Doune Castle, 2016 – A Bare Bones Beauty

There’s a very good chance that even if you haven’t stepped foot on Scottish soil, you’ve seen Doune Castle. The iconic castle has been featured as Wintefell in Game of Thrones, Castle Leoch in Outlander, and most notably, in several scenes of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The castle was such an important set in Monty Python and the Holy Grail that the audio guide for the castle is narrated by Terry Jones!

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I hadn’t realized until we were already in Scotland that the castle had played such a significant role in film; I was just excited to see it because it was a 14th century castle (built by Robert Stewart, the Duke of Albany) that happened to be located close to where we were staying in Stirling.

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While I didn’t regret my decision not to get an audio guide for Stirling Castle (even though the ticket guy argued with me for a few minutes and tried to force one on me), it’s an absolute must for Doune Castle.  Unlike the other castles we visited, Doune was not furnished and the signage was minimal. For that reason, I fell head over heels in love with Doune Castle. It was everything I had been hoping to see in a medieval Scottish castle.

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The other unexpected (at least by me) bonus of the audio guide was the narration. Terry Jones is fabulously entertaining, and along with historical facts about Doune Castle, he tossed in tidbits about filming scenes of Monty Python and the Holy Grail at Doune. My favorite involved the tidbit about how they asked actual visitors at the castle to be extras, including a scene in which the guy is then pushed down a set of stairs.

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In each room of the castle, there would be a sign with a number, which you then keyed in to your audio guide to play the appropriate dialogue for that particular room. This is handy, in case you wander in an area out of order, as I did.

If you come to Doune as a fan of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. If you come to Doune as a fan of Outlander, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed, either. Certain rooms had an extra bonus audio – an optional Outlander dialogue, narrated by none other than Jamie himself, Sam Heughan. The Outlander audio clips included facts about filming at the castle such as how the first day of filming went and what they did to make the castle look authentic. The most interesting is that they built a replica castle set to use for the kitchen scenes, to avoid damaging the real castle.

The only fandom who may be disappointed are Game of Thrones fans expecting to learn about using the castle as Winterfell. There was shockingly little information about it, given the show’s (and novels’) success.

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One of my favorite areas of the castle was the kitchen, largely because of how big the “oven” is. After ducking underneath the archway (two pictures below), I could stand up within the hearth and look up the flue (below) – an opening carved out of the wall to allow smoke to escape, the equivalent of a modern day chimney.  It’s fascinating to see in person aspects of castles I had grown up reading about, and at Doune Castle you are completely free to wander and explore on your own.

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Due to being an idiot in vacation mode, I did not immediately write down everything I learned from the audio guide as soon as we returned to the Airbnb. The rest of this post will be whatever I happen to remember.

The Great Hall (below) was shocking for its height, but otherwise not overwhelming. It looked how I imagined it would, other than the brazier in the middle. I had always pictured the great hall to have a massive, wall-set hearth.

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I ventured upstairs next, and let me tell you something about these stairs – they are narrow, uneven, and so tightly spiraled you’ll be dizzy by halfway up. When I was on the way back down afterwards, a nervous visitor was ascending. She had a massive ‘deer in the headlights’ look, so I volunteered to stand in the short window alcove to let her pass. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t spend the time waiting there thinking about how difficult it would  be to do that with massive skirts on. I once again applaud the women of the past!

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One of the only decorated rooms was the Lord’s Hall. In the 1800s (disclaimer: I can’t remember the actual date, but this time period sticks out in my mind, so I’m rolling with it), the hall was redecorated in what the people of the time believed had been appropriately “medieval”. According to the audio guide, they were pretty far off base.

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I climbed another set of stairs and entered an open room (I sadly don’t recall its purpose). What I do remember is that there used to be a floor above this which rested on slats that fit into the deep grooves within the walls. It might be hard to tell in the picture (below), but if you look below the window, you should be able to see five of the grooves.

The audio guide informs that they aren’t sure what happened to the floor over the years, but they know the family would have slept in rooms up there.

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In case it isn’t already obvious, Doune was my preferred castle between it and Stirling. Stirling did have the victory point when it came to the battlements, though.

It was disappointing to see no access was allowed on the battlements of Doune Castle. Given the natural state they’re in, though, it’s not hard to see why. It would be easy for someone to accidentally slip and fall off, and from that height you could easily do significant damage – or worse – to yourself. Still, I bet the open view is stunning.

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One of the most interesting aspects of Doune can be seen in the picture directly above. If that portion of wall looks like a door to you, that’s because it is. According to the sign, this was used as an escape route in the event of an attack on the castle.  Though somewhat obvious in appearance, it would definitely be handy in the event of a crisis.

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Doune Castle was eye-opening, and one of my favorite parts of our trip. It was definitely my favorite castle we saw, and I could kick myself for not writing down everything I remembered from the audio guide.

We had a thrilling last day in Stirling, and topped it off with repacking all of our luggage and cleaning up our essentially non-existent messes. As much as I hate packing, I was looking forward to the next stage of our adventure – driving around the North Coast 500.

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Have you been to Doune Castle? Did you go because of a fandom?

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