CASTLE URQUHART stands on the south side of Loch-Ness, upon a rocky promontory which forms the western termination or headland of the Bay of Urquhart. The waters of the lake wash the base of the rock on three sides; and a moat from 20 to 25 feet deep, and 16 broad, on the land-side, separated the castle from the adjoining grounds. A drawbridge – the site of which is still to be seen – gave access to the castle across the moat. From the bridge, a noble gateway opened into the courtyard, flanked by two projecting towers, and guarded by a succession of doors, and an enormous portcullis. The court-yard is extensive, but its surface towards the west is rough and broken. On the other side, however, it is smooth and level, and a broad walk leads from the gateway to the entrance of the great keep or principal tower. Throughout nearly the whole of their extent, the walls which encompass the rock on which the castle stands are double, having platforms upon which the soldiers stood while discharging missiles against the assailants. To the right of the entrance, there is a small portal or water-gate, from which a passage led down to a natural harbour. A similar portal opens upon the lake, from the east side of the principal building. The great tower occupies the north-east corner of the court, and is nearly of a square form. Its height, to the base of the battlements on the top, is about fifty feet; the breadth of each side is from 30 to 40 feet; and the walls are 9 feet thick. The interior of the tower is in a very dilapidated and ruinous condition, but it appears to have consisted of three stories, exclusive of the warder’s room and battlements at the top. The great hall occupied the middle story, and below appear to have been a guard-room and dungeons, from which there was a communication with the upper part of the building by means of spiral staircases ascending through the wall at the opposite corners of the tower. For square turrets occupy the angles at the top of the tower, each of which forms a small apartment inside, having its own fire-place. The height of the outer walls varies from 12 to 18 feet; the thickness, from 3 to 6 feet. They enclose altogether an area of about five acres of ground.
Nothing is known of the origin or erection of this castle, and very little of its early history; but that it must have been a place of great strength and importance in ancient times, is apparent, from its extensive and magnificent ruins. Indeed, it has obviously been one of the greatest strongholds of that chain of fortresses which were erected at different distances along the line of the Great Caledonian Valley. In all probability, it was erected for the protection of the Highlands, and repressing the invasions of the turbulent natives of Ross and Murray, by some of the earlier Scottish monarchs; for we find, that in the time of Edward I. it is styled a King’s house, or royal garrison.
By popular tradition, the building of this fortress is attributed to the Cummings, – the most powerful family in the north, prior to the reign of Robert Bruce. No authority, however, has been found for this beyond popular belief; and too many of the castles in the north have had their origin ascribed to these chiefs to allow of much faith being given to tradition in this instance. In 1303, Urquhart Castle was taken by storm, by the troops of Edward I., and the governor, Alexander Bois, and the garrison put to the sword. In the register of the great seal of Robert II., there is a grant of the castle and barony of Urquhart to his son, David Senechalus; failing whom, to Alexander Senechalus. In 1509, a grant of the castle and barony was made to the rising family of Grant of Grant, in whose possession they still remain.