DOUNE: WHERE HISTORY MEETS ENTERTAINMENT
What do Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Outlander, and Game of Thrones have in common? Each of these modern entertainment classics were filmed, in some part, at Doune Castle!
This formidable 14th century fortification may have a long history, but its most recent interactions with popular culture propels it to hidden gem status on a drive through Scotland.
I first visited Doune Castle on the strong recommendation of a friend. Given the castle is intact, rather than ruins, it provided her with a more authentic experience than others in Scotland. Yet, it remains less well-known than its Scottish counterparts so there are no long queues for certain parts or ropes blocking certain pathways. One visit later, and her recommendation was verified. I’ve been steering people to Doune Castle ever since!
Despite its more recent fame, Doune Castle has much more to offer than being a fantastic filming location with its rich history. Inside its walls, you’ll find an elaborate, well-preserved (or, in some cases, restored) labyrinth of rooms, large and small, connected by spiral staircases, narrow corridors, and low-hanging doors.
Make sure you go all the way to the top of the ancient stairs because you’ll emerge to a breathtaking view of the surrounding countryside, the River Teith, Ben Lomond Mountain, and Doune village. Standing at the top, peering out across the seemingly endless skyline, is one of my favourite experiences on this one-day road trip. Take a moment to imagine what it may have been like for the castle’s inhabitants. Were they keeping watch here for approaching attackers or familiar friends
As soon as the television adaption of the Outlander novels by Diana Gabaldon announced filming was taking place at Doune Castle, fans began to visit. A tale of time travel, Outlander’s protagonist Claire is mysteriously swept from 1945 to 17th century Scotland and the time of the Jacobite Rebellion. If you haven’t read it yet, it’s a great series to enjoy on this road trip as you travel through the very lands it is set in. It’ll also give you insight into several of Scotland’s other historical locations you can visit today.
While Doune Castle wasn’t actually in the novels, it was transformed into Castle Leoch – the fictional home of the Clan MacKenzie, of which Jamie, Claire’s love interest, is a part of. In case it wasn’t already apparent, I’m an ardent fan!
Doune Castle is also well-known for another cult classic – Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Filming began in various castles across Scotland, until the National Trust withdrew permission (after reading the script!) Privately owned, Doune Castle was able to step in to play virtually every castle seen in the film.
The impressive Great Hall, one of the best kept in any Scottish castle, was used in multiple scenes, including the infamous “Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries” moment. A Monty Python Day has been held at Doune Castle every September since 2004.
When exploring Doune, you’ll be able to listen to a fact-packed audio guide that includes hilarious stories of Monty Python’s time here as well as the castle’s fascinating history. Even if Monty Python and Outlander are unfamiliar to you, it makes for entertaining listening as you wind through the ancient rooms.
And, where exactly does Game of Thrones fit into the castle’s life story? If you stretch your mind back to the very first episode, the castle was actually the location of Winterfell. Spoiler alert! It remains in a much better condition than most of the Stark family.
Despite Doune’s obvious appeal to fans of recent pop culture, visiting the castle remains a fantastic experience for history-lovers on a drive through Scotland. The castle, originally built in the 13th century, was the epicentre of action in several wars and uprisings and damaged during the Scottish War of Independence. Rebuilt in the 14th century, it was almost a ruin by the 1800s and has been superbly restored over time.
The castle’s outbuildings and internal courtyard, surrounded by a high stone wall, give visitors a sense of what it was like in its heyday – a knight or lady in medieval clothing could conceivably emerge at any second. Doune Castle is certainly one of my favourites to visit. Walking the halls surrounded by so much thought-provoking antiquity is a real treat. It costs just £5.50 to enter, which includes the essential audio guide.