Balmoral and Eilean Donan Castles Review
Balmoral Castle - Aberdeenshire, UK
The Queen's Hunting Lodge
Balmoral Castle is not really a castle as far as a fortress is concerned. It is a hunting lodge. It is one of the British Monarch, Queen Elizabeth's, private residences. It is located in the Scottish Highlands near Aberdeen. The Castle and its 50,000 acre estate were purchased in 1848 by Queen Victoria.
The royal family has been very good stewards of the property during their ownership. The original building structure was too small for Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert. The construction of the current house and surrounding buildings were completed by 1856, and the old castle house was demolished.
Prince Albert hunted in the local woods while Queen Victoria took long walks around the estate. Her walks sometimes took up to four hours. They continued to make improvements to the estate. After the death of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria continued to improve the property by adding statues and monuments . The Queen was known to spent more time at Balmoral Castle, both during the spring and fall seasons, after the death of her husband.
Balmoral Castle on a Cloudy Day
The Castle Today
Today, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip own the Castle. The current Royal family normally vacations there in August and September.
Visitors to Balmoral can tour the estate between the months of April through the end of July. We toured the castle's open areas during the month of July. On this visit we toured the Ballroom where a short family film that showed Princes William and Harry as very young children visiting with their grandmother, the Queen. There are several of the Royal family's artifacts on display as well.
We also toured the gardens and grounds. We enjoyed visiting the vegetable garden and the sunken flower garden. The sunken flower garden's architecture and design was very unique to my American eyes.
The coach house surprised us with several antique carts and carriages on display in addition to the Balmoral Tartans. The estate also offers a large gift shop and cafe. We found all of the attendants and staff very pleasant and helpful.
In all, we found Balmoral to be very well cared after and grand for a castle. Its architecture provides a very unique design and building to look at, especially the large clock on the outside of the tower. We enjoyed walking around the grounds, looking at the various gardens and the antiques and displays. While in the gift shop, we found DVDs with programs about Scotland and its history. Unfortunately, they were not in the correct media format for our American technology.
We would have also liked to explore more inside the castle, but we were only given access to the ballroom and its displays. That is probably the only regret that we had after visiting Balmoral.
Eilean Donan Castle
Eileen Donan Castle
The Eilean Donan Castle is located in the western Highlands, near a town named Dornie. It was built on the Island of Donnan.
It was named after a Celtic saint who was killed in 617 after establishing a church on the small island. The island itself is connected to the mainland by a narrow bridge.
This castle and bridge were made famous when they were used in filming the opening scenes of the 1986 movie film "Highlander".
Some More History:
The castle was built during the Thirteenth century and has lasted over five hundred years. It is located in a very strategic area on Loch Duich. At this position it provided protection against the Norse Celtic Viking invaders in its early history.
By the Thirteenth century, the castle was under control of the MacKenzie Clan. The Clan held the castle for almost a century before they finally lost control of it. In 1509, the MacKenzie Clan obtained a charter for Eilean Donan and the castle. Three years later, the MacRae Clan became the constables of the castle. The MacRae Clan had been the protectors for the MacKenzie Clan.
In 1719, the Spanish took control of the castle with a small contingency of about 300 soldiers. One month after they gained control, the British Royal Navy sent ships to take back Eilean Donan. They were able to send boats ashore and capture the Spanish soldiers and others in the castle. They then spent the following two days destroying the castle with their black powder cannons.
The castle lay in ruins until 1919 when John MacRae-Gilstrap began restoration of the castle and the new bridge.
This castle has been used in at least 13 films and is considered one of the most photographed in Scotland. Also displayed at the castle is a World War I field gun and memorial listing the names of all of the members of the MacRae Clan who died during that war.
In addition to exploring the small island and the bridge, we were entertained by the local attendant interpreters. These men and women, while dressed in period clothing, provided us with several historical events.
They provided us with a view of the lifestyle and living activities during the medieval times, and they were able to answer most questions concerning the local traditions and Clans involved in the local area.
We would highly recommend a tour of this castle to anyone who finds themselves in the western Highlands. After the tour you will find the town Kyle of Lochalsh a short drive away with some good restaurants, especially if you like the fish and chips with the fish fresh and local.
The Isle of Skye is only one bridge away from Kyle of Lochalsh. It is interesting to note that as we traveled across Scotland, it was in the Highlands where we noticed the road signs displaying the travel information in Gaelic first, English second.
July 2017 update:
We had the opportunity to stop by Eilean Donan castle on our second trip to Scotland. This time the tide was in and we had a nice contrast view of the castle as compared to our first trip when the tide was out.
We were en-route to the Isle of Skye for a few days, so we did not spend much time at the castle this time, but still highly recommend everyone to make a point to see and tour this castle when in the area.
Highlands Road Sign
Fun Fact: Fish and Chips consist of a nice large portion of fried white fish and the Scot version of steak fries. Also noted is that what we Americans call "Potato Chips", the Scots call "Crisps ".