Skye Unexplored Castles and Ruins
by Afreka Thomson
Amongst the high peaks of the Cuillin mountains, the deep fairy pools and the vast pebbled beaches; Skye’s unexplored castles and ruins quietly beckon adventurers. These forgotten relics, hidden in mist and heather, hold untold stories of centuries past. Searching for lesser-known ruins and castles is a great way to explore the island and uncover some of Skye’s ancient stories.
On the west coast of the Sleat Peninsula, this ancient fortress boats incredible views and a rich history, shrouded in folklore and mystery. The ruins of Dun Scaith Castle on Tokavaig Bay are a short drive along the scenic Ord road, where twists and turns reveal deep lochs, rolling hills and many a wandering beast – the highland cows that call these crofts home may cause a slight traffic jam, so give yourself plenty of time to get to the ruin. Also known as the Fortress of Shadows, the ruins of Dun Scaith are said to be the training grounds of the mighty warrior maiden Sgàthaich, who battled there with Cú Chulainn – an Irish warrior after whom the Cuillin mountains are said to be named. The castle was once reached by a bridge from the mainland, the structure of which can still be seen. Considering its age, it’s fairly easy to imagine how this majestic building would have appeared in its day. No-one is quite sure who built the fortress, however a twelfth-century manuscript claims that it was built by a witch in just one night!
Moving further north, the ruins of Duntulm Castle offer a glimpse into the island’s spooky past. Perched on a rocky promontory overlooking the sea, this once mighty fortress was the seat of the Clan MacDonald of Sleat. The family were rumoured to move on due to repeated incidents with ghosts, and their new abode was built only five miles from Duntulm, with stones and materials scavenged from the old dwelling to build the new. Time and the elements have worn away most of Duntulm’s former glory, yet this is still a hauntingly atmospheric ruin – the dramatic setting and panoramic views make it a must-visit spot for history enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. And of course, the ghostbusters amongst you!
One of the most well-known castles on Skye is Dunvegan Castle. The interiors of this 19th-century castle have been restored to their full, decadent glory. A tour of the castle will ensure that you don’t miss out on any of the many treasures on display: oil paintings with eyes that follow you around the room, the magical and mysterious Fairy Flag – used as a good luck charm in fierce clan battles – and there’s even a single lock of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s hair sitting in a display cabinet. The castle is still a functioning stately home for the MacLeod Clan and has been for over 800 years, which means that stepping into Dunvegan Castle is like stepping into a living museum, where ancient relics are displayed on a backdrop of fresh paint and modern fittings. Surrounding the castle itself, keen botanists will spot an eclectic mix of plant-life – the garden boasts brightly coloured flowers, monkey puzzle trees and huge lily ponds. With a landscaping style that favours waterfalls, magical woodlands and sculptures; one couldn’t feel further from the wild fields of bracken and rocky outcrops that generally characterise the landscape of Skye’s north-east. Boat trips run from the castle grounds so that visitors can explore the waters of Loch Dunvegan, getting an especially excellent view of the castle itself and becoming acquainted with cheeky members of extended MacLeod family: the Loch Dunvegan seal colony.
Borreraig and Susinish
For those of you with a particular interest in Highland history, Skyetrak offer hikes into the villages of Borreraig and Susinish, both of which were forcibly evacuated during the highland clearances. The people of these villages were turfed out of their homes by Lord MacDonald in 1853 – who burned down their family homes to create space for livestock to graze – a more profitable use for his land and resources. It would be almost impossible to stumble across these landmarks by accident, and one would be completely clueless as to the rich history that is attached to the area. Skyetrak’s knowledgeable guides add historical detail to the stories of these abandoned communities, adding a poignant layer of meaning to an already unforgettable experience. The grief and sense of loss that pervades these sites may well tug at your heartstrings, but it’s the connection to the land and its people that make this trip so unique. This is not just a geeky historical tour but a deeply personal and meaningful journey through one of Scotland’s most captivating regions.
Another noteworthy castle on Skye is the majestic Armadale Castle. Situated on the Sleat Peninsula in the south of the island, the ruins of this 19th-century mansion showcase stunning Gothic architecture and are surrounded by beautifully kept gardens and woodland. Although the original castle was destroyed by a fire in the 19th century, the remaining ruins are hauntingly romantic, with sections of the old castle draped in red and green ivy. Although no longer fit to home humans, the estate is still inhabited by an impressive array of wildlife: red deer, golden eagles and sea eagles, and these can be spotted on guided woodland walks. Today, Armadale Castle is a cultural hub, boasting an eclectic events programme and housing the Museum of the Isles, which tells the story of the Highland clans and their way of life.