the dates listed above, she’s certainly well worth a visit.

For information, she’ll be doing the following trips from Kyle of Lochalsh :-

  • Wed 27th April – Isle of Raasay, Skye and Mallaig
  • Thursday 28th April – Isle of Raasay and Gairloch
  • Friday 29th April – Isle of Raasay, Skye and Broadford

If you need any further information or to book tickets, go to the Waverley website at


HAPPY CRUISING and I might see you on there for a wee dram or two!


Posted April 13, 2011 by eileandonan in News

Clan loyalties run deep…………   5 comments

It’s a well known fact that we Scots possess distinctly (some might say, unnaturally) long memories, and that loyalties, and for that matter, emneties can frequently last for generations if not centuries. This is particularly true when it comes to issues surrounding our Clan system, even today.

Clan MacRae has held a number of allegiencies during its long history, including Clan MacKenzie, Clan MacLennan, and Clan Mathieson. One of the lesser known relationships is the association with Clan Fraser which goes back many many years. In actual fact, visitors to the castle may well have observed, above the front door to the castle, a stone carving, written in Gaelic, see picture below.

Now in English, this would translate as  “Whilst there is a MacRae inside, there will never be a Fraser outside”

Well on Sunday, we had a wonderful visit from some Clan Fraser pipers from Canada, who are currently touring Scotland. Resplendent in their 18th century garb, the group made a wonderful sight for the tourists that were here on the day, and I managed to capture a few shots for you to have a look at.







Posted April 5, 2011 by eileandonan in News

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A musical first…….   2 comments

Regular readers of the Eilean Donan Facebook page will know that I’m a vocal supporter of the National Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music (NCETM) based in nearby Plockton. What is less well known, perhaps because of their quiet modesty, is how strongly the Trustees of Eilean Donan feel about the castle’s position in the local community, and actively supporting a whole host of initiatives. Well last night we had the perfect opportunity to combine the two.

For the majority of the year, our operation revolves around providing an important facility for Scotland’s tourists as a Visitor Attraction, but outside of the main season, we try to utilise the castle for community events. So when Dougie Pincock, Director of NCETM recently approached us about a somewhat unique event, we were more than happy to help.

Every year, as the 6th year leavers come to the end of their schooldays, one of their final tasks, is a formal Recital under Examination conditions. Normally, this would take place in the school itself, but Dougie was keen to make it a bit more of a special event, and as such, asked about the possibility of the performance taking place in Eilean Donan. So last night, a select audience of the musicians closest family and friends gathered in our Banqueting Hall with a real sense of eager anticipation.

Many of you will be aware of the threat of closure that the school has faced in recent months after Highland Regional Council decided, in its wisdom, to remove future funding for the facility. Fortunately, following a huge public outcry, the Scottish Government stepped in to ensure the monies were found to safeguard this national treasure. Well, all I can say is that if last nights performances were anything to go by, then it was money well spent!

Myself and my wife love traditional music, and in our opinion, nothing beats live performances! We like to think we’ve heard and experienced enough to have a reasonably good ear, and I can honestly say that last night definitely exceeded our expectations. These young adults ably and confidently demonstrated that the future of traditional music is in very safe hands, and that young talent, when carefully nurtured by the tutors at NCETM can become truly inspirational.

Whether captivating their audience with a quiet ancient lament, or stirring them up with a foot-stomping modern jig, this talented bunch of young musicians held the entire room in the palm of their very capable hands for two breath-taking hours. Despite the foul weather outside, the castle walls reverberated to the sound of their instruments and rang with the pureness of well-manicured voices. If any of them were at all nervous about the Assessor who sat quietly in the corner observing and grading their efforts, it really didn’t show.

For the musical officiandos amongst you, we were treated to wonderful renditions of such classics as “The Corrievreckan Lullaby” , “Skye Glen Waltz”, “Calum’s Road”, “Zeeto the Bubbleman”, “£50 Cashback”, “The Skylark Ascending”, “Caledonia” and many others. One of the other many highlights was “Hostel Rules” written by one of the performers, Alastair Forsyth, about life in the residential hostel at NECTM.

