Duntulm Castle, Isle of Skye
Duntulm, 24 miles North of Portree
The stronghold of the Island clan of MacDonald stands in a commanding position overlooking a natural harbour at the extreme northern end of Skye.
originally the site of an ancient Pictish fortress and Norse fort named 'Dun Dhaibhidh', David's Fort, after a Norse chief who resided here when Skye was ruled by the Kings of Norway. The stone rectangular tower dates from the 15th century, but a smaller tower was added in the 17th century, when the little fortress was at the height of its glory. Lavish hospitality could be enjoyed, and soil was imported from seven different countries to make the castle gardens fertile.
Situated upon a 50 feet high basalt rock, with castle walls 6 feet thick, Duntulm in its day was a strong fortress.
Access to the castle grounds its relatively easy with limited parking with consideration.
However, since our trip to the castle back in 2010, we found our return trip in 2015 that a fence has been erected round the castle ruins itself, due to its poor conditions, which is a real shame.
However, the best view of the castle is away from the castle on the adjoining headland.
~ Legends of Duntulm Castle ~
Several legends are attached to these atmospheric ruins. One is that the baby son of a clan chief was being dangled from a window by his nurse to see a passing ship, when she inadvertently dropped him. The chief was reported to have quite Duntulm immediately before any further misfortunes should fall on him. The nurse was thrown to her death after him and her ghostly cries are said to be heard outside the castle walls.
A different tale involves another chief and his heir, Hugh. The story goes that Hugh was keen to inherit sooner, rather than later, and so arranged for his kinsman's murder. In an act of appalling incompetence, Hugh misaddressed his letters, sending to the chief, not the invitation to dine, but instructions to the hired killer outlining how the foul deed was to be done. Hugh was arrested and incarcerated in Duntulm's vaults with salt beef and nothing to drink. It is said that many years after a skeleton was unearthed, its still clutching an empty water pitcher. He is said he tried to eat his own hands before he died. His thirst-mad screams are said to be still heard in the castle dungeons at night.
The bitter rivalry between the MacDonald's and the MacLeod's in claiming the land was decided by a boat race, the first to touch land wins. The MacDonald's won the race through the drastic action of severing a hand and throwing it from the boat to the shore, thus being the first to "touch" the land.
The ghost of Donald Gorm is said to be seen brawling with other ghostly miscreants in the courtyard. Occasionally, the weeping of Margaret (who was shunned by her husband after she lost an eye in an accident) can be heard.
It is said the MacDonald's abandoned the castle because of the ghosts.
~ History ~
1266 - Norse control is formally ended by the Treaty of Perth.
1469 - The MacDonalds are granted lands in the north of Skye.
1476 - John, Lord of the Isles, surrenders his powers to the Crown. His son and heir, Angus Og, is fiercely resentful of his loss of birth right and embarks on a futile attempt to recover his heritage from the King of Scotland.
1482 - Angus raids Skye and seized Duntulm, styling himself 'Lord of Trotternish' and later 'Master of the Isles and Lord of Trotternish'.
1490 - Angus dies and his lands and possessions are claimed by his uncle, Hugh of Sleat.
1495 - Although King James IV is prepared to confirm Hughes weak claim to the title, he is not prepared to grant the lands formally surrendered to the Crown.
1498 - The lands around Duntulm are given to their bitter rivals the MacLeod's of Lewis following the MacDonalds forfeiting their lands to the King. This act only increases the bitterness between the two rival clans as the Crown attempts to balance the power between them in order to exert royal control in the Isles.
1520 - The MacDonald's recover their lands by force from the MacLeod's and make Duntulm their principal seat.
1540 - James V anchors his fleet in the harbour below the castle and is mightily impressed with its strength and port.
1570's - The castle is abandoned by the MacDonalds for more comfortable accommodation at Dunscaith in Sleat.
1596 - The MacDonalds receive a six-year lease of the castle and its lands, from Whitsunday 1596 of the lands "presently possessed by him" which expires in 1601.
1613 - Sir Rory MacLeod lays claim to Duntulm and obtains a new charter.
1616 - In a bond executed at Edinburgh on 6th August, the MacDonalds name Duntulm castle as their principal seat.
1618 - The matter is finally settled amicably when the MacDonald's and MacLeod's resign the lands for which they each hold charters, into the kings hands and a new charter, dated 12th March is issued by James VI, requiring the MacDonald's to make financial compensation in lieu to Sir Rory MacLeod for his claims to the lands and of Duntulm castle and for its upkeep in good repair.
1715 - The MacDonalds support the Jacobite rebellion and forfeit their lands once more to the king.
1727 - Sir Alexander MacDonald formally receives a Crown Charter by which the whole of his lands are restored to him in a barony called the Barony of MacDonald, including the castle and lands of Duntulm.
1730 - The castle is abandoned for the last time.
1732 - Stone and other building material are removed over the next four years to be used in the building of Sir Alexander MacDonald's new house.
1745 - King George II of England speeds home from Europe to tackle the serious Jacobite invasion of the Young Pretender, Bonnie Prince Charlie. The situation becomes critical, but the tide of Charlie's southward march into England is finally turned, and George's younger brother, the Duke of Cumberland, earns his title of 'Butcher' following his success at the Battle of Culloden. All that stands between the Bonnie Prince and an uncertain fate at the hands of the Hanoverians are his scattered, demoralised and disorganised supporters in the Highlands. As he flees from hiding place to hiding place a plan is slowly put together to evacuate him to France from the Isle of Skye. Flora MacDonald is asked to help get the Prince safely to Skye. With the Prince disguised as a woman, Flora eventually gets him to Skye and then safe passage to France.