Dunvegan Castle

Dunvegan Castle

Walled Garden Dunvegan Castle

Walled Garden Dunvegan Castle


Dunvegan Castle is a castle a mile and a half to the north of Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye, situated off the West coast of Scotland. It is the seat of the MacLeod of MacLeod, chief of the Clan MacLeod. Dunvegan Castle is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland and has been the stronghold of the chiefs of the clan for more than 800 years. Dunvegan Castle occupies the summit of a rock which projects on to the eastern shore of an inlet and some 30 ft higher than the area around it and is 175 ft long and 110 ft wide. It stands in a covered bay that faces North along the east side of the Inlet. Until recent centuries the sea surrounded this rock, but due to years of land infilling this is no longer the case. "There seems little doubt that the rock was the site of a dun of some island chief at an early date. The name is said to mean 'Began's Dun'. All traces of any prehistoric structure seem to have been swept away for the medieval works. On the landward side, the castle is isolated by a ditch, partly natural and partly artificial, about 60 feet in width and 18 feet in present depth. In the 13th century, after the annexation of the Western Isles by Alexander III in 1266, the summit of the rock was enclosed with a certain wall with an arched entrance, the seagate, from which steps led up to the platform area, the only entrance to the castle till 1748.


The progenitor of the Clan was Leod, who gained possession of much of Skye, including the Cuillins, Harris and Lewis in the mid 13th century. Later tradition claimed that he was descended from the Norse Kings of Man. Dunvegan was acquired by marriage to the MacRailt heiress and became the principle seat of the Clan where the Castle was built and developed. The Clan takes its name from Leod, whose sons were called MacLeod, mac being Gaelic for son. Leod had two sons, or grandsons, Tormod, English Norman, and Torcall, English Torquil, who became progenitors of the MacLeods of Harris and Dunvegan and the MacLeods of the Lewes. In the 14th century the MacLeods of Harris acquired Glenelg on the mainland at the strategic crossing point to Skye. Malcolm MacLeod, 3rd Chief of Harris, built the keep at Dunvegan. The MacLeods of the Lewes acquired Gairloch and Assynt on the mainland and the Isle of Raasay. Both MacLeod Clans supported the MacDonald Lord of the Isles, semi independent kings on the west coast. In Skye land was lost to the MacDonalds. After the forfeiture of the Lordship of the Isle, in 1493, the MacLeods and MacDonalds began feuding. At this difficult time Alexander MacLeod, 8th Chief of Harris, known as Alasdair Crotach, kept the clan lands together and built himself a fine tomb in St Clement's Church, Rodel, Harris.


The MacCrimmons, hereditary pipers at Dunvegan, became pre-eminent pipers and people were sent from all over Scotland to be perfected as pipers. The MacCrimmons had a piping college at Boreraig, where a cairn now commemorates the family. In the late 16th century Sir Rory Mor MacLeod, 15th Chief of Dunvegan, fought in Ireland against the English, and brought home a beautiful drinking cup. He rebuilt a great hall at Dunvegan. Sir Rory brought to an end the feud with the MacDonalds of Sleat. Donald Mor MacCrimmon wrote the pipe tune MacLeod's Salute for the occasion. At the same time, family feuding between the children of Roderick MacLeod, 10th Chief of the Lewes, led to the island being lost first to the Fife Adventurers and then to the MacKenzies of Kintail, who, with their usual guile and force, also acquired Assynt and Gairloch on the mainland. The line of the Chiefs of the MacLeods of the Lewes died out and remained represented only by the MacLeods of Raasay, opposite Skye. In the Civil War, in the 17th century, the MacLeods of Harris supported King Charles and lost 1,000 men at the battle of Worcester, in 1651. John MacLeod, 18th Chief of Dunvegan, known as Iain Breac, extended the castle and was the last chief to live there permanently in full Gaelic splendour, with bards, pipers and genealogists. He died in 1693.


