Archive for July 2010

Winter opening…   4 comments

We’re getting really, really busy here folks so please excuse the fact that blog entries might be a bit on the thin side for the next month.  That said, following a recent enquiry from Tom McRae, one of our readers, I thought I’d give you all a wee  bit of an exclusive!

Ordinarily, our season ends and the castle closes around the 1st of November each year, with a closure period of around 15-16 weeks, normally reopening around early March. It’s become apparent, that more and more visitors are coming to Skye & Lochalsh during the winter months, and some are often disappointed that many facilities are closed.

To be honest, we’ve had a bit of a “Chicken & Egg” problem with this issue. Do we wait until winter visitor numbers are sufficient to warrant opening, or do we open and hope that people will come? It’s always been a question of business economics, but as one of the largest Visitor Attractions in the Highlands, we don’t feel we can ignore the issue any longer, and as such, we’re going to trial some limited winter opening.

The current plan is to open 3 days per week, probably Tuesdays, Thursdays & Sundays from 10.00am – 3.00pm, through November, most of December and February, with guided tours every 30 minutes. Hopefully this will be a pre-cursor to extended opening in future years, but that will really depend on the uptake.

As some of you will already know, the Highlands in winter can be an absolutely beautiful location, and for many it’s a favourite time of year to visit. The peace, quiet and tranquility of the place really comes in to its own. Many hotels offer fabulous deals at this time of year too.

Anyway, if you’re around this winter, pop in and we’ll give you a warm welcome and an exclusive tour! We might even be able to take you to see some of the areas not normally open to the public!

Posted July 29, 2010 by eileandonan in Miscellaneous, News

3000 Thank yous.   5 comments

So the new blog is exactly one month old today, and I’d just like to take this opportunity to  say a huge thank you for all your interest and the personal messages of support. What initially started as something of an experiment to see if anyone was at all interested in more details on the castle, has in actual fact now received over 3000 visits. Not bad for the inane ramblings of a Castle Keeper!

Wherever you are in the world, I hope the sun shines upon you this weekend, and Thank You again!

Posted July 23, 2010 by eileandonan in Miscellaneous

Video, a bright idea……not!   8 comments

Sometimes a very simple idea can turn into an absolute nightmare………

I woke up this morning to an absolute peach of a day! After days and days of rain, I opened the bedroom curtains with limited optimism, but was delighted to discover a radiant blue sky and the promise of a beautiful day in Lochalsh.

On the way out the door I suddenly remembered that “Ceilear”, our young traditional musicians were going to be arriving today for the 2nd of their four summer sessions. Last weeks fabulous event had had to be held in the Coffee Shop due to the inclement weather, but it looked like today’s event could proceed outside in the warm sun. I suddenly had one of those “Lightbulb above the head” ideas. I’d record the group on my wife’s camcorder and post it on the blog so you could all get a wee taste of it.

So I hurried back indoors, grabbed the camcorder bag and set off to work.

At this juncture, I should probably confess  that I have rarely used a camcorder, as I’m the member of the family that normally has a digital SLR camera in hand, leaving the camcorder to my wife and kids.

“There’s a full box of blank discs in there” was the parting shout from my wife as I left the house. Hmmmmmmm.

So predictably, the first problem of the day was actually locating a blank disk! Suffice to say, the kids had been into the new box, and every single one of them had been used to some degree or other. No problem thinks I, I’ll just delete some files and free up some space. Sounds easy, but it actually turned out to be quite impossible. I eventually find a disk that has about 8 minutes recording space at the very end of it, so that will have to suffice.

So, at 11.00am the musicians arrive, set up their gear and start their first tune of the day in front of a very appreciative and truly international audience. I record a great little track thinking that I’ll have it on here for you in no time.

With one thing or another, modern technology plays quite an important part in my life, and I naively like to consider myself as being reasonably competent when dealing with most things that are PC based. BIG MISTAKE, HUGE MISTAKE, MASSIVE MISTAKE!

I had no idea about converting Camcorder IFO files into MPEGs for use on here, or that specialised software was required. At home we’d always just plugged the camcorder direct into the TV and away we go. So the next issue was finding a decent programme to convert the files. Not too straightforward a task as I was to discover after five or six attempts!

The conversion itself took some time, but eventually I managed it. Eureka I thought……..

Next problem! I then realise that the converter has done its work on the whole disk, and seems to have merged everything on it into one huge file. So now I need a video editing programme to extract the piece of video I want. In between dealing with todays 2500 visitors to the Castle and Visitor centre it takes another two hours to source, download, learn how to use and eventually process the clip.

So here I am, several hours later, irrate and fed up with technology, but with a certain amount of satisfaction that I’ve learned several wonderous new things today, although I do now fully appreciate the phrase “Ignorance is bliss!”

