Trip review: Doune Castle, Perthshire

Doune Castle is a great day out for anyone wanting to learn about Scottish history, while being out in Scotland’s wonderfully fresh air! Oh, and a ‘wee’ touch Monty Python ………but more on that later.

Driving up to the castle on a cold damp day, we found that we could park easily and the toilets were well sign posted. Before heading into the castle, we took our ADHD dog for a quick walk around the grounds. The only downside was Historic Scotland’s request to keep dogs on the lead, fair enough when so close to farm land.

On entering the castle, the small ticket booth was housed within the entrance passage. On paying for our tickets, we were handed an audio tour ‘for interpretation purposes’ which set our expectations high.

150Before explaining much more about our day out, I’ll explain why I was so excited to visit Doune Castle.  The Castle is one of Scotland’s finest late-medieval strongholds standing proudly between the River Teith and Ardoch Burn.  Built in the 1300’s, it is not known who originally owned the castle but it is most famously associated with Robert Stewart, a member of the royal house of Stewart who held the government of Scotland for 22 years  (1388 – 1420). All relatively  history buff, geeky, yes?

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Well, it gets geekier! I was extra chuffed to visit because I wanted to learn more about the Victorian Restoration of the building which took place in the 1800’s, and the artistic and technical arguments which raged during the castles restoration phase. Two BIG Victorian heavyweights who ploughed their way into the argument against  over-zealous restoration were the art critic, John Ruskin and design guru William Morris. Both were increasingly disturbed with the amount of restoration which was taking place within Britain’s historic built environment at this time. Their campaigning and influence resulted in the first legislation in Britain aimed to preserve ancient monuments (Ancient Monuments Protection Act of 1882).  However, very little was mentioned via the audio tour (only really pointing out the gargoyles), or the castle signage about the Victorian changes. Poor show!! Only in the guidebook is the restoration briefly mentioned.

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As I say, expectations were high for the audio tour which is narrated by Monty Python superstar and history nut, Terry Jones. As most people are well aware, Doune Castle is the set of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Filmed in 1975,  the castle has now become a pilgrimage for history buffs and Monty Python fans alike. Although the Terry Jones touch is quirky, the audio tour focuses too heavily on the Monty Python connection, often missing out crucial information about the design of the castle.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I loved being guided through famous Grail scenes by Mr. Jones while standing ‘on set’ but we must always keep in mind the wonderfully rich history of this building while nodding to it’s recent fame.

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The window at Swamp Castle

You can watch the Swamp Castle scene here:

Due to Doune’s stunning location and surviving rooms, it has been used loads of times for entertainment purposes including Ivanhoe (1997), Outlander (ongoing) and one I am personally excited about GAME OF THRONES (2009 pilot).

As you can probably see from my post, we loved the day out but learned more about TV and film locations, than Scotland’s rich historic past! Overall, I would recommend a day out to Doune just to visit Castle Swamp, Castle Anthrax and Winterfell……but buy the guidebook.

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