Eilean Donan Castle, one of Scotland’s most picturesque, not to mention haunted, castles has many spooky stories to tell, says CHRISTINE MILLER
Eilean Donan Castle sits on a small island in the peninsula in Loch Duich in the western Highlands of Scotland.
Boasting truly remarkable views, the 20th-century-built castle is a huge hit with locals and tourists alike. In fact, it’s one of the most visited spots north of the border.
Although the romantic construction was rebuilt over 13 years from 1919, its history dates back much, much longer.
The very first fortified castle on the site was constructed in the 1200s, standing proudly, or rather ominously, over the rugged landscape of Kintail.
The Legend of the Raven’s Skull
There’s an old Scottish tale that claims that a newborn baby who took their very first drink for a raven’s skull would be granted otherworldly powers.
One clan chief in the 13th century, being particularly suspicious of said ritual, decided to disprove the theory – by roping in his only son and challenging the long-feared superstition.
The young child was encouraged to sip from a corvine skull in defiance of those close to the chief who were horrified by the legend.
However, it seemed, at least for now, that the chief was right: the fable was nothing more than some superstitious nonsense.
That is until one day, the chief’s son was found to be conversing with a large unkindness of ravens. A steady flow of conversation was witnessed between the boy and his enchanted feathered companions.
Remembering the events that took place when the boy was but a tiny baby, the relationship between father and son became strained, souring quickly when, one day, the chief’s Great Hall echoed with the hurried screeching of dozens of ravens.
Incredulous, the chief sought out his son, demanding he relay the birds’ collective speech.
The boy warily stated that he was not going to be appreciative of the answer but told his father regardless. The ravens were chanting an ominous prophecy that the day would come when he would wait on him as a servant in the Great Hall when he, his son, would return to see him as a successful and prosperous gentleman.
The clan chief, either spooked, angry – or both – flung his son out of the castle, telling him that it was time for him to navigate the world on his own, no longer as a child.
The now young man took a boat, deciding to use his unique gift of communication with birds to make a name for himself. Travelling to France, he soon discovered that French royalty was being plagued by a giant collection of noisy and unruly sparrows who had made the court their new dwelling.
The man was able to offer his services to the King, who would be deeply indebted to the Scot for swiftly negotiating peace between the sparrows. The man’s name quickly made it around the courts of high-society Europe, and fame and fortune soon followed.
By the time the by-now rich and highly successful man returned to his clan, he was unrecognisable to his father, who welcomed who he believed to be a prosperious and exotic stranger into his Great Hall to wine and dine him, wholly unaware that he was enacting the very prophecy that had led to his son’s banishment many years ago.
It soon came that even King Alexander heard of the man’s return to Scotland and summoned him to the Scottish Court, where he was told to build a large, impenetrable fortress of Eilean Donan, in the process becoming the very first chief of Clan Matheson.
And that’s the legend of how Eilean Donan came to be.
The Ghosts of Eilean Donan Castle
It’s not just animated crows that have called the castle their home: the castle has one of two ghostly spectres that keep staff and visitors on their toes.
One such spirit is said to be a headless Spanish soldier who holds his decapitated head in his right hand and, with impressive coordination considering his physical limitation, makes his way around the castle gift shop, of all places. Perhaps he is as partial to a tin of tartan shortbread as much as the tourists are. Who knows?
Carlos, as he has affectionately been dubbed by staff, is also blamed for the echoing footsteps which pace around the castle in the evening when the throngs of visitors have long since left for the day.
He isn’t the only spooks who calls the castle their ghostly home. It’s believed that the spirit of a woman called Lady Mary is said to haunts one of the bedroooms in the castle, but quite who is is, no one can say for sure.
It’s almost surprising that Eilean Donan Castle isn’t home to more hauntings. After all, the castle, like so many others dotted across Scotland, has a grim history.
Records show that there were at least 50 people executed on the site during the 14th century, with their heads plunged through spikes, which made for some grim exterior decorations.
Although, some people do say that Mary Queen of Scots herself haunted the tunnels of the castle, it seems she is a pretty busy ghost, already making the rounds in Borthwick Castle, Stirling Castle and Linlithgow Palace. Therefore, how much free time she has to spare to attend to a Highlands haunt, is unknown.
Have you encountered something spooky at Eilean Donan Castle? Tell us YOUR stories in the comments section below.