Situated at the top of the Trotternish Loop lies Duntulm Castle. This haunting ruin sits atop a crumbling cliff and offers a commanding view northwest to the outer Hebrides. The castle draws thousands of visitors every year, partly because of its ideal position on the tourist loop and also because of the ghostly happenings that it has become famous for.
If you’re planning on visiting some of the castles on the Isle of Skye, this guide to Duntulm will help put some colour into the once-proud fortress, which is now little more than ruins. I’ll share a bit of the castle’s history and logistics of planning your visit, as well as a few ghost stories!
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History of Duntulm Castle
Historians believe that Duntulm Castle was built across the 14th and 15th centuries, on the site of a former Iron Age broch. Brochs would have been used by Norsemen to display their wealth and were usually located in important, strategic positions. Despite this, it is not believed that they were used for defence.
Most of the ruin of Duntulm Castle dates from the 17th century and it is believed that the first castle construction could be attributed to the MacLeod clan. The castle was long a landmark of contention between them and the rival Clan MacDonald. While the castle was under MacLeod control, James V visited, stating that he was impressed by both the castle’s strength and the hospitality he received during his visit.
Duntulm became the seat of the MacDonalds of Sleat early in the 17th century when they moved from Dunscaith Castle after being offered lands by the king. They renovated the castle and made a number of improvements to the structure, including the addition of a second tower. It is thought that much of the remaining ruins are from this period.
In around 1730, the MacDonalds abandoned Duntulm Castle. Legend has it that this was because of the tragic death of a baby falling from a window. Although this is unproven, it has sparked a rather spooky ghost story but more on that later.
From Duntulm, the MacDonalds moved to Monkstadt House which was built by Sir Alexander MacDonald. This is located just a little further south on the Trotternish peninsula and has since played host to a wealth of history, including being located nearby to the hiding place of Bonnie Prince Charlie. The ruins of Monkstadt House have since been developed into a wonderful luxury accommodation option.
To build Monkstadt House, Sir Alexander MacDonald took much of the stone from Duntulm Castle. Eventually, the MacDonalds would abandon this location too and finally settle at Armadale Castle in the south of the island.
Duntulm Castle Features
The castle is around 25 x 9 metres and sits on a basalt cliff with steep drops on three sides. This would have been the ideal location for the castle because of its natural defensives and strategic views out to sea towards the Isles of Lewis and Harris.
The entrance to the castle was likely to have been via a drawbridge but this has not survived the years. There were two towers and the tallest of these was believed to have stood four storeys high. This has been eroded over the years and is now just a shadow of its former glory. The other tower collapsed into the sea during the 20th century.
Little is left of the site and the walls are no longer stable. There is a locked gate and sign warning of danger, to deter visitors from entering the site. If you do choose to visit, take care.
The ground is uneven and it is not safe to scramble on the castle walls because of the structural instability. There’s nothing but sharp rocks and the sea below the castle walls so one slip could end very badly.
Duntulm Castle Ghost Stories
Duntulm Castle has been the site of many a ghostly going on. In the 16th century, Hugh MacDonald, owner of Casiteal Uisdean (Hugh’s Castle) and nephew of Clan MacDonald chief Donald Gorm Mor, devised a plot to kill his uncle and take control of the clan. The plot was foiled and he was imprisoned in Duntulm Castle.
While he was imprisoned, Hugh was fed only salted fish and beef and given no water. He died an awful death in the castle dungeon. It is said that his groans and wails can still be heard around the ruins today.
Donald Gorm himself had a bit of a reputation and often stayed up late drinking with his companions in the castle. Some tales claim that this hobby is still a favourite of his in the afterlife and he spends his days brawling with his comrades in the ruins. Hopefully, he hasn’t run into Hugh MacDonald… I don’t think it would be a very amicable meeting!
Perhaps the most famous ghostly tale of the castle pertains to a nursemaid who is believed to have worked there. It is said she accidentally dropped a baby out of one of the windows which led to the MacDonald’s abandoning the castle. The nursemaid was said to have been murdered in recrimination and her screams still carry on the wind…
The one-eyed spectre of Margaret MacDonald, sister of the chief of Clan MacLeod, is also said to haunt the ruins. Margaret was married to one of the MacDonalds who lived at Duntulm Castle. She lost an eye in an accident and her husband threw her out. She was ordered back to Dunvegan atop a one-eyed horse with a one-eyed servant and one-eyed dog in tow. It is believed her sobbing apparition still haunts the ruins.
Duntulm Castle Walk
The out and back trail to Duntulm Castle begins at the parking bay on the road in Duntulm. It is a short easy hike which totals just one kilometre in total. Head down to the gate before crossing into a field. There is a short and well-beaten track ahead, this will take you directly to the castle.
Duntulm Castle Dinosaur Footprints
The tidal area close to Duntulm Castle is home to some of the most famous Isle of Skye dinosaur footprints. They can only be viewed at low tide and are located on the sandstone and limestone slab close to the shore. They are the largest collection of tracks in the whole of Scotland!
Visiting Duntulm Castle FAQ
- What are the opening times of Duntulm Castle?
Duntulm Castle has no official opening times. It is a castle ruin so is accessible any time of the day. However, I would not recommend entering the ruin at night or in windy weather as it is no longer structurally sound.
- Are there facilities at Duntulm Castle?
No, there are no facilities at the castle. The nearest facilities are located in Uig (also on the Trotternish Loop).
- What else is there to see near Duntulm Castle?
There is a memorial on the castle grounds to the MacArthurs, hereditary pipers to the MacDonalds. It is also possible to walk to Rubha Hunish, the most northerly tip of the Trotternish peninsula.
- How do I get to Duntulm Castle?
Duntulm Castle is located at the top of the Trotternish Loop. Car is the easiest way to travel, however, if you are staying close by, it may be possible to walk.
- What is the postcode for Duntulm Castle?
- Where should I park when visiting Duntulm Castle?
Visitors to the castle will find a small amount of parking on the roadside. Be aware that these spots fill quickly.
- Is Duntulm Castle safe?
There is a small fence and sign warning visitors that the ruin is no longer structurally safe. Steep cliffside also poses a danger. If you choose to enter, you do so at entirely your own risk.
Accommodation near Duntulm Castle
This delightful B&B is set in Kilmaluag in northern Skye. All of the rooms have their own private bathrooms and a seating area. Tastefully decorated, the B&B has a cosy vibe and offers everything you could need for your visit to the island.
This holiday home is a great option for families or larger groups visiting the Isle of Skye. It sleeps nine people and has off-road parking. Located in Duntulm, it’s close to the castle while also being ideally located near to Staffin which has more amenities.
The beautiful Flodigarry Hotel is the perfect example of Highland hospitality. If you are looking for a more luxurious stay while you are on the island, this is the place to go. Located just a 10-minute drive from the castle, Flodigarry Hotel benefits from a stunning rural setting whilst being close to the township of Staffin.