Dunvegan castle lies 1½ miles north of Dunvegan village on the Isle of Skye, situated off the west coast of Scotland.  It is the seat of the chief of the Clan MacLeod.

It has been claimed that a curtain wall was built round the hilltop in the thirteenth century on the site of a former Norse fort.  Later ‘a castle' was constructed within the curtain wall by Malcolm MacLeod - allegedly around 1350.  The enclosure castle is said to belong to a large group of Gàidhealtachd strongholds which are discussed in the introduction to Dunstaffnage castle.

The fortress is situated high on a plug of basalt overlooking Loch Dunvegan.  The first fortress would appear to have been the curtain wall that completely enclosed the promontory.  This wall, following the contours, makes a very irregular enclosure and is mostly complete although heavily repaired or even rebuilt.  The castle proper runs from the ‘15th C' towerhouse in the north-east, westwards to enclose an acute promontory.  It then follows through 3 angles to the south point of the ward.  In the middle section is the rebuilt sea gate.  A quick examination of the interior of this structure, lying some 9' below current internal ground level, shows that it has been much rebuilt.  The portcullis grooves do not align and are so irregular and curved that no portcullis could ever have been forced down them, let alone slid graciously up and down.  Presumably this sea gate lies in its original position, but without excavationt that would be impossible to confirm.  Other sea gates at waterside castles exist at Dunnottar, Duntulm, Duntrune, Eilean Donan, Innis Chonnel, Mingary, Tantallon and Urquhart.

At the south-east apex of the site stands the ‘16th C' Fairy Tower.  North of this is the ‘17th C' great hall, probably occupying the site of its predecessor.  Between this and the towerhouse is a nineteenth century gatehouse, possibly masking the site of the original entrance.  Certainly there would have needed to be a landward entrance as well as the sea gate, although folklore states that only the sea gate ever existed.

The main towerhouse was a 4 storey structure with defensive features, built to provide fashionable family accommodation.  In about 1500, the Fairy Tower, a smaller, independent towerhouse, possibly intended for guests, was added by Alasdair Crotach, the eighth chief (allegedly 1450-1547).  This is on the south-east corner of the enclosure.  During the Renaissance the great hall was replaced by a fairly typical 'main house' of state apartment above cellars with accommodation above.  This was built by Ruairidh Mor, the fifteenth chief, in 1623.  His grandson, Iain Breac, added the Pipers' Gallery in 1664 - the detail of its balustrading very reminiscent of Craigievar's belvederes.  In 1684-90 the south wing was added.  When this was built the old tower was abandoned for the more comfortable living quarters.  It remained roofless until 1790-1, when it was refurbished as a drawing room with a pit dungeon below.  Further renovations occurred and Sir Walter Scott, in visiting in 1814, noted the efforts to 'medievalise' the castle 'by making a portal between two advanced towers and an outer court, from which he proposes to throw a drawbridge over to the high rock in front'.  Further mock battlements and other alterations, including the eastern approach bridge, new porch and thinly Jacobean-style internal remodelling, were made in the 1840s.

Why not join me at Dunvegan and other Great Scottish Castles this Spring?  Information on tours at Scholarly Sojourns.


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