I think it’s also worth observing that not only does the NCETM produce some simply stunning musicians, but just as importantly, individuals who are confident, assured, well-mannered, polite and a real credit to their families and their heritage.

So on behalf of everyone present, I’d like to take this opportunity to both congratulate as well as thank

Alexander Levack – Pipes & Whistle

Alastair Forsyth – Piano

Caitlin McNeil – Vocals, guitar and piano

Cameron Ross – Fiddle

Iain Macfarlane – Fiddle & mandolin

Michael Ferrie – Guitar

Lee Mackintosh – Guitar, bouzouki and djembe

You gave us all a truly memorable night, and I wish you all fabulously successful futures, wherever your talent leads you.
For blog readers who love traditional music, take note of these names, because these young musicians certainly have the potential to become household names of the future!

FOOTNOTE : Last nights event was recorded, and Dougie has promised to send me a wee sample of it to share with you in due course.

Posted April 2, 2011 by eileandonan in Music

Clachan Duich & Clan MacRae – Part 2   3 comments

Every five years, the Clan MacRae holds an International Clan Gathering at Eilean Donan to celebrate its history, its ancestors and its heritage. Hundreds of MacRaes gather from all over the world to take part in the celebrations, and the last one was held during Scotland’s Year of Homecoming in 2009.

The event itself normally lasts about 5 days, with a multitude of organised events taking part in the local area. One of the events which is held on a Sunday, is a morning gathering and rememberance service at Clachan Duich, the ancient burial ground of Clan MacRae, which I have already blogged about in September last year. I know how many MacRaes are on the Facebook page who have not yet managed to attend an International gathering and I’m also aware how revered Clachan Duich is to many, so I’m posting up a short montage of video of assorted photographs from the 2009 service, courtesy of Sal Nocitra, who put the whole thing together.

It is accompanied by a wonderful piece of music which is some six hundred years old called “Spaidsearachd MhicRath” or, in English, “March of the MacRaes”. Although it’s played on a keyboard, I really look forward to eventually hearing it played on the pipes by Jimi MacRae, the Clan’s piper who is featured in many of the photos you will see.

To play the video, please click here

Posted March 23, 2011 by eileandonan in Miscellaneous

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Reconstruction Photographs discovery………..   4 comments

Every so often, I stumble across something completely and totally unexpected at Eilean Donan and today I have a real wee gem of a find to share with you all! An exclusive preview that you can have a look at before ANYONE else!

Tucked away in the back of a dusty drawer in the castle we recently discovered a small blue nondescript cardboard wallet with the words ” LIZARS Developing & Printing Services“. Upon opening, we duly discovered around 60 old photographs from what I believe to be approximately the very late 1920’s and early 30s depicting scenes of the castle’s reconstruction!

Although they have started to fade a little, I’ve had them professionally scanned in order to preserve them, and can now share them with the world. The reconstruction took about 20 years in total, partly due to World War I happening right in the middle of it. When you see some of the construction methods that were used back then, you also get a sense of why the project took so long.

There’s also one or two images of Farquar MacRae, the legendary Clerk of Works of the whole project, who lived on the island in a small hut for much of the construction period, but who sadly died only 6 months before its completion. There’s also a glimpse of Lt Col John MacRae-Gilstrap and his wife Isabella, along with a local shot or two of what is now known as the Loch Duich Hotel. The final 5 photos are from the grand opening day in 1932 when the Lt Col led the Clan MacRae and the local community on a march to the castle.

Anyway, enough from me, here are the photos and I hope you enjoy this little treasure trove!

(If you click once on each image, you’ll get a slightly larger view.)

Posted March 19, 2011 by eileandonan in Historical

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Historical background to Eilean Donan   5 comments

I’ve frequently been asked to provide a little more historical detail on Eilean Donan here on the blog, and whilst I appreciate that some of you may not have a huge amount of interest in the multitude of facts and dates that encompass the castle, I do have to try and provide a little more background for those that are. I hope you find the following abridged detail of some use.

