Dunstaffnage Castle, one of Scotland’s oldest stone castles, sits on an immense rock overlooking the idyllic town of Oban. The home of the MacDougall family is a fascinating historic site that ranks as one of the top attractions within Argyll and Bute for history lovers. See the mighty stronghold built for Scotland’s King of the Isles, with beautiful views out to the Inner Hebrides.
We’ll be covering everything you need about Dunstaffnage Castle, from its intricate history, how to get there, and the top attractions you need to see while you’re visiting.
In This Post
History of Dunstaffnage Castle
It is still being determined when Dunstaffnage Castle was first built, but it likely occurred before 1240 by Duncan MacDougall. Duncan MacDougall, the son of Lord of Lorn and grandson of the great ‘King of the Isles’. However, influential clan leaders were necessary during the ongoing feud between the Kingdom of Scotland and Norway for control of the Hebrides.
Twenty-two years later, Scotland received control over the northwest range of Scotland, but Dunstaffnage Castle’s involvement in Scottish conflicts would continue. While Clan MacDougall supported the Kingdom of Scotland against Norway in the Wars of Scottish Independence, they took the side of Balliol. Robert the Bruce defeated the MacDougalls at the Battle of the Pass of Brander and took control of the Castle and grounds in 1308.
Robert the Bruce decided not to destroy the Castle, a trend he had started when defeating many other adversaries. Robert the Bruce gave the castle grounds and stronghold to the MacDonalds to secure the Inner Hebrides.
Dunstaffnage Castle as a Royal Fortress
Dunstaffnage Castle, now a Crown property, remained a prominent defensive stronghold that protected the Inner Hebrides from harm. The 15th century had several momentous turmoil that led to its invasion and sieging in Argyll and Bute due to its prominence as a strategic location along the sea lanes of the Hebrides — most notably, James I, James II and other monarchs of Scotland.
Dunstaffnage Castle was also briefly reclaimed by the MacDougall clan but was eventually ousted by James III and granted to Colin Campbell, 1st Earl of Argyll.
Rise of Clan Campbell
The Campbells took over Dunstaffnage house and the surrounding castle grounds and rebuilt a portion of the Castle’s defences, including the castle walls, round towers, and gatehouse. Clan Campbell was a loyal royal ally and regularly saw government troops to protect the Scottish Mainland from the MacDonald Lord of the Isles.
It was during the 1700s that James IV visited the Castle numerous times and also when Dunstaffnage welcomed one of its most famous guests. Flora MacDonald happened upon Bonnie Prince Charlie while visiting her brother in South Uist. The fateful meeting took place when Bonnie Prince Charlie fled the Redcoats.
Flora MacDonald agreed to help the Prince and crossed Skye, but she was arrested and then brought to Dunstaffnage Castle. She was held within the mighty fortress for a few years before being transferred to London Tower.
Degradation of Dunstaffnage Castle
The Campbell Clan continued to contribute to the Castle, expanding its castle walls and round towers with a west range. The Castle had already decayed at this moment, which was further exasperated by an accidental fire in 1810. Through multiple failures in restoring Dunstaffnage Castle to its prime, the Duke of the Castle was finally given state care in 1938. Today, Dunstaffnage Castle has become a Historic Scotland property and is managed by Historic Environment Scotland.
How to Get There & Details to Know
Dunstaffnage Castle sits on the borders of the Scottish Mainland and the Inner Hebrides, a strategically important location that also offers visitors easy access to the untamed Scottish Highlands and Islands.
The Castle is open throughout the year, although opening times can differ depending on when you visit. Between the 1 April – 30 September, Dunstaffnage Castle is open daily from 9:30 to 17:30, with last entry from 17:00. During the autumnal and winter months of October – March, the Castle is available daily from 10:00 to 16:00, with last entry at 15:30.
Ticket prices can vary, but generally, an adult ticket to see Dunstaffnage Castle costs £7.50, a child ticket costs £4.50, and a concession ticket costs £6.00. Dunstaffnage Castle also provides several family tickets, ranging from £15.00 – £25.50, depending on the number of adults and children.