Norman MacLeod of MacLeod, 22nd Chief of Dunvegan, became chief as a baby in 1706 and died in 1772. During his life the customs, laws and manners of the Highlands changed out of all recognition. He lived only occasionally at Dunvegan and pursued a political career, being M.P. for Inverness-shire from 1741 to 1756. During the Jacobite Rising of 1745, though Bonnie Prince Charlie had some hopes that Norman MacLeod would join him, infact the chief raised 700 men to fight for King George and the Hanovarian cause. At the skirmish at Inverurie, in December 1745, though the chief behaved gallantly, his men ran back to Elgin. The Chief\'s piper, Malcolm MacCrimmon was made prisoner. In February 1746 Norman MacLeod, accompanying Lord Loudoun and his troops, was routed at Moy, south of Inverness, where the Prince had been staying. Donald MacCrimmon, the Harris piper, was killed and his brother wrote the lament Cha Til MacCrimmon. The MacLeods of Raasay, however, joined Bonnie Prince Charlie and fought at the battle of Culloden in April 1746 but, after the battle, Raasay House was burned and the island was ravaged from end to end. Norman MacLeod of MacLeod, 22nd Chief, died at St Andrews in 1772, leaving huge debts. He was succeeded by his grandson, Norman MacLeod of MacLeod, 23rd Chief, who became a soldier. He was captured entering Boston Harbour in 1776 but later went to India where he raised the 2nd Battalion The Black Watch, later 73rd Regiment, and became a major general. He amassed a fortune but spent much of it attempting to get elected to Parliament and in restoring the keep at Dunvegan Castle. Norman MacLeod of MacLeod, 23rd Chief, died suddenly in 1801, and was succeeded by his son John Norman MacLeod of MacLeod, 24th Chief, who carried out further improvements to the Castle and added the entrance from the east. He sold Glenelg for a staggering £100,000 but cleared large areas of Bracadale to make way for sheep. He failed to be elected M.P. for Inverness-shire but amassed more debts and he entailed the estate. He also died suddenly, in 1835, going to vote at his own election. James Macleod, 12th of Raasay, created a magnificent mansion on the Isle of Raasay, but his son John Macleod, 13th of Raasay, was forced to sell the island in 1843. He emigrated to South Australia and was eventually succeeded by his nephew, Loudoun Hector Macleod, 16th of Raasay, who had been born on Tasmania.


Norman MacLeod of MacLeod 24th Chief, succeeded his father and remodelled the Castle extensively, adding the pepper-pot towers on the corners. During the potato famine of the late 1840s he remained in Skye and fed more than 8,000 people on his estates. The effort crippled him, financially, and he was forced to hand over the estate to trustees. He went south to London and took employment at the Victoria and Albert Museum. The castle was let for summer visitors. Norman MacLeod of MacLeod left three sons and died in 1895. Norman Magnus MacLeod of MacLeod, 26th Chief, entered the Army and served in India. On the outbreak of the Zulu War, in 1878, he was appointed Political Agent on the Transvaal border and led a Swazi army in the defeat of the Pedis. The entail of the Estate stipulated that the Castle would pass only to a male, and failing the male line, to the daughter of the last surviving son. Ian Breac MacLeod, the only male heir and son of Canon Roderick, Norman Magnus' youngest brother, had been killed in 1915. Norman Magnus died in 1929 and was succeeded by his brother, Reginald. Sir Reginald MacLeod of MacLeod, 27th Chief, led a distinguished public service and business career in London and Edinburgh. He modernised the Castle by bringing electricity, heating and plumbing to the rooms. He was the first President of the Clan MacLeod Society. When his younger brother, Canon Roderick, died in March 1934, Sir Reginald's eldest daughter, Flora, became his heir.


Dame Flora MacLeod of MacLeod was born, in 1878, at 11 Downing Street, London, the home of her grandfather, Lord Northcote, Chancellor of the Exchequer. In 1901 she married Hubert Walter, of the Times, and had two daughters, Alice and Joan. When her father became Chief, Flora was elected President of the Clan MacLeod Society. Always active in politics, she went to live with her father in Skye and became a County Councillor. In 1935 the Clan MacLeod Magazine was first published. On the death of her father, Sir Reginald, in August 1835, Flora inherited Dunvegan Castle and the MacLeod estate. She was granted arms by Lord Lyon King of Arms and was recognised as Chief of the Clan by the Clan MacLeod Society. During the Second World War she met and entertained many overseas MacLeodsand from 1947 travelled widely around the world, establishing Clan MacLeod Societies in the USA, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Flora MacLeod was honoured with a D.B.E. for her work. In 1956 Dame Flora instituted the first Clan MacLeod Parliament on the occasion of the coming of age of her grandson and heir, John MacLeod, the second son of Joan Walter and Robert Wolrige-Gordon. Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip visited Dunvegan Castle that day. Dame Flora died in her 98th year in 1976.


