One of several fortifications built by the MacLeod clan on the Isle of Skye, Dunscaith Castle occupies a large rock overlooking Loch Eishort on the western side of the Sleat peninsula. Also known as Dùn Sgàthaich, it was taken over by the MacDonalds of Skye but was recaptured by the MacLeods in 1495.
Dunscaith Castle, which is also known by the Gaelic name of Dùn Sgàthaich, occupies a large rock overlooking Loch Eishort on the western side of the Sleat peninsula. Like nearby Knock Castle, it was built by the MacLeod clan who dominated Lewis, in the Western Isles, and by the late thirteenth century controlled much of the Isle of Skye as vassals of the Earls of Ross. Built upon the site of a much earlier fortification, that seems to have been partly vitrified, Dunscaith Castle was established by the early fourteenth century.
The castle had strong natural defences for the rock on which it built had near vertical drops of in excess of 10 metres on all sides. Despite this, the summit of the rock was enclosed by a curtain wall with the surviving portions suggesting this stood 5 metres tall and in excess of 1 metre thick. The castle was connected to the mainland by a drawbridge which crossed an artificially constructed trench hewn out of the rock. From this access point a steep set of steps worked their way up to the summit of the rock which was occupied by numerous buildings including a large rectangular structure which is presumed to be a Great Hall. A small seaward gate on the south side provided the means to embark goods from boats below.
The MacLeods held Dunscaith until around 1435 when the entire Sleat peninsula was seized by the MacDonalds of Skye. However, by the late fifteenth century, James IV had broken the power of the clan and had taken the MacDonald estates, including Dunscaith, into Crown control. The MacLeods saw a chance to recover lost lands and in 1495 Alasdair Crotach MacLeod successfully retook Dunscaith Castle, captured Duntulm Castle and attempted, but failed, to recover control of Knock Castle. He was officially granted a pardon for his actions in 1515. The feud between the MacLeods and MacDonalds of Skye over the ownership of Sleat came to an end in the seventeenth century when the latter shifted their main seat to Duntulm Castle.
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Dunscaith Castle is in a ruinous condition. Much of the curtain wall has fallen into the sea whilst the castle's internal buildings have been reduced to overgrown foundations. With the drawbridge long since gone, access to the interior requires manoeuvre over a large gap with a significant drop below.
Dunscaith Castle. The castle occupies a rock with steep drops on all sides.
Summit. The castle buildings were all built upon the summit of the rock. Today only grass covered foundations remain.
Curtain Wall. Small fragments of the curtain wall survive.
Drawbridge. The castle is connected to the mainland via two arched walls spanning over a drop of several of metres. Originally this gap would have been crossed by a drawbridge.
Dunscaith is located on the western coast of the Sleat peninsula on the Isle of Skye. Take the turning off the A851 sign-posted to Tokavaig and follow an unnamed road for approximately six miles. The castle is visible (in the distance) from the road. There is no car park but a small lay-by is nearby.
Car Parking Option