Scottish castles had a tendency of being blown up. If my time in Edinburgh, Stirling, Doune, Interlochy, Eilean Donan and Urquhart Castles has done anything, its reinforced this point. Some remain ruins to this day, others were rebuilt to support next generation clan objectives. All are tourist attractions today, but the day they were destroyed marked a world that was forever changed for the previous inhabitants.
Castles were symbols of the power and influence of the clan that lived there. Stick a castle on a chunk of lava rock and you can hold out against a siege for a long time. At least as long as you have water, food, ammunition and the will to ride it out. Stirling Castle could have held out indefinitely had their water supply not been compromised.
If a clan is only as safe as the strength of the castle they reside in, the opposite may be more true. Castles only survive history when there’s no reason to attack it. Diplomacy, political connection (being on the “right” side) and tactical value all play a role in a castle surviving.
The defeat of the Jacobites gave plenty of reason for the English and a united Scotland to persecute the clans that sided with Bonny Prince Charlie. The horrifying results to the clans on the losing side are well documented. The castles offer visual verification. Looking at Eilean Donan Castle now, it’s hard to imagine it being a pile of rubble like Inverlochy is, but it too was blown up to punish the Mackenzie Clan. It was eventually rebuilt by their ally the Macrae Clan and today is one of the most photographed castles in the world, playing host to hoards of tourists and many weddings. What might have been a violent end was just a dramatic pause in the life of this castle. This one is a must-see, and I’m grateful to the Macrae’s for opening it up for tours. If you go, be sure to drive up the hill on the opposite side of the road for an iconic shot of the castle.