The Fairy Flag (Scottish Gaelic: Am Bratach Sìth) is an heirloom of the chiefs of Clan MacLeod. It is held in Dunvegan Castle along with other notable heirlooms, such as the Dunvegan Cup and Sir Rory Mor's Horn. The Fairy Flag is known for the numerous traditions of fairies, and magical properties associated with it. The flag is made of silk, is yellow or brown in colour, and measures about 18 inches (46 cm) squared. It has been examined numerous times in the last two centuries, and its condition has somewhat deteriorated. It is ripped and tattered, and is considered to be extremely fragile. The flag is covered in small red "elf dots". In the early part of the 19th century, the flag was also marked with small crosses, but these have since disappeared. The silk of the flag has been stated to have originated in the Far East, and was therefore extremely precious, which led some to believe that the flag may have been an important relic of some sort. Others have attempted to associate the flag with the Crusades or even a raven banner, which was said to have been used by various Viking leaders in the British Isles.


There are numerous traditions and stories associated with the flag, most of which deal with its magical properties and mysterious origins. The flag is said to have originated as: a gift from the fairies to an infant chieftain; a gift to a chief from a departing fairy-lover; a reward for defeating an evil spirit. The various powers attributed to the Fairy Flag include: the ability to multiply a clan's military forces; the ability to save the lives of certain clanfolk; the ability to cure a plague on cattle; the ability to increase the chances of fertility; and the ability to bring herring into the loch at Dunvegan. Some traditions relate that if the flag were to be unfurled and waved more than three times, it would either vanish, or lose its powers forever. Clan tradition, preserved in the early 19th century, tells how the Fairy Flag was entrusted to a family of hereditary standard bearers. Only the eldest male of this family was ever allowed to unfurl the flag; the first such hereditary standard bearer was given the honour of being buried inside the tomb of the chiefs, on the sacred isle of Iona. Tradition states that the flag was unfurled at several clan battles in the 15th and 16th centuries; the flag's magical powers are said to have won at least one of them. Another 19th century tradition linked the flag to a prophecy which foretold the downfall of Clan MacLeod; but it also prophesied that, in the "far distant future", the clan would regain its power and raise its honour higher than ever before. In the mid-20th century, the Fairy Flag was said to have extinguished a fire at Dunvegan Castle, and to have given luck to servicemen flying bombing missions in the Second World War.


In 1772, Thomas Pennant made a tour of the Hebrides and later published an account of his travels. One of the things Pennant noted while visiting the Isle of Skye, was the Fairy Flag. According to Pennant, the flag was named "Braolauch shi", and was given to the MacLeods by Titania the "Ben-shi", wife of Oberon, king of the fairies. Titania blessed the flag with powers which would manifest when the flag was unfurled three times. On the third time, the flag and flag-bearer would be carried off by an invisible being, never to be seen again. The family of "Clan y Faitter" had the task of bearing the flag, and in return for their services, they possessed free lands in Bracadale. Pennant related how the flag had already been produced three times. The first occasion was in an unequal battle between the MacLeods and the Macdonalds of Clanranald. On the unfurling of the flag, the MacLeod forces were multiplied by ten. The second time the flag was unfurled to preserve the life of the lady of the clan, and thus saved the clan's heir. Pennant then declared that the flag was unfurled a third time to save his own life. He stated that the flag was by then so tattered that Titania did not seem to think it worth taking back. Pennant also noted the belief of the MacLeod's Norse ancestry and the magical raven banners said to have been used by the Vikings in the British Isles.