Anyway, here’s the video clip. If it works, then I’ll maybe take the camera into areas of the castle that aren’t currently open to the public. Be patient and give the piper a minute to get his pipes tuned,and while you’re waiting click the HD button in the top right hand corner to get the best picture. I also suspect that like all videos we watch on PCs it might depend on how strong your internet connection/broadband is, but if it  doesn’t work for any reason, don’t call me, I’ll call you!  (;-)

Posted July 22, 2010 by eileandonan in Music

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Up on the roof………   9 comments

One of the most frequently asked questions we get at the Visitor Centre when people are buying admission tickets is “Can we get up onto the roof?”

Unfortunately, we always have to answer in the negative, as access to this part of the castle can only be made via a very small spiral staircase which is really unsuitable for large numbers of people. Then, once you actually get to the top of this staircase, the walkways around the roof are extremely narrow. The prospect of taking people up there would keep about 10 Health & Safety Officers in employment for about a month!

So I thought I’d pop up there today, take a few photos, and try and give you at least some impression of what it’s like. It goes without saying that the views are magical, especially on a clear day, and I’m hoping that at some point in the future we might be able to venture up there with small groups of 8-10 people, but that’s something for the future!

Narrow access on the rooftop walkways.

With a bit of care, it is possible to move around the entire castle roof and enjoy the 360 degree panorama. Facing directly East, you get a view of the bridge and the Visitor Centre.

Facing East

Turning slightly towards the North, you get a view of Dornie village and Dornie Bridge. (I was going to do the North, South, East, West thing, but the North view is of Ben Conchra, which is a bit dull really, and the Westerly view doesn’t translate well into a photo.)

Dornie Village

Moving round the walkway, and facing North Westerly gives you a view straight down Loch Alsh towards Skye and the Cuillins.

Loch Alsh to the Cuillins of Skye

From this point, you have to double back on yourself and move round to the South side of the main Keep, as the route is blocked by a small turret. On the opposite side, you look straight down Loch Duich towards the Five sisters of Kintail.

Looking down Loch Duich

The light was so flat that I couldn’t get a decent shot facing West, so I’ll save that for another day, but instead I took a shot of the sea wall from above and the West Guard Tower, a slightly different perspective to the norm.

Westerly Sea Wall

The West Guard Tower

Now at this point, there’s only one way to go, and that’s UP!  At the western gable end of the main keep, right at the very top of the castle is something called “The Crows Nest” which can only be reached by a rather precarious and exposed climb up some open steps. In years gone by, it would have been a fabulous lookout point for advance warning of any invading Viking longboats,offering clear and all round views, but in 5 years of working at the castle, I have yet to summon the courage to go up there. I think I could handle the upward journey, but the potential for injury on the way back down is considerable if you were to slip on the mossy steps. I WILL get up there eventually!

The Crows Nest

The only permanent resident of the roof-top area is our plastic peregrine falcon. We have a terrible problem with swallows nesting in a variety of locations around the castle, and from time to time they actually manage to get inside, tripping alarms in the process. To keep them at bay, we placed this plastic bird on the roof, and it seems to have done the trick! It’s quite lifelike, and the seagulls and crows aren’t too happy about it, and can often be observed noisily dive-bombing the thing!

Our Swallow defender!

We were starting to get quite busy by this point, so I quickly rattled off a few more shots, some of which you can see below. Hope you enjoy.

The Great Well

The Inner Courtyard

The family apartments

The remains of the North tower

Dornie Bridge

Rooftop Walkway

Posted July 20, 2010 by eileandonan in Miscellaneous

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Coffee, Cake & a Ceilidh……   Leave a comment

It’s a wet and miserable start to the weekend here in Lochalsh, but there’s a bright and sunny outlook in our Coffee Shop today! We’re hosting the first of 4 traditional music events with “CEILAIR”, a group of very talented young musicians from the area.

The western highlands has a great reputation as a stronghold for traditional music, and we always try to support this whenever we can. For the last 5 years CEILAIR have performed at the castle during the summer and have always been really well received. This year we have three day-time sessions booked along with an evening concert inside the castle itself.

Normally the day time sessions are located outdoors underneath the trees outside the visitor centre, but the weather is so horrible today we’ve got them inside in the Coffee Shop which is proving immensely entertaining. I’ve got Spanish ladies doing jigs in the middle of the floor, Frenchmen clapping and stomping their feet, Italians desperately trying to get into the rythm, and Scots looking on bemused. Any minute now I’m expecting the whole place to erupt into a full blown Ceilidh! The place is jumping, and the sound of live music is filling the entire Visitor Centre. Anyone for a “Strip the Willow”?

