SIEGE CASTLE in
'THE HOLY GRAIL'
Photo © Home At First
Fifth of a series
Have you ever explored a real castle?
At Doune Castle you are free to wander the grounds, climb the
ramparts, explore the dungeons and scullery, and imagine attending a
great banquet in one of the most impressive medieval great halls
anywhere. Sadly, Doune is largely unfurnished. But its authentic
medieval shell invites imaginations to become active. Come along for the
This article first
appeared in MAY, 2005.
LATEST UPDATE: 2014.
AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT...
Doune Castle is a relic reminder of the chaos
of the dimly distant past. Doune Castle is a rollicking reminder of the
chaos of the
dim-witted present. Doune often considered Scotlands best-preserved medieval
castle also ranks highly as one of its most entertaining, most historic, and, because
of its central location, one of its most accessible.
The castle lies almost unnoticeable among the
forested hills in a little river valley just outside of the former mill town of Doune
about 20 minutes drive southeast of Callander and about 10 minutes drive northwest of
Stirling. These are the foothills of the Highlands, rising just north of Scotlands
prosperous and populated midlands belt, a no-mans land with a history of conflict
that made the careers of national heroes
Robert the Bruce and
William Wallace. History at
Doune doesnt end with the castles partial destruction by
troops during the 17th century
English Civil War, or the
Jacobite Uprising of 1745. Quite
a bit of history has been made here in the last 30 years.
Monty Python is to blame.
Castle what mary queen of scots
AND JOHN CLEESE HAVE IN COMMON.
© Home At First
GREAT SCOTS THE STEWARTS
Mind you, Dounes first 600 years saw
plenty of action, and some pretty odd and pretty gruesome characters were seen
between its 6-foot-thick stone walls. Castle Doune was built 100 years after William
Wallace ("Braveheart") wrenched Scotland away from English control at the
of Stirling Bridge, less than ten miles from Doune (see
Duke of Albany, powerful brother of
Scotlands King Robert III, built the medium-sized, hulking fortress in the late 14th
century. Albany became Scotlands regent governor when his brother the king could no
longer rule and his nephew the crown prince while in the care of Albany died
mysteriously. The duke effectively reigned over Scotland until his death in 1420, when the
power and Doune Castle passed to Murdoch, his son. When the true Stewart heir,
James I, was restored to Scotlands throne four years later, poor Murdoch was
promptly declared a traitor and
dispatched. His castle was taken by the Scottish Crown and used
DEATH MASK OF
MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTS
as a vacation house and hunting lodge.
Despite numerous intrigues over the next 180 years, the Stewarts maintained their hold on
Scotland. By the end of the 16th century,
James VI, the son of the fabled
Mary, Queen of
Scots who had visited Doune Castle was poised to become
King James I, monarch of
Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England, as
the Stewart dynasty would replace
the Tudors. The
Stewarts would hold the unified throne for 100 years, more or less. It was a century of
great expansion of the British Empire, but plagued by intrigue, civil war and, ultimately,
with the royal replacement of the Scottish Stewarts by the Dutch
House of Orange, then the
Many Scots and many Stewart sympathizers
in England, Wales, Ireland, and France felt foreign usurpers were wearing the
rightful Stewart Crown. Over almost 60 years (1689-1746) these
"James", traditional name of Stewart kings) attempted to restore various
"legitimate" or "pretender" Stewart princes to the British throne.
Several of these attempts "uprisings" were noteworthy for their
violent, open warfare. All came to a head with the Uprising of 1745, as a Jacobite army
assembled under the "Young Pretender",
Bonnie Prince Charlie (Prince Charles
Edward Stewart), was slaughtered by combined British forces (yes including
non-Jacobite Scots) at
It wasnt all bad news
for Bonny Prince Charlie during "the 45". During their siege of the
English-held Stirling Castle 10 miles east of Doune, the Jacobite army
surprised a English relief force coming to Stirling from
Edinburgh late in
the day of January 17, 1746. The Scots held the high ground at
in the darkness and steady rain that January day. The English artillery
was immobilized by mud at the bottom of the hill, and their troops were
cut down by Highland volleys from above.
A garrison of Jacobites led by
Rob Roy MacGregors nephew,
Gregor MacGregor, billeted some
English prisoners, including some suspected spies, at nearby
Doune Castle. Among these was a Scottish Presbyterian minister and scholar from Edinburgh,
the Rev. John Witherspoon, who had been taken under suspicion at Falkirk. From their
communal cells in the top of one of Dounes towers, several of the captives plotted
their escape by lowering themselves by bed sheets and blankets from the adjacent
battlements 70 feet above ground level. The 24-year-old Dr. Witherspoon did not join the
dangerous escape, which cost at least one man his life. Deemed no threat to the Jacobites,
Witherspoon was released from Doune. Twenty-two years later, the now middle-aged Scottish
minister/scholar agreed to accept appointment as
president of the College of New Jersey
since 1896 called
University and emigrated to the United States. During his tenure, he
promoted anti-British sentiment, became a delegate to the Continental
Congress for New Jersey, and signed the
Declaration of Independence.
