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Duntulm Castle (Isle of Skye, Scotland)

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The ruins of Duntulm Castle are located on the north coast of Trotternish, on the Isle of Skye in Scotland.

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      01.03.2010 07:54
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      The ruins of a 14th century castle on the Isle of Skye

      When you are on the Isle of Skye you are never very far from a castle. These castles come in many different shapes and sizes. Dunvegan is the islands most famous and most visited castle but if castles are your thing and you want to avoid the ridiculous admission charges of Dunvegan then there are plenty more to choose from.

      Duntulm Castle stands on the rocky north coast of Skye on the western tip of the Trotternish peninsula. It was only a few miles from where I was staying in Uig and as it was clearly marked on the tourist map I thought that I ought to check it out.

      I visited on a sunny day in May 2009 and the first thing that struck me was its location. I know that by their definition as a defensive structure castles always occupy a prominent piece of land but the ruins of Duntulm Castle are quite literally perched on the edge of the rocks, dangling precariously above the sea. Unlike the majority of other castles Duntulm is not visible from afar. It is obvious straight away that this castle was constructed as a coastal defence to prevent attack from the sea rather than from land.

      Duntulm is a small village on the A855 coastal road that goes right around the Trotternish peninsula from Uig to Staffin. The castle lies just outside the village and is sign-posted from the main road. There is a small car parking area which is on the left hand side if you are approaching from Uig but if you are coming from the other direction then this is immediately after a sharp bend and can be easily missed. If the car parking area is full as it was when I visited then parking is possible on the grass verges at the side of the road as well.

      From the car park a narrow footpath leads through a small gate and this path twists and turns for about 200 metres before it reaches the castle. The castle is visible from the gate at the car park but unfortunately this path wouldn't be suitable for disabled visitors or the infirm and it runs quite close to the edge of the cliffs in places small children would also need to be supervised.

      If you are able to make the walk to the castle then you will be awarded with the most fantastic views. The castle itself is little more than a pile of ruins in places but the west and north walls are fairly well preserved and the basement is more or less intact, this gives a good impression of what it once must have looked like.

      There is no admission charge to visit this castle and it is accessible at all times. The castle was obviously quite small and from its shell we can see that it measured approximately 25 metres x 25 metres and stood 4.5 metres high. This was the original part of the structure that was constructed during the 14th and 15th centuries but a taller tower was added during the 17th century. This tower stood over 10 metres tall and was 5 metres wide, parts of it are still present.

      It is possible to walk right up to the ruins and even clamber over them but care must be taken not only to not damage the structure but also because some of the stones are loose and starting to crumble. Through the narrow slits in the walls it certainly looks like a long steep fall down into the sea. In fact according to local folklore this castle was the scene of a tragic accident in the 1730's when the young son of the Clan Chieftain who lived here fell to his death from one of the windows. The child was at the time in the care of a nursemaid who was punished by being put into a small boat and set adrift on the sea. Shortly after this incident the castle was abandoned and left to ruin. It was abandoned in favour of the nearby Armadale Castle.

      If you believe some of the tales that are associated with this castle then the MacDonald's abandoned it because there were so many ghosts. It is true that the castle did have a rather gruesome past - but don't they all? Apart from the hysterical screams of the nursemaid that many visitors still hear today you might also encounter the sobbing sound of the ghost of Margaret. She was the wife of one of the Clansmen who shunned her after she lost an eye in an accident. Perhaps the most horrific tale however is that of Hugh MacDonald who tried to steal land from his family. He was imprisoned in the basement and given no water to drink, just salted beef. It is said that he went stark raving mad before he died and even tried to eat one of his own hands. The ghost of Hugh MacDonald is apparently a rather frightening figure.

      According to a historical account of the castle that was written in the 17th century it is said that this castle stood on the site of a much older castle called Dun Dhabhidh (Dun David) but there have been no archaeological finds to support this claim.

      Duntulm translates as a fort on a green grassy headland (tulm) which is a rather apt description. Like all of the castles on Skye it was once a stronghold of the Clan Macdonald. When I visited it was a very clear day and you could just about see the hills of Lewis and Harris in the Outer Hebrides on the horizon. It's certainly the sort of place that you could sit and ponder about what life must have been like here all those centuries ago.

      Sadly this Castle is not currently in the hands of any trust although I understand that there are plans to preserve to. It is estimated that the immediate repairs would cost around £500,000 but considering that it currently receives over 40,000 visitors every summer even in the condition that it is in such a project might well be feasible. It certainly is a lovely castle with a charm all of its own. I enjoyed my visit and would not hesitate to recommend it to others.

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