The island upon which the castle stands has been in use by man since prehistoric times. The defensive position, freshwater well, and maritime communication the location offers has appealed to man throughout every age of the islands habitation.  The most ancient of structures to stand on the island was a Pictish Broch or vitrified fort from an Iron Age Britain dominated to the South by the Romans. Brochs were defensive structures and when the Romans abandoned the British Isles the Pictish towers fell into decay. (Some of Scotland’s best preserved Brochs can still be seen today at nearby Glenelg.)

By the 6th century the Broch of Eilean Donan became the monastic cell of an Irish Saint called Donan who was a contemporary of Columba in the time of the fledgling Christian faith in the Inner Hebrides. Bishop Donan has lent his name to the castle for Eilean Donan in the Gaelic tongue simply means “Island of Donan”. However many ancient legends surround the origin of the castle’s name and in Gaelic folklore the fabulous King of the Otters in his silver coat is buried under the castle. The Gaelic name for otter is Cu Don or “brown dog” hence Eilean Donan may be “The Island of Otters” and even to this day otters are seen at the castle.

In the 8th century the Norse Viking swept down from the North to colonise all the islands off the West Coast of Scotland and for four centuries this was a Viking land as many of our local place names yet testify. However Scotland’s monarchy residing in the Clyde basin sought to extent their reach and arrest control of Viking territories such as the Hebrides. In 1220 King Alexander II’s campaign against the Vikings saw Eilean Donan constructed as the most northern sentinel of his empire, stamping royal authority in the strategic confluence of Lochalsh, Loch Duich and Loch Long. Alexander did not live to see the expulsion of the Vikings and his son Alexander III would be left to face the wrath of Viking King Haakon Haakonson.

Haakon’s fleet crossed the North Sea in the summer of 1263 bound for war with Alexander. A total eclipse of the sun heralds doom for the Vikings and they drop anchor in Broadford Bay. From the watch tower of Eilean Donan, Haakon’s fleet were to be observed sailing through Kyleakin still bearing a Gaelic name meaning “The Straights of King Haakon”. Haakon’s fleet sailed south for battle against King Alexander at the battle of Largs. Dreadful storms win the day for Alexander at Largs and the Western Isles are his with Haakon’s passing.

Alongside King Alexander at Largs is a trusted lieutenant by the name of Calean Fitzgerald whose distinguished service in battle earns him the reward of Constable of Eilean Donan from a grateful King. Calean Fitzgerald consolidates his position of power in Kintail by marrying the local Matheson Chief’s daughter. Their first-born son is Coinneach or Kenneth. In Gaelic the name MacKenzie mean “Sons of Kenneth”.

The MacKenzies grew in power and status, and Eilean Donan became their Western fortress. But they attain many castles and by tradition Eilean Donan was governed by proxy for them by their hereditary bodyguards, the House of MacRae. Thus the MacRaes become known as “The Mackenzies Coat of Mail” and hold Eilean Donan Castle throughout this turbulent mediaeval period.

Eilean Donan is a very typical mediaeval Gaelic Tower House of the time of the great marine warlords of the Gaelic West Highland archipelago known as “The Lords of the Isles”. These kings of a marine empire ruled by Birlinn (a Scottish longboat) and claymore, and Eilean Donan Castle saw its share of conflicts during this time. In 1539 Donald MacDonald of Sleat attacked Eilean Donan Castle with 50 Birlinn challenging the authority of King James V in his quest for the Lordship. Famously his attack is foiled by one Duncan MacRae who is fortunate to mortally wound Donald with his last arrow. The arrow hole from which Duncan shot his last arrow can still be seen today on the wall of the Great Well.

In the mid 17th century even Cromwell’s forces took the castle and held Kintail in a brutal grip. Such were their demands for food and fuel from the MacRaes of Inverinate that the Castle’s garrison incurred the wrath of the clan, and their leader, a Campbell, was cut in half by a claymore wielding MacRae.