Evidently, Witherspoon had been wrongly imprisoned at Doune Castle as a
possible pro-English spy.
INVASION OF THE PYTHONS
Doune Castle remained a respected relic it
got a much-needed facelift in the late 19th century but a little-visited one until
going Hollywood in 1974. Fresh
from their successful TV excesses on the BBC called Monty Pythons Flying Circus,
English comedy collective called Monty Python
MONTY PYTHON'S KING ARTHUR
AND HIS KNIGHTS INVADE DOUNE.
Terry Jones, and
Eric Idle) made their second film feature, Monty Python and
the Holy Grail, using Doune Castle as a primary location. The film uses absurdly
irreverent tales of King Arthur and Camelot as vehicles for some of the Pythons
silliest sketch comedy. Doune Castle is shown in the possession of sniveling, taunting
French invaders being besieged by Arthurs knights, horseless but with half-coconut
shells for simulated clip-clopping of chargers that arent there. The film was a
great hit in Britain and in the US, where it continues to enjoy cult status and is
frequently listed among the funniest movies
Doune Castle capitalized
on the success of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Python
pilgrims from the UK, America, and elsewhere continue to flock to the hulking castle in
hopes of expressing their irreverence. Some video themselves acting out short-but-famous
scenes from the film. Others cannot resist crying out silly quotes ("Bring out your
dead!" or "Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of
elderberries!") when they arrive.
Historic Scotland who manages the castle on a
999-year lease reckons that visitors to Doune have increased more than 40% (they
receive about 25,000 visitors a year) since the Pythons searched it for the Holy Grail.
THE CASTLE TODAY
While Doune Castle is a
partial ruin and neither an occupied residence nor lavishly furnished,
many think Doune's authenticity make it a candidate for Scotland's best preserved
medieval castle. Doune is a fairly large
courtyard-type fortress castle with most of its architecture dating from the 14th and early 15th
centuries. Its most prominent features are two great keeps about 6 stories high. There is
an imposing 40-foot-high curtain wall and parapet. Among the many rooms, the great
Lords Hall with its musicians gallery, double fireplace and carved oak screen
are the most memorable. Doune Castle provides a living, working castle with a labyrinth of
rooms, interconnecting passageways and staircases. Doune is a hands-on castle,
open (some visitors think it too open) for exploration of its
rooms and vertiginous spaces. If you go, plan to be careful of its
unfenced open heights while you imagine the historic sieges,
imprisonments, and intrigues, and the cinematic foolishness that have
TO DOUNE CASTLE
Doune Castle is easily reached from
HOME AT FIRSTs lodgings
By Car from
Central Scotland cottages: drive
the A84 south twenty minutes past Callander (direction Stirling). Before
crossing the landmark bridge in Doune, turn left into town, on the A820
east direction Dunblane. Watch carefully for the castle driveway on
the right side of the A820 about ¼ miles after leaving the town of
Doune. The entrance driveway is one-lane wide with blind turns go slowly!
Doune Castle is Open:
April through September: 9:30AM-5:30PM daily
October through March: 9:30AM-4:30PM Sat-Weds.
Closed December 25-26 & January 1-2.
Admission: £5.50/adults; £4.40/seniors 60+
& students 16+;
£3.30/children 5-15; children under 5 free.
Parking: free, but 300 yards from the
A unique audio guide available, narrated
by Python's Terry
Jones and featuring the castle's real and fictional histories.
Access to portions of the castle
unsuitable for wheelchairs:
Access: The castle courtyard and cellar, including display,
is accessible via a
steep, cobbled (but partially timbered) tunnel. Assisted access is
the determined, but is difficult. There are 24 steps to the great hall and
kitchens and 14 steps to the Barons Hall.
Safety: American guests will be surprised at the openness of the high
stairwells, which would probably be closed to the public in the
U.S. for safety (lawsuit)
concerns. Keep an eye on your children. All that
openness is a great temptation to
unsupervised kids with vivid imaginations.
trail and picnic tables on the castle grounds.
You can visit all
kinds of castles as easy day trips
from Home At First lodgings
Our exclusive "Scotland Activities Guides" have over
120 pages of suggestions for things to see and
do when you travel with Home At First
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