Friday, December 8, 2017

Dunstaffnage Castle – Oban, Scotland

While staying in North Ballachulish, we had a day to explore the area to the south.  We headed along A828 which generally follows the east shore of both Loch Linnhe and Loch Creran. (Both are sea lochs)

The scenery along the way was very pleasing with blue skies, calm waters and mountains in the distance… 

The views on the landward side of our car weren’t too bad either!

Our goal was the Dunstaffnage Castle.  As we arrived at the south edge of Oban and parked our car before walking to the castle, I noticed this handsome trawler, the HV Calanus.  She was built for the fishing industry in 1980, but she’s now operated by the Scottish Association for Marine Science.  I love the hills and low clouds in the background, don’t you?

I took this photo of the twisted trees with lichen and moss covered rocks as we followed the pathway to the castle.  It set the mood for the castle itself…

This is Dunstaffnage Castle!  This partially ruined castle in Argyll and Bute in Western Scotland was built on a huge platform of rock.   This impressive ancient structure dates back to 1200s, (about 800 years old!), making it one of Scotland’s oldest castles. 

Laurie, Bonnie and Bill checked out the impressive stone walls while I took this photo.

Dunstaffnage Castle was built by the MacDougall lords of Lorn.  However, since the 1400s it’s been held by the Clan Campbell.  There is still a hereditary Captain of Dunstaffnage but they no longer live in the castle.  The property is now maintained and operated by Historic Scotland.


·         I wish that I’d stumbled across the Historic Scotland website prior to our trip.  While I’m happy with what I planned, their website would have further enhanced our experience.  Take a look at 

These pretty little ferns grew wherever there was enough moisture on the stones inside the castle.  These were just under an iron grate protecting tourists from falling in the old well.

It is estimated that there were between 2,000 and 3,000 castle or ‘castle-like’ structures in Scotland.  Many are known today only through historical records.  Still, hundreds of castles, Z or L plan tower homes, castellated houses or mansions, baronial houses and other variations exist (sometimes in ruins) throughout the countryside.  For a list of known castles in Scotland…listed by Council Area, you can go to

It’s amazing that these 800 year old walls are still standing!  Note the larger stones mixed in with small and flatter ones… Bill, Laurie and Bonnie provided a little contrast to their surroundings.

Even before the construction of the castle, as early as the 7th century, this may have been the location of a Dal Riatan stronghold, known as Dun Monaidh.  Dal Riatan was a Gaelic ‘overkingdom’ that included parts of western Scotland and northeastern Ireland across the North Channel.  It has even been suggested that the Stone of Destiny (aka the Stone of Scone) was kept here for a while after being brought from Ireland.

·         In England, the Stone of Destiny/Scone is referred to as The Coronation Stone.  It’s an oblong block of red sandstone that has been used for centuries in the coronation of the monarchs of Scotland and later the monarchs of England and Great Britain.  It was last used for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.  It is now being kept in Edinburgh Castle in Scotland.  It has quite a history itself!  Check it out at

Bill posed for this photo in the basement of the ruined tower.  Appropriately enough, the basement was used as a windowless prison…and Bill, a retired police officer…now supervises a jail in Missouri.  The upper floors of this tower would have been private chambers…

The impressive gatehouse was built in the 1400s to accommodate the Campbell “Captain” and his family.  The captains stayed in the castle up until a devastating fire destroyed the living areas in 1810.  To this day, the gatehouse is retained as the private property of the current Captain. 

The Captain is the permanent hereditary rank given by the First Earl of Argyll to the “keeper’ of the castle.  He installed his first cousin as the first captain.  I noted that in 2002, the 22nd Captain of Dunstaffnage Castle, a Campbell, was reported to be a scallop fisherman.  The Captain is responsible for the castle and its defense.   To retain the title the incumbent is required to spend 3 nights a year in the castle…

The castle is strategically situated on a promontory at the entrance to Loch Elive and it’s surrounded on 3 sides by the sea.  It is ideally placed to command the seaward approach to Loch Elive and the Pass of Brander as well as to keep a watchful eye on the Firth of Lorn and the eastern entrance to the Sound of Mull.

As the photo from the walls of the castle show, the Firth of Lorn handles some big ships.  I believe that this is SMT Shipping’s hybrid belt-unloader, the ‘Bontrup’.  She is 890 feet long…or the length of about 3 American football fields…

Following the King of Scots, Alexander III’s victories over Norse influence in Argyll, the MacDougalls backed the Scottish monarchy.  However, during the Wars of Scottish Independence in the early 1300s, the MacDougalls backed the wrong side.  Robert Bruce (one of Laurie’s ancestors) defeated the Clan MacDougall at the Battle of the Pass of Brander in 1308 or 1309.  After a brief siege, he took control of Dunstaffnage Castle.

This is one of the rebuilt rooms in the tower building.  The Captain responsible for the castle lived here.  

In the 1700s the ‘new house’ was built inside the castle walls adjacent to the tower.  It is believed that the Jacobite heroine, Flora MacDonald was held prisoner here after helping Bonnie Prince Charlie evade capture by English forces following his army’s defeat at Culloden in 1746.  Bonnie Prince Charlie dressed up as a woman and posed as Flora’s maid…


·         Flora was later released and she immigrated to the American Colonies in North America.  Her husband, a Captain with the British forces in the American Revolutionary War was captured at the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge in North Carolina.  They eventually returned to Scotland and lived on the Isle of Skye.  Flora died in 1790.  Bonnie Prince Charlie died in exile in Rome in 1788. 

I took this photo because it was such a calm and pleasant scene…far different than much of the history of Dunstaffnage Castle and its grounds. 

Bonnie and Laurie headed on down the path past some other ruins on the grounds… From what I could gather, archaeological excavations have been conducted in the castle and around it off and on for many years…

A walk up that path that Laurie and Bonnie followed, led us all to the ruins of one of the finest chapels of its time.  The MacDougall Family built it for their own use.  The structure’s size and the quality of construction is a reflection of the family’s wealth and ambition in the 1200s...

The MacDougalls had no burial rights originally so none of them were buried in or around the chapel.  However, after the Protestant Reformation of 1560, when the Campbells were owners of Dunstaffnage Castle, they built a burial aisle against the far wall where the ladies are standing in this photo.  The Campbells filled that area with family memorials.

We really enjoyed our exploration of Dunstaffnage Castle, its grounds and the chapel.  It was very interesting and impressive too, especially when you consider its age and history!  Even better, admission is a bargain.  Adults are only charged 6 pounds sterling/about $7.80 U.S.  

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by to join us on a historical tour!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave


  1. Great photos, Dave and very interesting post! I love the ancient castles in Europe and there are plenty of them to visit. Great story about Flora and Bonnie Prince Charlie. And the barge is huge, great photo of it with the scenery! Wish we had gone to Scotland now! Thanks for sharing, I really enjoyed reading this!

  2. Absolutely stunning pictures!! I love this place!! Love Scotland !