Adverse weather and other extreme weather conditions can cause the Dunstaffnage Castle to close unexpectedly.
How to Get There by Car
Those travelling by car to Dunstaffnage Castle from Glasgow should take the A82 and then the A85 when they reach Tyndrum. Travel along the A85 until you reach Dunbeg, after which you should take Kirk Road until you reach the Dunstaffnage Castle car parking. The entire journey should take around two hours to complete.
How to Get There by Transit
If you’re taking transit to Dunstaffnage Castle from Glasgow, take the Oban bus from Buchanan Bus Station for 34 stops until you reach Road End. From the stop, the Castle is 22 minutes away if you’re walking. The entire journey should take about three and a half hours to complete.
Attractions at Dunstaffnage Castle
The Dunstaffnage Castle and Chapel are filled with things to do and attractions for those visiting this historic monument in Western Scotland. Here are the top things to add to your to-do list while taking a trip to this former stronghold:
Exploring Dunstaffnage Castle’s Interior
Although Dunstaffnage was built nearly 800 years ago, parts of the royal Castle still remain remarkably well-maintained. The east curtain wall still remains as intimidating as it did during the Castle’s creation, but past it lies Dunstaffnage’s interior.
Navigating the mighty stronghold of the MacDougalls allows guests to see the ruins of the Castle, with several information boards and QR codes that would enable you to relive Dunstaffnage’s story through images and videos. Learn about the highlights of the Castle and how this originally highly decorated Castle slowly fell to ruin.
You can also look forward to climbing and taking a wall walk along the Castle’s defences. From this superior vantage point, you’re treated to great views of the surroundings and see how Dunstaffnage continued to be a location of strategic importance.
Keep an Eye Out for Dunstaffnage’s Ghosts
Dunstaffnage Castle has a few ethereal residents to keep an eye out for during your visit, with several reports of ghosts and hauntings throughout the Castle’s ruins. The most famous of these ghosts is “Ell-maid of Dunstaffnage”, a maiden or serving girl dressed in green with a terrifying visage.
If folktales are to be believed, this spectre was seen by the Campbell family, the hereditary keepers of the Castle. If you see the maiden’s face, note its expression. A warm smile means that good fortune is on the way, but if she’s crying, then evil tidings may be on the horizon.
Check out the Dunstaffnage Chapel
Not far from the Castle sits Dunstaffnage Chapel, a 13th-century chapel nestled in the woodlands near Oban. The chapel has many interesting points of note, including the Campbell burial aisle, where many generations of clan Campbell were buried throughout their time at Dunstaffnage Castle.
The ruined chapel has a unique and mysterious atmosphere, with many legends surrounding it. The most famous of which involve the Last Stewart Lord of Lorne, who was murdered on his wedding day just outside Dunstaffnage Chapel.
Murders and burial aisles aside, this historic chapel is filled with stunning 13th-century architecture to admire – well worth the trip.
Walk Around Dunstaffnage Marina
From the castle grounds, visitors are granted a clear view down to Dunstaffnage Bay and the Marina. While the Castle’s primary role was to keep the unruly western subjects of the Inner Hebrides at bay, you can grab your explorer pass and take a boat trip straight from Dunstaffnage or Oban Bay!
The Dunstaffnage Marina has a number of beautiful ships and sailboats docked throughout the year and is a reasonably short walk from the Castle’s parking lot. Along your journey, also keep an eye out for the Ocean Explorer Centre if you want to know more about the marine wildlife that call the West Coast their home.
Pick up a Souvenir at the Gift Shop
Within Dunstaffnage Castle, visitors can find a small gift shop to purchase souvenirs to remember your trip. This wee shop is filled with small gifts and memorabilia that feature this historic Castle and its heraldry. If you have any questions about points to see within Dunstaffnage Castle and its history, the knowledgeable staff are more than happy to provide you with answers.
It’s here where you can also pay for your entrance fee if you haven’t booked your ticket ahead of time.