Doune Castle

I know, I know, two castle posts in a row. What can I say, Scotland is full of fascinating castles! And this one is doubly fascinating for a Game of Thrones and/or Outlander fan, as both shows shot there. So of course it was a must for me. ETA: and the film Outlaw King has been filming there as well, so it’s a triple must for historical movie/TV show fans (wiki).

It was a short half an hour bus ride from Stirling to Doune, a cute little town nearby. From the bus stop it was about a ten minute walk to the castle. As the weather was fine when I arrived, I set out to see the castle immediately, as you never know when the weather will turn. The entrance was 6 pounds I believe, and there was surprisingly much to see. As I circled the castle on the outside, it looked modest in size, and initially I thought it was half ruined, as one side of the castle just had huge gaping windows but clearly no rooms behind.

But, as a matter of fact, the other side was planned but never built. The Duke of Albany who built it died before he could finish the other side, and as his son was executed for treason so he had other things on his mind. Mary Queen of Scots stayed there for a while, and so did Bonnie Prince Charlie during the Jacobite risings. It is perhaps thus apt that the castle was used in the filming of Outlander which is set before during and after the Jacobite rising of 1745, although Doune castle stood for Castle Leoch, a fictional stronghold of the clan MacKenzie in the show. The castle had fallen into disrepair but has been renovated since and is in pretty good nick.

There were two main living quarters: the gate house which had the Duke’s quarters and hall, and the chambers above the kitchen in the kitchen tower. Linking the two was the Great Hall, which now stands as a 19th century reconstruction. I started my tour from the kitchen tower, aided by the excellent audio guide. The guide was narrated by Terry Jones of Monty Python, which, incidentally, also shot there. No surprise, the guide was not only informative but very funny. And for Outlander fans, there was a surprise guest narrator which almost made me squeal out loud! See spoiler below, if you’re so inclined.

The kitchens were huge with massive fireplaces, and two serving hatches allowing delivery to the duke’s table in the Great Hall adjoining the kitchen. Above the kitchen were the guest quarters, accessed by a cool spiral staircase. The rooms above had an ensuite privy which also, oddly, had a recessed alcove where the clothing were stored. A small sleeping nook on one side was also accessed from the main room which would have been the living room.

Back down the spiral staircase and out to the other side, the Great Hall. In its current incarnation there is no fireplace, but a standing firepit  / lantern in the middle of the room. This is where the duke would have had his meals. At the kitchen end was an area partitioned off where the serving folk would have come and gone through to the kitchen and back with their platters of food. The minstrels gallery stood over it, so they could have music during the meals.

The main living quarters were in two floors, over the gatehouse. The Lord’s hall was accessed from the inner courtyard through a staircase and as it stands today it looks incongruous compared to the bare rock elsewhere in the castle. The floor is tiled, and there is a timber addition at the back, again for minstrels, added in the 19th century. My favorite little room was accessed from the Great Hall through an alcove with wooden benches by climbing over a bench on one side, through a narrow corridor and onto a small room with a hole to a pit below it. Anyone who displeased the duke would be dropped there to rethink their life choices!

Above the duke’s hall, on the top floor, was another set of chambers, which also included a small alcove for a chapel for the duchess. Now they look bare but would have had all sorts of soft furnishings back in the day. As I wandered through the different rooms, up and down narrow stone staircases and through archways, I was accompanied by a flock of swallows, flying in and out the open windows and through the same passages I was walking. They particularly seemed to like the kitchens. Perhaps they had nests somewhere there, in the crumbling stones of the tower above the kitchens.

After the excellent tour of the castle, I made my way back to the village for a super lunch at a cafe in town. As it then started to rain, I hopped on the next bus back to Stirling.


p.s. SPOILER, the guest narrator was none other than Sam Heughan who plays James “Jamie” Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser in the show, who is just the dreamiest!

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