The line up for CEILAIR changes every year, giving talented young musicians valuable experience of performing in front of a live audience, in a wide variety of different venues. The next two dates for the day-time sessions are the 22nd & 28th of July, followed by an evening concert in the Banqueting Hall on Thursday 29th of July at 7.30pm as a fund-raiser for the Dornie Kids Christmas party. So if you’re in the area on any of these dates, pop in, it’s great fun.

Ceilair 2010

Posted July 16, 2010 by eileandonan in Music

A big girls blouse………   4 comments

I thought I’d share an amusing little story with you today, just for a change.

As you’d expect, we have a state of the art security system in the castle; so sensitive that if a large spider were to walk across the wrong piece of floor, then all hell would break loose!

Well, last year, that’s exactly what happened, and one night I got roused from my bed around 3.00am to the sound I dread most. Dornie is a very quiet place, especially at night, and sound can travel huge distances across the water, and our alarms are NOT quiet.

Hurriedly throwing some clothes on, I arrived at the front door of the castle at almost exactly the same time as a number of large, burly, local policemen, none of whom would have looked out of place on the front row of any International Rugby team!

One policeman positions himself at the front door, directly below the kitchens, while the rest of us started a systematic room by room inspection of the castle. Now there are a number of different bunches of keys that have to be used in the internals of the castle, and on this particular occaision I’d stupidly neglected to pick up all the bunches I required. This was a rather daft oversight on my part as certain lighting systems we have can only be operated by little fish-tail keys. The Law of Sod was definitely at work that night as the one bunch of keys that had the required fish-tail key was not on my person!

Now castles can be rather spooky places in the depths of a dark night, with lots of strange creaking noises, shadows and suchlike playing tricks on the mind. Remember the fact that Carlos, our Spanish ghost is also reputed to haunt the place, though I have to confess we have yet to be offically introduced.

Having checked the majority of the castle, we arrive at the kitchens where I realise that the afore-mentioned fish-tail key is required! Doh! Now as you’d expect, I’m very familiar with every room in the castle, and the darkness doesn’t bother me at all, so I proceed to enter the dark and gloomy kitchens with the policemen behind me to check things out. (Those of you who have visited the castle will be fully aware of the fact that the recreated kitchens have a number of lifesize dummies in them, and herein lies the tale!)

I’ve just about reached the far end of the kitchen, and about to enter the scullery, when the most blood-curling scream I have ever had the misfortune to hear rents the air! Suffice to say, one of our big burly local policeman who has never been inside Eilean Donan before this night, has bumped into the model of Isabella MacRae-Gilstrap, and had more than a little start!!! Now I’m quite sure Isabella was quite a formidable woman in her time, but she was all of about 5 feet tall, yet has managed to turn our local bobby into an absolute quivering wreck! Having established the cause of his panic, we all proceed to have a good laugh at our man in blue’s expense. I’m quite sure that his colleagues ribbed him mercilessly for weeks afterwards!

An unforeseen tangent of this whole fiasco is that the policeman stood below at the front door on sentry duty hears his colleague’s scream and starts to get more than a bit twitchy himself! By the time we arrive back to the front door he is VERY relieved to see us.

For those of you not familiar with the kitchens, here’s a wee photo of it, in daylight! Isabella is the lady on the left!

Posted July 15, 2010 by eileandonan in Tales & Stories

Behind the walls…….   6 comments

Eilean Donan holds many secrets, some of which are well-known by the public, some of which are not. One of my most favourites is a tiny little room hidden away right in the middle of the walls behind the Banqueting Hall. Unfortunately it is not yet open to the public beacause of its very tight access.  We know of it as “The Lairds Withdrawing Room.”

This is a tiny little space consisting of two wooden seats beside a beautiful little carved fireplace set in a windowed alcove, overlooking Loch Long and Loch Alsh. This room was used by Lt Col John MacRae Gilstrap, primarily to sit and smoke his pipe, away from guests he and his wife might be entertaining in the formal Banqueting Hall. It is without doubt one of  the most peaceful and  tranquil spaces in the entire castle, a hidden gem. The fireplace is exquisitely carved, with the initials of John & Isabella sitting romantically just above the hearth, and dated 1912.

Every time I enter, I can almost sense John’s presence, and can directly relate to why he was so fond of this little haven-like refuge. I can imagine him sitting there with a little peat fire in the grate, puffing silently away on his pipe as he admired the views of the lochs beyond the leaded windows.

The room itself is in need of some restoration work, and will always have to be carefully managed in terms of the number of people that can access it at any one time because of its size, but one day we hope to have it open. In the meantime, here’s a wee sneak preview of one of my favourite spots.

The Lairds With-drawing Room

John & Ella forever.......

Peace & Quiet

Posted July 13, 2010 by eileandonan in Historical

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