Sallying Forth to Cinematic Doune Castle

by Keith Savage · 2 comments

Doune Castle, Stirlingshire, Scotland

I’ve been on a bit of a castle kick lately, and today’s focus is on one of the most popular castles in Scotland. Doune Castle stands just northwest of Stirling and rose to cultural stardom with the release of Monty Python and the Holy Grail in 1975. It is an undeniably handsome facade perched in the midst of a wooded bend of the River Teith, just outside the town of Doune (and near to Deanston distillery). This is a pretty part of Scotland, where the Central Belt gives way to foothills rolling up into the highlands, and it is easily accessible on drives north from the cities.

I visited Doune Castle this past May, and not for the first time. I managed to fit in a visit back in 2012, and there must have been ten times as many people besieging the castle this year. In the intervening years, a couple of very popular TV series have cast the limelight back on Doune Castle: HBO’s Game of Thrones and Starz’s Outlander. Standing in for Winterfell Castle and Castle Leoch, Doune Castle has, once again, become something of a media darling for period pieces. While Game of Thrones was airing in 2012, it hadn’t yet reached the height of its critical acclaim, and it seems that Outlander has truly put Doune Castle into the pop culture firing lane.

Doune Castle, now in the care of Historic Scotland, provides an impressive sight. The castle stands on raised earthworks and possesses a 100-foot tall gatehouse anchoring a corner of the courtyard. This gatehouse comprises the lord’s great hall and his family’s private chambers, while a smaller tower within it houses the guest chambers and kitchen. The feature that makes Doune Castle such an ideal filming location is that the vast majority of its stonework dates from the 14th century — the castle is in remarkably good repair and one of the few that did not suffer massive renovations in the ensuing centuries.

Archaeological research suggests the original castle was built in the 13th century, damaged in the Wars of Scottish Independence, and rebuilt in the 14th century under the careful eye of Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany, and ruler of Scotland in all but title. Tantallon Castle and Dirleton Castle also hail from this busy period in Scottish construction, and I’m now sure this era is my ‘castle wheelhouse.’ I just love the look.

After the passing of Robert Stewart, Doune Castle became a royal retreat and hunting lodge. Situated at the crossroads of Scotland, many famous nobles found their way through Doune’s gates. Mary, Queen of Scots, and several kings spent time at Doune when it was not a dower house for various royal consorts. One of the more interesting events to play out at Doune Castle was the discovery of a plot against King James VI concocted by the Earls of Montrose and Gowrie. Just another reminder that intrigue has never been in short supply among Scotland’s elites.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, Doune Castle became a prison for religious dissenters and a garrison for government troops during Jacobite uprisings. In fact, in the 1745 uprising, Doune Castle was occupied by Bonnie Prince Charlie himself, but by the 1800s Doune Castle had fallen into ruin. Minor, interior restoration began in 1880 by the 14th Earl of Moray before the castle eventually passed into state’s care.

Doune Castle is a perfect stop for admirers of medieval facades, and, of course, Outlander, Monty Python, and Game of Thrones fans. There’s something special about seeing “fictional” places in the flesh. Just be aware: You may have to fight through a melee of ravenous fans to cross Doune’s threshold.

Joanie MurrayNo Gravatar October 22, 2015 at 8:45 AM

This is definitely one we want to see when we go next September. Thanks for posting. I hadn’t realized G.O.T. used it as a location as well. Love the history and can’t wait to see it.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar October 22, 2015 at 9:49 AM

It’s definitely a very cool castle. Go inside and take the audio tour narrated by Terry Jones from Monty Python.

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