Updated: Mar 2, 2021
On the Isle of Skye, shoreward on top of a basalt ridge stands the oldest occupied castle in Scotland: Dunvegan Castle has been in the hands of Clan MacLeod for over 800 years. Architecturally speaking, it is a building of high importance, containing the work of at least ten building periods ranging from the 1200s to the 1850s.
The 25th Chief began a rather romantic Victorian restauration in 1840, adding the “dummy” pepper-pots and defensive battlements running the whole length of the roofline. Underneath this outer skin however, this castle has an inimitable mix of building styles that reflect the requirements of the clan Chiefs who built them over the centuries each with its very own unique character and stories to tell.
The name “Dunvegan” is said to originate from Gaelic "Dun Bheagan", meaning Fort of the Few or Little. Other sources refer to a Gaelic-Norse origin: "Dun Bekan" - Bekan`s Fort or "Avaig" - Ship. Whatever the truth, the name “Dunvegan” is redolent of the Norse-Gael heritage of the MacLeods. As MacLeod of MacLeod said:
“Any visit to the enchanted Isle of Skye must be deemed incomplete without savouring the wealth of history offered by Dunvegan Castle.”
We couldn't agree more with MacLeod: Whether you are strolling through the garden, wandering through the magnificent halls, or enjoying a wee treat at MacLeod's Tables Café, Dunvegan Castle is a real gem on the Isle of Skye.
According to the legend, Alasdair Crotach MacLeod (8th Chief of Clan MacLeod | 1450 - 1547) visited the court of James V in Edinburgh, the lowlanders began to anger him by suggesting that he would never find the elegance of Edinburgh in Skye, with such spacious halls, candelabra and such a beautiful table.
Thereupon Chieftain MacLeod agreed that they were very fine however, in Skye there was a much grander table, with a finer roof and much better lighting.
One of the courtiers said that he only would believe it if he could see it for himself, therefore MacLeod invited him to Skye.
On arrival he was taken to the top of Healabhal Mhor, where the flat top was covered with food and wine, the sky was full of stars and the banquet was lit by scores of clansmen holding lighted torches.
After the meal, the Clan Chief asked: “Truly Sir, this is a roof grander than was ever made by human hands, this table you must confess is more commodious than any that can be shown even in the royal court, while these faithful vassals of mine are more precious by far than any metallic contrivance however costly and ornate it might be.”
Their Gaelic names are Healabhal Bheag (488m) and Healabhal Mhor (469 m). Although Healabhal Bheag is actually the higher of the two hills Healabhal Mhor has the extensive flat top, hence the grander name. The twin flat-topped conical hills are well seen on the approach from Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye.