Originally written for suite101.com and published 10/04/09, now hosted at Associated Content.
Tucked away down a narrow twisty road in the village of Doune, a couple of miles north of Stirling, seems a curiously circumspect location for a castle. However, when it was built at the tail end of the 14th century, it stood at the meeting point of the two main routes north from Glasgow and Edinburgh. Controlling access north gave it enormous strategic importance; the Romans had built a wooden nearby for the same reason.
At first sight, certainly when the castle is closed, it could easily be mistaken for just another of the many Tower Houses that populate Central Scotland. Perhaps built by one of the nobles who came to Stirling regularly for the parliament. However, in truth it is one of the best-preserved examples of a medieval castle in Scotland, built by Robert Stuart, King of Scotland in all but name from 1386 – 1420.
The Stuart Connection
Unlike most castles of the period it is little changed from the original plans, giving an insight into the requirements of the most powerful man in Scotland of the time. Robert Stuart served as Governor of Scotland on behalf of first his elderly father Robert II, then his elder brother Robert III and lastly his nephew James I; while the latter was imprisoned by Henry VI in the Tower of London.
After his death in 1420, his son Murdoch inherited his title of Duke of Albany and continued to rule for James I as regent. However on James’ release he found the country riven by feudal tyranny and conflict, and set about curbing the power held by the nobles. Murdoch and his kin were executed within sight of Doune Castle having fallen foul of the new regime.
The lands and castle were annexed by the crown and served as a hunting lodge and country retreat for the Stuart Kings. James III – who is himself buried a few miles south at Cambuskenneth Abbey – is thought to have been the last king to use Doune Castle as such, however there is some suggestion that Mary Queen of Scots stayed there. Certainly it was captured for Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745.
Restoration of the Castle
The castle fell into disuse after this and by 1800 it had become a roofless ruin, remaining that way until Lord Moray commission a report into its repair in 1877. After the report considerable restoration work was carried out including the reconstruction of staircases, foundations, the great hall and the roof that remains to this day.
The castle came into state care in 1980 and most of the work that has been done on the castle since that point has been for conversation and preservation purposes, rather than reconstruction. Seeking to preserve the castle in its current condition and prevent further deterioration through preserving and waterproofing the stonework. The castle is currently maintained by Historic Scotland.
Doune Castle as Film Location
The well-preserved nature and accessibility of the castle has made it a popular location for historical film and television projects. The best known of these being a BBC adaptation of Ivanhoe and the Monty Python film The Holy Grail. The latter having lead to occasional reconstructions, and the frequent shouting of quotations from the battlements.
Getting There and Opening Hours
Open all year round (except for Thursday and Friday during the winter) the castle is approximately 10 miles northwest of Stirling off the A84. Motorists should follow signs for Doune, and beware of the sharp turn from the main road through the village onto the road to the castle. Hourly buses run from nearby Stirling, Dunblane and Callander to Doune.
Adult – £3.70
Child – £1.85
Concession – £3.00