Much of the traditional history of the Fairy Flag is preserved in manuscript form. In the early part of the 20th century, Fred T. MacLeod noted one manuscript written around 1800, which he considered to be the most detailed description of the flag. Another source of the flag's traditional history is the Bannatyne manuscript, which documents the traditional history of Clan MacLeod. It dates to the 1830s, however, it is thought to have been based upon earlier traditions. The c.1800 manuscript stated that both the honour and the very existence of Clan MacLeod was thought to have depended upon the preservation of the Fairy Flag. Only the "highest and purest blood of the race" and the most renowned heroes, were selected to guard the flag when it was displayed. These twelve men, with a sword in hand, would stand just behind the chief who was always put in front. One family produced the hereditary keepers of the flag; and of this family, only the eldest living male could unfurl the flag. This family was called "Clan Tormad Vic Vurichie" ("the children of Tormod, son of Murchadh"), and was descended from Sìol Torcaill. The 20th century Hebridean author Alasdair Alpin MacGregor, when writing of the traditions of the flag, stated that the flag's bearers held lands on Skye near Bracadale for their services to the chiefs of Clan MacLeod. The first of the flag bearers from this family was buried within the same grave as the chief of the clan, on the island of Iona. The second, and last bearer, was buried at St Clements Church, in Rodel, on the island of Harris. This man's remains were covered by a magnificent monument; the stone coffin in which his body was placed, was six feet deep. A moveable iron grate rested about two feet from the lid, and the man's body rested upon the grate. The man's male descendants were also deposited within this coffin. This meant that when a newly deceased was placed within, the bones and dust of the previous occupant were sifted through the grate into the coffin below. The writer of the manuscript stated that in the time of his own father, the last male of this family was interred this way. The tomb was then sealed by this man's daughter. The c.1800 manuscript also noted that this family, prior to its extinction, became miserably poor.


The Bannatyne manuscript states that the flag was unfurled at the Battle of Bloody Bay in 1480. The manuscript related that during the battle, the clan's chief, William Dubh (historically lived c.1415–1480), was slain, and in consequence his clan began to lose heart. A priest then ordered the flag's bearer, Murcha Breac, to unfurl the Fairy Flag to rally the clan. Up until this point, the MacLeods of Harris and Dunvegan were on the opposing side of their kinsmen, the MacLeods of Lewis. However, once the MacLeods of Lewis noticed that the flag had been unfurled, they switched sides to join forces with their kinsmen. Unfortunately for both MacLeod clans, the outcome of the battle had already been determined and they were on the losing side. Among the vast numbers of MacLeods slain were Murcha Breac and the twelve guardians of the flag. William Dubh is buried on the island of Iona with his predecessors, and the body of Murcha Breac is placed within the same tomb. The manuscript states that this was the greatest honour which could be bestowed upon his remains. R.C. MacLeod suggested that the MacLeod effigy within Iona Abbey may mark the burial of the first chiefs of the clan, as well as William Dubh, and the mentioned standard bearer. William Dubh is thought to have been the last MacLeod chief buried on Iona; his son, Alasdair Crotach (1450–1547), was buried in St Clements Church, on Harris.


According to the Bannatyne manuscript, the Fairy Flag was also unfurled during the Battle of Glendale, which the manuscript states to have been fought in about 1490. At one point during this conflict, both the MacLeods of Harris and Dunvegan, and the MacLeods of Lewis were on the verge of giving way to the invading MacDonalds. Just at this moment, the mother of Alasdair Crotach, chief of the MacLeods of Harris and Dunvegan, ordered the Fairy Flag to be unfurled. The result was that both MacLeod clans renewed the battle with redoubled fury and, despite immense losses, eventually won the battle. Among the MacLeod dead was the flag bearer, Paul Dubh, who carried the Fairy Flag throughout the conflict until his death. The Bannatyne manuscript relates that Paul Dubh was honourably buried in a deep stone coffin, with a metal grate — much like the account given in the c.1800 manuscript. The writer of the Bannatyne manuscript states that each successive flag bearer was buried within this tomb, and that the writer's own grandfather saw the old ceremony performed for the last time, in the 18th century. The Bannatyne manuscript states that the tomb is located in the north-east corner of the chancel at St Clements Church, in Rodel. R.C. MacLeod noted that there was no trace of such a coffin or tomb; although, he suggested that it could have been buried or possibly built within a wall.