The clansmen of Kintail were loyal to King James known as Jacobus in Latin and the King’s supporters were thus known as Jacobites. In 1715 the Jacobite clansmen of Kintail captured Eilean Donan for the King and gathered here before setting off south for Sheriffmuir in support of the Earl of Marr for King James against The Duke of Argyle for King George 1st.  There is a magnificent painting commemorating the event on the walls of the Banqueting Hall. Legend tells that the MacRaes were cut down in the heart of the battle and Kintail would suffer 58 widows after that battle.

Yet support for the exiled House of Stuart remained strong in Kintail and Eilean Donan Castle would yet again be the focus for 1719 Jacobite Uprising. In 1719 Spain and England were at war for the control of global maritime supremacy. Spain saw the Gaelic Highlander and the Jacobites as a potential way to topple George of Hanover from the throne and defeat English plans. Two Spanish forces were sent to illicit Jacobite support. The first small expeditionary force was sent to the Highlands with Earl Marshal Keith and Tullibardine who were to instigate a Jacobite Uprising amongst the Highland clans. Their base was to be Eilean Donan. The second larger force was to invade England. But fate played an indiscriminate hand and a dreadful storm destroyed the main Spanish fleet as the rounded Cape Finistair and entered the Bay of Biscay. With known Spanish allies attacking the Hanoverians to the South the Jacobites were not vulnerable and exposed in the Highlands and sure enough the Hanoverians turned their attentions North.

On the 10th of May three Hanoverian frigates arrived at Lochalsh. The Enterprise, the Flamborough, and the Worcester. They found Eilean Donan Castle garrisoned by about 30 Spanish soldiers and a small band of Jacobites who were not prepared to surrender. The Government warships began to bombard Eilean Donan Castle with cannon. This was the last castle in the British Isles to be so bombarded. The Government had superior numbers and firepower eventually sending boarding parties ashore to force a surrender. With the capture of Eilean Donan Captain Herdman of the Enterprise orders that the repositories of Spanish gunpowder be set afire, and so Eilean Donan Castle was reduced to a ruin in a series of terrible explosions.

A month later at the Pass of Glenshiel the Jacobites and their Spanish allies fought General Wightman’s Redcoats. The battle ended with the Highlanders melting away over the Five Sisters of Kintail and the Spanish surrendering to the Government.

With the destruction of Eilean Donan Castle, and Kintail daunted by the Redcoats the castle became a picturesque ruin over the next century. But after almost 200 years had elapsed the castle saw a most unlikely rebirth…….

Lieutenant Colonel John MacRae had grown up fuelled with his father’s tales of his illustrious MacRae clan ancestors and their home of Eilean Donan. Lieutenant Colonel MacRae had married an English heiress from the Lincolnshire town of Newark. Her name was Isabella Mary Gilstrap known to all as Ella. A condition of her inheritance required Lieutenant Colonel John MacRae to adopt her surname and so they became the MacRae Gilstrap family.

The MacRae Gilstrap family thus bought the ruin of Eilean Donan in 1911 and there they raised the clan MacRae banner for the first time in centuries. Now by serendipitous good fortune Lieutenant Colonel John MacRae Gilstrap and Ella met a local stonemason and wood carver called Farquhar MacRae who was hired to consolidate the remains of the castle. However the decision was taken to restore the castle and the MacRae Gilstrap family hired an Edinburgh firm of architects to draw up construction plans, and for Farquhar to be made Clerk of Works. Farquhar laboured over the next 20 years on the castle eventually earning the Gaelic nickname Fearachar a’ Chastiall or Farquhar of the Castle. Sadly,  he died in 1932 a mere six months before the castle was completed and never saw the completed article. A bronze plaque in the courtyard with the MacRae badge of Fir Club Moss and the legend Fearachar a’ Chastiall 1912 –1932 commemorates his life. However the castle returned to her former glory and is a fitting tribute to his dedication and skill.

