Knock Castle, which is also known as Castle Camus, was built by the MacLeod clan in the late thirteenth century in order to control the Sleat peninsula. Around 1435 it was seized by the MacDonalds and they substantially rebuilt the structure including adding the Keep and enhancing the fortifications which enabled it to resist an attempt by the MacLeods to retake it.
Knock Caste, which is also known by the Gaelic name of Caisteal Uaine (Castle Camus), was built by the MacLeod clan to dominate the eastern side of the Sleat peninsula on the Isle of Skye. The MacLeods dominated Lewis, in the Western Isles, and by the late thirteenth century controlled much of Skye as vassals of the Earls of Ross.
The castle was built on top of a rocky headland that had previously been the site of an Iron Age fort known as Dun Thorabhaig. The first elements of the medieval castle were raised in the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century and consisted of an enclosure castle with a number of ranges and a curtain wall surrounding a courtyard. The landward approach to the structure was cut by a ditch whilst the other sides were protected by sheer cliffs. A small harbour existed at the bottom of the fortress enabling unhindered communication between the other MacLeod strongholds on the mainland and the Western Isles.
The fifteenth century was a difficult time for the MacLeod clan which saw them losing vast tracts of territory to their rivals. Knock Castle, along with the whole of the Sleat peninsula, was seized by the MacDonalds around 1435. However, by the late fifteenth century, James IV had broken the power of the that clan and this offered the MacLeods a chance to recover lost lands. In 1495 Alasdair Crotach MacLeod successfully retook Dunscaith Castle, on the west coast of the Sleat peninsula, and went on to besiege Knock Castle but it proved too strong forcing him to withdraw. Whilst Alasdair went on to have success against other MacDonald strongholds, notably the seizure of Duntulm Castle in 1498, the Sleat peninsula remained in their hands.
Knock Castle was eventually returned to the MacLeod clan in 1596 by Royal Charter with the proviso that it should be made readily available as a Royal residence. Perhaps this prompted the rebuilding that occurred around this time when a new house was added overlooking the existing courtyard. The last recorded resident was McConnillreich who sealed a document there dated 31 August 1632 declaring Sir Donald MacDonald to be his Clan Chief suggesting ownership of the castle remained disputed. What, if any, action was taken about this state of affairs is uncertain but by 1689 the site had been abandoned. Thereafter stone was quarried from the fortification for use in other projects and it was never rebuilt.
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Knock Castle is an unstable ruin with sheer drops and unstable masonry. Extreme care should be taken when visiting the site. A portion of the fifteenth century Keep and traces of ancillary buildings survive. It is worth pairing a visit with nearby Armadale Castle which includes the Museum of the Isles.
Knock Castle was built on the site of an earlier fortification (referred to as Dun Thorabhaig on Ordnance Survey maps but also called Dun Horavaig in some field notes).