The c.1800 manuscript presented a legend of the Fairy Flag's origin. This legend concerned a MacLeod who went on a Crusade to the Holy Land. On his journey homewards, the MacLeod attempted to cross a dangerous mountainous pass on the borders of Palestine. Here, he met a hermit who gave him food and shelter. The hermit warned the MacLeod of a dangerous spirit that guards the pass, which had never failed to destroy a true believer. However, with the aid of a piece of the True Cross and certain directions from the hermit, the MacLeod is able to defeat the "She Devil"—who is called "Nein a Phaipen, or Daughter of Thunder". In reward for conveying some secrets that the spirit wanted some friends to know, she revealed to the MacLeod "the future destinies of the Clan". The writer of the c.1800 manuscript stated that this knowledge was said to have been held by this man's family until its extinction. The spirit then gave the Macleod her girdle, telling him to convert it into a banner. The MacLeod then used his spear as a flag pole. The writer of the c.1800 manuscript stated that the spear was by then since lost, and that the secrets conveyed to MacLeod were lost forever. The writer also gave his own opinion on the origin of the Fairy Flag. The writer stated that the flag most probably originated as a banner used in the Holy Land, and that it was conveyed back home by the character portrayed in the legend.


The c.1800 manuscript related that the spell of the banner meant that it would vanish when it was displayed for the third time. The final unfurling of the banner would either gain the clan a complete victory over their enemies or meant that the clan was to suffer total extinction. The writer of the c.1800 manuscript went on to state that the temptation for unfurling the flag for the third and final time was always resisted; and that at the time of his writing, there was not much chance of it ever being unfurled again, since it was in such a reduced state. The writer stated that of the few shreds that remained, he himself possessed a fragment. The c.1800 manuscript also stated that the flag was once held in an iron chest, within Dunvegan Castle. The key to the chest was then always in the possession of the hereditary flag bearers. The c.1800 manuscript related how, on the death of the MacLeod chief Tormod, son of lain Breac, the succession to the chiefship nearly fell to the family of the MacLeods of Talisker. The young widow of the last chief refused to give up Dunvegan Castle to the next heir, knowing herself to be pregnant (although she had only been married six weeks previous to her widowhood). In time, she gave birth to Tormod, the next chief. The c.1800 manuscript stated that at around this time, a man who wished to curry favour with the expectant heir (MacLeod of Talisker) attempted to steal the flag. Even though the Fairy Flag was later found, both the staff and iron chest were never seen again. Historically, the old chief, Tormod (son of Iain Breac), died in the autumn of 1706, and his son, Tormod, was born in July 1705.


The Dunvegan Cup is a wooden ceremonial cup, decorated with silver plates, which dates to 1493. It was created at the request of Caitríona, wife of John Maguire, lord of Fermanagh. The cup is an heirloom of the Macleods of Dunvegan, and is held at their seat of Dunvegan Castle. There are several traditions attributed to the cup, describing how the Macleods obtained it. However, it is thought more likely that the cup passed into the possession of the clan sometime in the 16th or 17th centuries. The Dunvegan Cup is square shaped at the top and rounded at the bottom, and stands on four legs. Sir Walter Scott examined the cup and, in 1815 in The Lord of the Isles, gave its measurements as: 10.5 inches (27 cm) in height on the outside, 9.75 inches (24.8 cm) in depth in the inside, 4.5 inches (11 cm) the extreme breadth over the mouth. In around the 1850s, Alexander Nesbitt gave similar measurements, and added that it was 5.5 inches (14 cm) at the broadest point of the cup, which is somewhat below the middle.


Sir Walter Scott's rendering of the cup's inscription made him believe that it was a Hebridean drinking cup, dating from the year 993. Scott also declared that Macleod tradition had it that the cup had once belonged to "Neil Ghlune-Dhu, or Black-knee. But who this Neil was, no one pretends to say". In about 1851, Sir Daniel Wilson documented the cup in his The Archaeology and Prehistoric Annals of Scotland, following along the same lines as Scott. Wilson made only a few minor edits to Scott's rendering of the Latin inscription, but at the time he had not seen the cup. After certain correspondence and the aid of William Forbes Skene, Wilson was able to examine the cup in person and later amended his analysis. His subsequent rendering of the inscription was vastly different from Scott's, and Wilson concluded that the cup was a product of Irish craftsmanship, rather than of Scottish origin. Wilson's new rendering of the inscription had the cup belonging to a "Katharina nig Ryneill"; and he considered that the John, son of the Maguire, who was mentioned in the transcription, was the same as the one mentioned in the Annals of the Four Masters in the year 1484. Wilson stated that this John died in 1511, and that his wife was unknown; but that a Catherine, who was the daughter of MacRannal, was married to a Maguire, and her death is mentioned in the year 1490. At about the same time, Eugene O'Curry, of the Brehon Law Commission, examined the cup and transcribed the inscription. Alexander Nesbitt noted O'Curry's transcription and pointed out that the last part of the inscription was from the fifteenth verse of the 145th Psalm. O'Curry's rendering of the woman's name was "Katherina ingen ui Neill"—making her an O'Neill, rather than a MacRannal. Nesbitt noted that John Maguire is recorded several times in the Annals of the Four Masters; and that he became one of the chiefs of the Maguires in 1484. Nesbitt stated that John Maguire died in 1503; and that he could not find the Katharine O'Neill, within the annals.


