Caisteal Maol, Skye – Clan MacKinnon
Holding a commanding position overlooking the straight of Kyle Akin, Caisteal Maol was once one of the most strategically placed castles in all of Scotland.
An ancient seat of Clan MacKinnon, the castle’s closeness to the straight would be highly beneficial to the family, as it meant they had control over the safest sea passage between the Isle of Skye and the mainland. Such was the family’s control over the straight, it is said that the 4th MacKinnon chief, Findanus, would run a heavy chain across the water, levying a toll on any shipping vessel that wanted to pass through.
Although interesting, this story about the chain is likely a myth, as the castle was not constructed until a few hundred years later. By this time, the Isle of Skye was under the nominal control of the Kingdom of Norway, with King Haakon IV said to have assembled his fleet of longships in the straight before the Battle of Largs in 1263. Luckily for the Scottish, this battle would be an unmitigated disaster for the Norwegians as their strength in Scotland was crushed in the aftermath of the engagement.
The MacKinnons would remain in ownership of the castle throughout the subsequent centuries as they expanded their land holdings on the Isle of Skye through gifts given by Robert the Bruce after the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. The structure would eventually be rebuilt towards the end of the 15th century and it is these ruins that are still visible today. Originally a rectangular tower house with three stories, it would be an important meeting place for the nobility of the islands, as it is here that the clan chiefs of the Hebrides would gather to sign an agreement in support of Donald MacDonald as Lord of the Isles. Sadly, the power of the Lords of the Isles would soon wane after this meeting and by 1601, the site was abandoned in favour of more comfortable lodgings.
This would not be the end of the site as an important asset for the MacKinnons, however, as they would continue to use it as a key source of revenue, returning to their roots to control a ferry across the strait of Kyle Akin in the early 17th century. Sadly for the castle, while the MacKinnon’s would prosper with their income from the ferry route, their former home would fall into disrepair as it was left abandoned. A sad end for a castle that was once one of the most important in Scotland, it is now no more than a ruin, blending into the rocky landscape that the clan used to call home.
Further sections of the castle have since broken off during storms in 1949 and 1989 and although the structure has now been properly secured, more damage occurred in 2018, as a lightning strike further destroyed the ruins. Despite this turmoil, the castle is still worthy of a visit for anyone with a connection to the MacKinnon Clan or simply a love for Scottish castles. It can be reached by car from the Scottish mainland across the impressive Skye Bridge and is only a short hike from the Village of Kyleakin, with which the straight shares its name.