The MacRae Gilstrap family had a grand opening and march of the clan to the castle in 1932. It became their regular summer home before the war. Lieutenant Colonel John MacRae Gilstrap died in 1936 and Ella survived him until 1949. Eilean Donan Castle then passed to their son Duncan, who became the new constable of the castle. In the 1950s Eilean Donan was perhaps only known to a few intrepid adventurers to the West Highland coast. However a spate of Hollywood movies in the 50s featuring the castle such as Bonnie Price Charlie, Prince Valiant, and most importantly The Master of Ballentrae made Eilean Donan a familiar image.

Its reputation as an idyllic and picturesque castle grows, as it perhaps typified the popular image of a Gaelic West Highland Tower House, and television helps to spread the image too. In 1966 Duncan MacRae dies and the Castle passes to the late Johnny MacRae, father of the current head of the Trust, Baroness Miranda Van Lynden.

By the end of the 1960s the new road network made Eilean Donan much more accessible and the numbers of visitors increased geometrically. Eilean Donan Castle is now one of the most famous castles in the world and it is the iconic shorthand image for Scotland itself, attracting over 300,000 visitors per annum.

Yet the castle is more than a tourist Mecca for it remains the private family home of the MacRaes who are the direct descendants of John and Ella. It is also the home of the Clan MacRae Society and a regular venue for clan events.

Posted March 18, 2011 by eileandonan in Historical

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Welcome to a new season!   3 comments

As of today, the Visitor Centre is officially open for the 2011 season so it’s clearly time for me to get back into the blogging habit after a rather strange winter!

We woke up to a rather surprising fall of  snow this morning, so winter has clearly decided to drag it’s heals as usual.  Our newly sprung daffodils are none too happy, but it does however make the place look clean and fresh. Huge flakes are falling even as I type.  The whole team seem really pleased to be back to work after their 3 month sabbatical, and have been enjoying some of the changes we’ve been making.

One of the most significant and important changes to the operation has taken place in our ever popular Coffee Shop. After 14 years of service, I decided that the time had come to modernise the whole operation with a new servery which has been specifically designed to better cope with the demands of 320,000 visitors per annum. As regular visitors will know, there are times when a dozen tour buses or more can be parked up in our bus lanes, and as visitor numbers have steadily increased over the years, our previous servery, at times, struggled to cope with the sheer volume of visitors. As much as it was quite poignant watching the old carcass being stripped out, it was fascinating watching the new installation take shape. The whole catering operation has been designed and changed to both raise quality whilst being able to serve people faster and significantly reduce waiting times.

We’ve also brought in new tables, and overall, the old place is simply gleaming. Our first customers are already in and enjoying Cappuccinos and freshly baked scones, and I can smell the first wafts of freshly made Leek & Tattie soup drifting through the place. A strengthened kitchen team also offers us the opportunity to continue to develop the whole operation. To give you a wee glimpse, here’s a few photos.




Some of the Coffee Shop team, raring to go!

We’ve also got a few new faces joining the team this year after various retirements and an expanding workforce to help cope with the ever-increasing visitor numbers. Advanced tour bookings for 2011 look very healthy, and we look set to host over 80 weddings this year, a new record. I always breathe a bit of a sigh of relief when we re-open for a new season, as I tend to be working to this deadline with a variety of different projects to complete. Bizarrely, I’ve already started planning next winters projects, with a new roof installation to go on the southern side of the castle, and a complete refurbishment, upgrade and extension planned for our holiday cottage. 2011 will also see the launch of our new on-line shop and hopefully the launch of a new electronic guide application for smartphones, which will be downloadable for visitors before they get here.

On a retail front, after a hugely successful buying trip, we’ve managed to procure some great new products for our Gift Shop, avoiding what I often refer to as the predictable “tartan tat” that seems to fill so many of our country’s gift shop shelves!

All told, we’re absolutely ready for the new season, and myself and the rest of the team look forward to welcoming you all back to Eilean Donan. Make sure to pack some sunshine for when you come!

Posted March 9, 2011 by eileandonan in News

Modern Technology, what do you think?   13 comments

So I need some help and some input please. With nearly 2000 fans on the Facebook page and around 15,000 hits so far on the blog, I’d like to give you the opportunity to help shape a decision I have to take.

