Experience 3 historic castles in Dornie

You might know about the most famous one, Eilean Donan, but did you know there are two other castles in the area?  There’s always lots to explore here! This blog is about two less-known neolithic sites of interest and, of course, we’ll tell you something about our most famous castle as well.

Eilean Donan Castle – Caisteal Eilean Donnain in Gaelic

If you’ve not had a tour of the castle before, we’d thoroughly recommend it.  There’s amazing things to see and stories to hear and you’ll get a warm welcome whether you pop in for a coffee, want to browse the gift shop or take a tour of the castle itself.

Eilean Donan Castle and the arched bridge across to the castle. Taken on a sunny day with a very calm blue sea and sky.

Beautiful Eilean Donan Castle

We recommend walking to the castle from Dornie Croft which will help the environment and also save you a little bit of money.  There’s information on the route, which avoids the main road, on the blog post, Easy Walks in Dornie, and in the information pack in the houses.

For a brief description of the history of the castle, see more on the castle’s own website.  For much more detailed information about the archaeology of the castle, we’d recommend this new book – Eilean Donan Castle.  It recounts the information, discovered from various archaeological digs, about the original 13th century castle up to its destruction in 1719.


Like  many families in the village, we have a personal connection to the castle and not just because our surname is MacRae!  Duncan’s grandfather, who was also called Duncan, was a stonemason who worked on the rebuilding of the castle for many years in the 1920s until its completion in 1932.  This is him standing on one of the walls of the castle as it was being re-built.  No scaffolding, hard hats or safety harnesses then.

There’s lots more old pictures from the restoration on the Eilean Donan Castle website as well as information about opening times, what you can see and do at the castle and also about the Clan MacRae.


Caisteal Gruagaig (the witch’s castle)

We’ve pushed the boundaries of Dornie a little to include this Iron Age broch which is on the other side of Loch Duich from Eilean Donan Castle.  Brochs are huge, circular stone towers, built with double walls, which were home to people and their animals.  They are found across Atlantic Scotland and the earliest date from 300BC.

Looking onto three lochs

Entrance to Caisteal Gruagaig

The broch at Totaig is reached by taking the single track road at Shiel Bridge (just near Glenshiel Chocolates!) and driving about 9km through Ratagan, Letterfearn and arriving at the road end at Totaig.  Park your car considerately and then follow the road to reach the wee house at the Totaig slip.  There used to be a passenger ferry from here to Dornie and Ardelve, and Duncan’s aunt grew up in the house at the ferry slip.

You’ll need decent walking shoes or boots for the track as it can be muddy and if you go into the broch, the ground is very uneven.  There’s a well-marked path up to and beyond the broch, and some interesting information panels just higher up the hill.  The path continues on to Ardintoul which can’t be reached by road.

The entrance and walls of the broch at Totaig. Brown bracken in the foreground and a grey sky above.

Entrance to the broch

The broch is an impressive size – measuring 9.6 metres across internally, and 16.5 metres across outside.  There’s a huge triangular lintel stone over the entrance which faces down the hill.  Inside you can climb some of the stairs between the double walls and go into two cells.

The broch was cleared out in 1889 but no detailed record was kept of what was found.  If you’re interested in finding out more about the broch and also about the pier at Totaig, Historic Environment Scotland has information here and Forestry and Land Scotland has more here.



Caisteal a’ Bhàird (the Bard’s Castle)

Much, much smaller than the other two castles, this iron age fort can be found just beyond the end of the road in Bundalloch.  As always, if you cross fences or gates, please be sure to leave them as you found them and if you have a dog, please keep it on a lead.

Loch Long & Skye from Caisteal a’ Bhàird

While there’s huge amounts of information about Eilean Donan and quite a lot about Caisteal Gruagaig, there’s almost none about Caisteal a’ Bhàird.  Bàrd is the Gaelic word for a poet and poets were highly regarded in Gaelic and other Celtic societies.  Nobody knows who the bàrd was but there’s also a huge stone just a few metres away from the caisteal which is called Clach a’ Bhàird (the Bàrd’s stone).

One thing’s for sure – these people knew how to pick their locations.  This fort sits on the top of some cliffs above Loch Long and has a fantastic view over Loch Alsh down to the Skye Bridge (not there when the fort was built admittedly) and across to the Cuillins on the Isle of Skye.

For information on archaeological sites in Scotland, the Canmore website is a great resource.  You’ll find it here.  Other websites with information are Historic Environment Scotland and Am Baile- Highland History and Culture, the Highland online archive of images.