The name Doune is a corruption of the old word 'dun' meaning fortified town. There is some evidence of an ancient earthwork fort here, however you'll have to look really hard to find it.
Doune castle sits in a location that is both strategic and impressively well defended. It's close to the geographic centre of Scotland and only 5 miles from Stirling Castle, the "Gateway to the Highlands". To the west the castle is protected by the River Teith and the Ardoch Burn guards its eastern flank. The entrance on the northern side of the castle is defended by earthworks and ramparts.
The castle's gatehouse stood over 100 feet high when it was built and has the Lord's Hall and three storeys of rooms above the entrance passageway.
The cobbled entrance passageway is over 40 feet long. Would-be attackers would have to get through two timber doors, a portcullis and a strong iron yett before they could get in. Meanwhile arrow loops and machicolations ("murder holes") would allow the defenders to shoot arrows at them and drop things on them.
Doune Castle was a very secure fortress and rarely changed hands as a result of military action.
Most of the present day castle was built by Robert Stewart, the first Duke of Albany, sometime in the late 14th Century. There is no firm date for the construction of the castle, but it was at least partially complete by 1381.
Robert Stewart and his son Murdoch were Regents for the King. When Murdoch was executed by James I in 1424 the castle became a royal fortress. It was used as a hunting lodge and retreat from the affairs of state by the Stewart Court.
During the 15th Century it was a dower house for three Stewart queens. Mary, Queen of Scots, stayed at Doune on several occasions and the castle remained loyal to her after her abdication in 1567. It was eventually taken by the 4th Earl of Lennox.
The castle came into the hands of the Earls of Moray by marriage in 1580 and they owned it until the late 20th Century. The 17th and 18th centuries saw the castle play its part during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, the English Civil War and the Jacobite uprisings.
Bonnie Prince Charlie held it during the 1745 uprising and it was, not for the first time, used to house prisoners of war. Several prisoners from the Battle of Falkirk escaped, including John Witherspoon who later moved to America and was a signatory of the United States Declaration of Independence.
Despite some running repairs, the castle continued to fall into ruin through the 18th Century and it was roofless by 1800. In 1880 George Stewart, the 14th Earl of Moray, made extensive repairs to it. The roof was repaired, as was the Lord's Hall. To the west of the Lord's Hall you'll find the Great Hall and the Kitchen Tower, both of which were renovated and repaired.
The Kitchen Tower is almost a house in its own right. The kitchen is one of the best-appointed for its age in Scotland with ovens and a huge fireplace. Above the kitchens are the "Royal Apartments" where the various royal visitors would have been housed.
Douglas Stewart, the 20th Earl of Moray gifted the castle to the care of the nation in 1984 and today it is run and maintained by Historic Scotland. The castle stands as a well-preserved and authentic medieval castle.
Doune Castle is open to the public, for a small entrance fee, and visitors can explore the courtyard and many of the castle's rooms. The cellars house the castle's well and contain exhibits about the history of the site, and both the Lord's Hall and the Great Hall have been restored. The castle is available for hire as a wedding venue and you'll also find a gift shop, toilets and decent car parking on site.
Doune Castle has appeared on film a few times. In 1952 parts of Ivanhoe were filmed here and, most famously, many of the castle scenes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail were shot in various parts of the castle. Most recently the TV series Game of Thrones used Doune Castle as the set for Winterfell.
Status: Museum / Wedding Venue
Owner: Historic Scotland
Tel: +44 (0)1786 841 742
Opening Times: Daily April to September 9.30am to 5.30am
Daily October 9.30am to 4.30pm
Mon-Wed and weekends November to March 9.30am to 4.30pm
Doune Castle from the River Teith
Gatehouse Tower and entrance at Doune Castle