Fred.T. MacLeod stated that it is impossible to determine exactly when the cup passed into the hands of the Macleods of Dunvegan. However, he thought it likely that the cup entered into the possession of the clan in the 16th or 17th centuries. During this era several Macleod chiefs took part in warring in Ireland. He considered it likely that the cup may have been a prize of war, or a gift for services. Later, R.C. MacLeod stated that a Lady O'Neill claimed in 1925 letter, that an O'Neill tradition told how the cup passed into the hands of the Macleods. The tradition runs that one of their chiefs was a close friend of a Macleod chief. When this O'Neill chief visited his friend at Dunvegan he took with him the cup and gave it to Macleod as a present. Historically, during the 1590s, a Macleod chief lent support to certain Irish forces rebelling against those supporting Elizabeth I in Ireland. In the summer of 1594, Dòmhnall Gorm Mòr MacDhòmhnaill (chief of the Macdonalds of Sleat) and Ruairidh Mòr MacLeòid (chief of the Macleods of Harris and Dunvegan) both sailed for Ulster at the head of 500 men each. Their force was intended to support Aodh Ruadh Ó Domhnaill who was besieging Enniskillen Castle. After landing at Loch Foyle, the Hebridean chieftains were entertained by Ó Domhnaill for three days and three nights. MacDhòmhnaill then returned to the Hebrides and left his men behind in Ireland, however, MacLeòid stayed and was present at the fall of Enniskillen Castle in October 1594. He was still in Ireland the next year at the head of 600 Hebrideans, alongside Ó Domhnaill at the siege of MacCostello's Castle, in County Mayo. In light of Ruairidh Mòr's participation in activities in Ireland at the end of the 16th century, R.C. MacLeod concluded that the cup passed into the hands of the Macleods through the O'Neill chieftain Shane Ó Neill; and that the two chieftains were the friends mentioned in the traditional tale related by Lady O'Neill in 1925.


Sir Rory Mor's Horn is a drinking horn, made of an ox's horn, tipped in silver, kept at Dunvegan Castle. The rim around the mouth of the horn is thick and on this there are imprinted seven medallions. On three of the medallions are beasts, on three others are patterns, and on the seventh and joining medallion is both a pattern and a beast. R.C. MacLeod considered the work to be Norse, and declared the horn to date from the 10th century. The horn holds about 2 imperial pints. Clan MacLeod custom is that each successive chief, on achieving the age of manhood, should drain, in one draught, the horn which is filled to the brim. The horn is named after Sir Ruairidh Mòr MacLeòid (c.1562–1626), the 15th chief of Clan MacLeod. There have been differing opinions concerning the age of the horn. In 1927, R.C. MacLeod declared his opinion that it dated from the 10th century. Professor Brögge, from Oslo, thought it was of Norse origin, dating from the 10th century. Professor Callander, from Edinburgh, considered it to be not unfamiliar with other objects of Scotland, and dated it to the 16th century. In 1906, R.C. MacLeod noted that the greater proportion of the horn had been filled in, and that it was "but a moderate drink the present day Chiefs have to quaff. With what contempt, what might scorn would these stern warriors of the past look upon the puny performances of their descendants". In 1956, Elizabeth II and Prince Philip visited Dunvegan Castle. During this occasion, John, maternal grandson of the clan chief Dame Flora MacLeod of MacLeod, was challenged to quaff the horn which was filled with claret—which he did in one minute 57 seconds.