Modern technology is advancing at a rapid rate of knots and in this age of electronic communication, it’s often difficult to decide between good initiatives and bad. There is no doubt that today it is much easier for organisations like ours to communicate with our global audience and customers, but how much is too much?

I have the opportunity to introduce a new service at Eilean Donan, but would really appreciate any input you might have before I proceed.

There is now a service which would allow visitors to Eilean Donan, for a relatively small charge to download an “electronic guidebook” application on the castle to their mobile phone, ipod or similar portable electronic device.  Potentially, our visitors could download this facility either before they arrive with us, or do it once on site.

The application could give an overview of the castle’s history and heritage, an outline of specific points or items of interest inside the walls, and any other information of interest that visitors might find useful. It may be less comprehensive than our official guidebook, but it would potentially sit very comfortably alongside it for those that don’t want to end their holiday with a tidy pile of assorted guidebooks from a variety of different locations or attractions.

The great unknown quantity is, just how big an uptake would the initiative produce. Is this something you yourself might use, or is it a step too far?

Any constructive input would be very gratefully received!

Posted January 14, 2011 by eileandonan in News

Hello 2011…..   9 comments

Happy New Year to you all, and I hope you all had a truly wonderful festive season.

Well I’m back in the Eilean Donan saddle after a bit of a lay-off due to my heart attack on the 20th of November, and am just starting to feel a bit more like my old self and looking forward to the year ahead. Thank you for all the messages of support and concern that both myself and my family have received during the last 6 weeks, I’ve really been extremely touched.

There is however, only so much day-time telly a man can physically take, and I have to confess to being a rather impatient patient, so I have returned to work today to try and catch up with all things castle, and give my long-suffering wife some much-needed space!

Had a bit of a bad start to the day as the Visitor Centre boiler has run out of heating oil and the whole place is a bit baltic to be honest, but a few phone calls has sorted the problem, and I’m now waiting for the place to heat up.

Officially, we re-open for the new season on the 1st of March, which experience tells me, will be upon us before we know it, so there’s lots of things to do before then. That said, we had a really good response to our limited winter opening trial during November and December, so we’re going to maintain the three days a week (Tuesday, Thursday & Sunday) opening through February for those early-season visitors.

The 2011 season looks potentially very promising with advance group bookings and wedding reservations both way ahead of previous years. The last few years have been the most successful in our long history, but we never take things for granted and are always looking for new ways to try to improve the visitor experience. Of late, much of this effort has focussed on the development of the Visitor Centre facilities, and the final part of that particular jigsaw will be the installation of a brand new Servery in the Coffee Shop, due to take place in early February, just in time for the new season. The development focus will then move for the next 4 or 5 years back to the castle itself.

We have a roof to replace, probably in October/November; some much needed conservation and restoration work to do; the archaeology project to develop; and hopefully, the opening up of some new previously closed areas of the castle to progress so plenty of variety to keep me busy.

The next few weeks will therefore be geared towards getting everything ready for another great season, and the team and I look forward to welcoming you back to Eilean Donan through 2011.

Oh it’s nice to be back!!! Catch up soon!

Posted January 5, 2011 by eileandonan in News

An affair of the heart.   9 comments

I feel as though I’ve been neglecting both the Facebook page and the Eilean Donan Blog lately, although in my defence, things have been a little out of my control…….

At 11.00am on Saturday 20th of November, I had a rather inconvenient and very unexpected heart attack, which came as something of a shock, and landed me in hospital for a stretch. Without going into too much detail, I’m now resting at home having had a bit of surgery, and am hoping to start a gradual return to work at some point next week, all being well.

I’d just like to take this opportunity to say a huge thank you for all the messages of support and offers of help that both myself and my family have received over the last 10 days. I can’t begin to find the words to tell you how much we’ve appreciated it.

Anyway, I hope to re-start things real soon, and apologies again for the recent lack of posts.

Happy St Andrews Day.


Posted November 30, 2010 by eileandonan in News

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