A Travel Guide:
Eilean Donan Castle (pronounced EE-Lean-DEW-Nun from the best I could gather), like Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany, is one of the most photographed castles in the world. Being well-placed at the confluence of Loch Duich, Loch Alsh, and Loch Long makes it a stunningly picturesque, fairy tale inspiring location. And as with many prominent and historically significant castles in Scotland, it is placed in a very strategic position. The castle and it's location have also inspired several film makers to shoot their movies here.
Getting To Eilean Donan Castle
Location: Dornie, Kyle of Lochalsh, UK
If you are heading to Isle of Skye on A87, then there is no way you can miss this castle. In fact, you may see a traffic queue waiting to get into the parking lot. It was Easter weekend and I was lucky a space opened as I arrived. A parking attendant helped get me where I needed to go. It is a 1 hour and 45 minute drive from Inverness down the A82 to A887 to A87. From Glasgow, the drive will be under 4 hours. Ideally, While you're heading this way, plan a couple of days on Isle of Skye - you won't regret it!
The Eilean Donan Castle Experience
This privately owned castle is open to the public. However, you won't be able to use your Historic Scotland Explorer Pass here. Instead, the admission for adults is £10. The first place you'll arrive, past the parking lot, is the Visitor's Center that was added in 1998. Here you will have public services, a cafe to grab a bite to eat, a fully stocked gift shop, and the ticket buying window.
When you start across the stone footbridge, if you're a fan of the movie Highlander (the 1986 version), you will be instantly transported into the opening village scene from the movie (sans the village). You'll also wonder how they pulled all of that off. More on that in a moment.
As you reach the castle, you'll be given a set of headphones so you can do an audio tour at your leisure. The woman who handed me the headset was wonderful to talk to and she helped me as much as she could on information about two of my favorite movies that were filmed here. As I understand it, people still live here so you can't get full access, but there are plenty of rooms and history waiting for you to explore. Plan a good hour, at least, to see the best parts of the castle.
History of Eilean Donan Castle
The castle sits out on a little island, and thus it's name Eilean Donan means "Island of Donnán." Donnán, a Celtic saint - martyred in 617, was said to have established a church on this island.
The original castle took up most of the island and featured a large curtain wall. One can only imagine how imposing and impenetrable that must have looked. Over the centuries, it was mostly controlled by the Clan Mackenzie and Clan Macrae with fights and skirmishes breaking out through the years, including with the Clan MacDonald Lord of the Isles (of Urquhart Castle fame) who were doing their best to regain their power and holdings.
It was during the Jacobite Rising in the early 18th Century that the Mackenzie and Macrae clans sided with the Jacobites. There were promises of help from the Spanish and the Highlanders but only a small group of Spaniards arrived. Three British warships anchored within range of Eilean Donan. The Spanish fired upon the ships on May 10, 1719. This lead to a 2 day barrage of fire from the British, totally demolishing the castle.
200 years after the bombing, Lt. Col. John MacRae-Gilstrap set to rebuilding the castle and in 1932 he completed the restoration. It wasn't easy for him to have this opportunity though. His leadership of the Clan Macrae took some time to prove. The castle is now under the care of the Conchra Charitable Trust.
Highlander Movie Location
Several movies have been filmed here starting with the 1948 David Niven film Bonnie Prince Charlie and recently in Elizabeth: The Golden Age with Cate Blanchett. But it was 1986's Highlander staring Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery that prominently showcased the castle's amazing location.
The Visitor's Center was built years after the filming and the parking lot was covered in tons and tons of dirt to pull off the village scenes. There are several shot (as you'll see in the video above) where the footbridge is the focus of the scene. As you tour the castle, there is a room where they have hanging some pictures taken during the shooting of this film.
James Bond: The World Is Not Enough
There wasn't much of Eilean Donan shot in this film, but enough to be the catalyst for my visit. Watch for in within the first 10 seconds of this video. That is it! It simply doubles for MI6's Scottish Headquarters' exterior. The interior scenes were filmed most likely at Pinewood Studio's outside of London - and while I really looked forward to seeing that interior, the actual dining area has it's own beauty and charms. Unfortunately, no photography was allowed inside the castle.
Side note: Many people give The World Is Not Enough a pretty low rating versus other Bond films. I disagree. It has a great theme song, the locations are well chosen (Spain - Istanbul - Scotland - Azerbaijan, etc), there is plenty of action, and Sophie Marceau was a great Bond-girl turned villain. The Christmas Jones character is usually the reason people give for not liking the film. She is definitely out of place.
Planning Your Visit
Prepare to pay your £10. You won't regret it. Just walking the footbridge was enough to get me in the spirit of the place. Make sure to drive across the nearby bridge to get some shots from the All The Goodness Coffee & Bakeshop parking lot. There are a couple of spots to grab a bite if you're in the area and this would be a marvelous place to find a B&B for the night before heading into the Isle of Skye (as I am about to do).