Explore Dunstaffnage Castle at Loch Etive

Situated on a rocky outcrop overlooking Loch Etive in Argyll and Bute, Dunstaffnage Castle is one of Scotland’s oldest stone castles, dating back to the 13th century. The castle was built for Duncan MacDougall of the renowned Clan MacDougall, with Clan Campbell holding ownership since the 15th century. The hereditary Captain of Dunstaffnage no longer lives at the castle, which is mostly in ruins, but retains ownership of the gatehouse, with the remainder of the property being maintained by Historic Scotland and open to the public. Surrounded on three sides by the sea, the setting for Dunstaffnage Castle is very picturesque and makes for a pleasant outing when visiting this scenic part of Scotland.

Some historians are of the opinion that the site upon which Dunstaffnage Castle is built was very likely the 7th century location of Dun Monaidh (“dun” being Gaelic for “fort”), a Dál Riata stronghold. Historian and author John Monipennie noted in 1612 that the famed Stone of Destiny had been kept at Dun Monaidh when brought to Scotland from Ireland, before being moved to Scone Palace, but this is remains unconfirmed.

Having been built for Duncan MacDougall, Lord of Lorn, Dunstaffnage Castle was claimed by Robert Bruce after defeating the Clan MacDougall at the 1308/9 Battle of the Pass of Brander. As a Crown property, the castle was held by a series of keepers until James III granted ownership of Dunstaffnage to Colin Campbell, First Earl of Argyll in 1470. Captains were appointed by the Earls of Argyll to take care of Dunstaffnage and various changes were made, including the construction of the gatehouse which remains standing today. The castle featured in a number of historic conflicts, and was for a brief time a prison for Jacobite heroine Flora MacDonald when she was traveling to London to be imprisoned for her role in helping Bonnie Prince Charlie escape from Scotland.

Today, visitors can explore the ruins of Dunstaffnage Castle, with the exception of the gatehouse, as well as the ruined 13th century chapel which lies south-west of the castle. Although the chapel has been in ruins since the mid-1700s, visitors can still appreciate the expert workmanship that went into the detailed stonework and carving. The view from the battlements of the castle is spectacular and offers insight into why this was such a choice spot to build a fort back in the days of conflict and shifting allegiances that shaped the history of Scotland.

Photograph attribution: Anne Burgess