Disclaimer: the information contained here was compiled from myth, legend, folklore and hearsay. Names dates and events may not be factual, but the story is beguiling nonetheless.
Rounding the northern end of the Trotternish peninsula past Loch Cleat in Scotland a mysterious piece of Highland history comes into view. The scene opens to the west with rolling green hillsides gently sloping toward the sea. The landscape is sprinkled with a smattering of white cottages around which billowy tufts of fleece flock and graze. Just beyond the cottages a headland juts into the sea to the northwest topped by the craggy remains of a crumbling castle which some believe may just be the most haunted place on the Isle of Skye.
Duntulm has a rich history that spans several centuries beginning as home to Picts and rumored to be built in the night by fairies, fortress was laid seige by early Norse invaders, blood stained by great Highland fueds and made restless during the Jacobite risings of the 18th century. Rebuilt and fortified on several occasions the castle stands surrounded on three sides by sheer cliffs that extend to a rocky sea bed. The castle was probably a fortification to be reckoned with. But while the thick stone walls and high towers may have been designed to keep out invaders and rivals, they were probably not expected to keep in those who lived and died there. The castle sits in ruins since it was abandoned sometime around 1732, yet it is believed that many of the occupants remain, haunting the ruins of the castle, as well as the surrounding land and sea.
A one-eyed woman roams the land mourning the loss of her marriage
Over the centuries the land and the castle unwillingly changed hands several times between the MacLeod and MacDonald Clans and the Crown, spurring a feud that spanned at least four centuries. Late in the 16th century, Rory MacLeod offered his sister Margaret in marriage to the current chieftain of Duntulm, Donald Gorm Mor MacDonald as a peace offering to help unite the two Clans. During the first year of their handfast marriage Margaret not only failed to provide a child, but also lost an eye in an accident. Because of this the MacDonald chieftain shunned her. According to Military Wiki, “He tied her, facing backwards, onto a one-eyed horse, led by a one-eyed servant and followed by a one-eyed mongrel dog, and sent all four back to Dunvegan Castle.”
This gesture apparently further fueled the feuds and led to the bloody Battle of Coire Na Creiche, also referred to as the War of the One-Eyed Woman.
Some visitors to the castle have apparently reported seeing Margaret roaming the grounds weeping from her one good eye for the love she lost.
From the dungeons of the castle many people claim to hear the hoarse, mad cries of a raving lunatic
In retaliation of the previous events, Rory MacLeod’s nephew Hugh plotted to kill the MacDonald chieftain and take back the castle for the MacLeods. But his plot was discovered and he was imprisoned in the dungeons. Fed only scraps of salted meat and given no water, he succumbed to the effects of severe dehydration and went completely mad before dying a horrible death. Folklore says that even tried to eat his own hands.
A medieval Fight Club ensues throughout the castle
Shortly after, in 1616 Donald Grom Mor MacDonald died . While he was alive he had quite a reputation for drinking late into the night and getting into brawls with his companions. Some say that tradition continues as he and his otherworldly guests carry on in a medieval style Fight Club style throughout the castle.
Restless warriors battle for honor
As the fued continued to rage throughout the centuries the MacDonalds and MacLeods fought many battles for the lands on Skye. They also revolted several times in the Jacobite efforts to restore a Stuart King to the throne. Kilted members of both Clans from throughout the centuries have reportedly been seen, battle ready, marching out from the castle and waging bloody wars on the grassy knolls around Duntulm.
A woman’s screams flood the air around the rocky shore line
Sometime in the early 18th century, it is rumored that the infant son of the Chieftain fell from a tower window. As punishment, the nursemaid who carelessly dropped him, was sent to the same fate. Visitors have reported seeing a mysterious woman walking along the rocky shore line as well as hearing her terrified screams and the muffled cried of a baby on the wind.
Selkies and finfolk strike terror in the sea
Another version of the story has the nursemaid cast off to sea from the rocky shore line in a leaky boat with no oars. It is believed by some that a trecherous storm rose that night, thrashing the boat against the rocks as the Selkies and Finfolk battled over the woman. They can often be seen in the waters around Duntulm shifting their form to move between sea and land luring their helpless victims into the spell of the Sea.
Whichever way the story truly unfolded, the hauntings in and around the castle became to much for the inhabitants and around 1730 they abandoned Duntulm in favor of building a new home at Monkstadt and later Armadale. It is believed that parts of the castle were dismantled and pillaged during this process. What remained of the towering castle walls over the years have crumbled into the sea below leaving little remaining but a craggy pile of rubble.
Today the site is protected as a scheduled monument. Fences, gates and signage warn that the castle and the rocky cliff sides are structurally unstable and should not be entered, but many seem to ignore those warnings leading to the continued destruction of the site. If you go, please be respectful of the site and its ghostly inhabitants, or you just might find yourself the next spectral resident of Duntulm Castle.
As we wandered around the outside of the castle fences and onto the rocky shores below, we didn’t see or hear any tormented apparitions. But we did see a beautiful stretch of rocky coastline, tidepools and seaside views well worth fighting to protect.