R.C. MacLeod noted that the Bannatyne manuscript, from 1830, contains a tradition concerning the origin of the horn. This tradition runs that one night, Malcolm (1296–1370), the 3rd chief of Clan Macleod, returned from a tryst with the Campbell wife of the chief of the Frasers who possessed the lands of Glenelg. That night Malcolm encountered a bull which lived in the woods of Glenelg and which had terrorised the local inhabitants. Armed with only a dirk, Malcolm slew the bull and broke off one of its horns. Malcolm carried off the horn to Dunvegan, as a trophy of his prowess. For this act of valour, Fraser's wife forsook her husband for Malcolm, thus starting a lengthy clan feud between the Frasers and the MacLeods. The tradition runs that ever since Malcolm's slaying the bull the horn has remained at Dunvegan; and was converted into a drinking horn, which each chief must drain to the bottom in one draught. The manuscript continues that ever since Malcolm defeated the bull, the family of MacLeod have used a bull's head as their heraldic crest, with the motto "hold fast". R.C. MacLeod noted another tradition concerning a bull and motto of the clan's chiefs (though not the drinking horn). The tradition runs that one day Tormod (c.1509–1584), 12th chief of Clan MacLeod was being entertained by Argyll, chief of Clan Campbell, at Inveraray Castle. During his visit, the MacLeod chief learned that one of his clansmen was a convicted criminal who had been condemned to be gored to death by a bull. The MacLeod chief appealed to Argyll, but the Campbell chief replied that it was too late and that nothing could save the MacLeod clansman. The MacLeod chief then sprang into the ring, armed with only his dirk, and attacked the bull. He grabbed hold of the bull's horns and cried out "hold fast!" and saved the clansman.


Dunvegan Castle's five acres of formal gardens began life in the 18th century. In stark contrast to the barren moorland and mountains that dominate Skye's landscape, the gardens are a hidden oasis featuring an eclectic mix of plants as you make your way through woodland glades, past shimmering pools fed by waterfalls and streams flowing down to the sea. Having experienced the water garden with its ornate bridges and islands replete with a rich and colourful plant variety, you can take a stroll through the elegant surroundings of the formal round garden featuring a box-wood parterre as its centrepiece. In what was formerly the castle's vegetable garden, the walled garden now features a diverse range of plants and flowers that compliment the attractive features including a water lily pond, Glass House, Memorial Gazebo and a larch pergola. A considerable amount of replanting and landscaping has taken place over the last thirty years to restore the gardens to their former glory and provide a legacy which future generations can enjoy.


Visitors can enjoy tours of an extraordinary castle and Highland estate steeped in history and clan legend, delight in the beauty of its formal gardens, take a boat trip onto Loch Dunvegan to see the seal colony, charter one of its traditional clinker boats for a fishing trip or Loch cruise, stay in one of its charming holiday cottages, enjoy an appetising meal at the MacLeods Table Cafe or browse in one of its four shops offering a wide choice. There is full wheelchair acces to the Castle Gardens and the main entrance. The castle's ground floor and gun room are accessible with assistance - there are 6 steps.The first floor has more limited acces as there are 12 steps to reach it. Where part of the castle is inaccessible to a visitor the an armchair visit is possible. One of the castle guides will arrangle for the castle video to be viewed on a portable electronic device. A hearing aid Induction Loop is available in the video room. Information cards in different languages are available in the State Rooms. Assistance dogs are welcomed in all public areas of the castle. A drinking bowl is located by the MacLeod Tables Cafe. The visually impaired visitor should contact a castle guide so that their visit may be enhanced. Guided tours depart at regular intervals from the main hall.


Location : MacLeod Estate, Dunvegan House, Dunvegan, Isle of Skye IV55 8WF

Transport: Kyle of Lochalsh (ScotRail) then CityLink bus to Portree. Bus Routes : 56 from Portree stops close by

Opening Times : 1st April to 15th October - Daily 10:00 to 17:30

Opening Times : 16th October to 31st March - Weekends, Group Tours by appointment only

Tickets Castle + Gardens: Adults £13.00;  Seniors/Students/Groups (10+) £10.00;  Children (5 - 15) £9.00

Tickets Gardens Only: Adults £11.00;  Seniors/Students/Groups (10+) £8.00;  Children (5 - 15) £7.00

Tickets Seal Trips: Adults £7.50;  Seniors/Students/Groups (10+) £6.50;  Children (5 - 15) £5.50

Tickets Loch Cruises (1 hour): Adults (min.2) £18.00;  Children (5 - 15) £13.00

Tickets Fishing Trips (2 hour): Adults £45.00;    Children (5 - 15) £35.00

Tel. : 01470 521206