Castle Leod, Ross-shire – Clan MacKenzie
Widely considered to be the inspiration for ‘Castle Leoch’, the seat of Clan MacKenzie in the cult TV series, ‘Outlander’, Castle Leod is home to the real Clan MacKenzie and is an imposing structure located within a stunning wood, around 5 miles to the west of the Highland town of Dingwall.
Originally the location of a fort which was built after the last ice age, the structure would at one point become home to Thorfinn II, the Norse King, who would base himself at this primitive Pictish castle during the Battle of Torfness in 1030 when MacBeth was said to have taken the Scottish Throne
This original structure would not last for very long, however, as it would soon be replaced by a stone keep which would remain until the late 15th century when the land would come under the control of its most famous rulers, the MacKenzies. During the years between the life of Thorfinn II and the arrival of the MacKenzies, the castle would be modified to closely resemble its current design with only minor alterations made in the subsequent years, such as the removal of a lower story which once existed below the castle. It is this castle that the MacKenzies would inherit as a reward following the participation of John of Killin, 10th Chief of Clan MacKenzie, in the battle of Flodden in 1513 and the structure would remain the family’s home to this day.
Over the years, the MacKenzies would grow to be one of the strongest clans in Scotland, largely thanks to the work of Sir Rory Mackenzie, the de-facto chief and one of the most feared men in the highlands during the 16th century. His son, George, would become the first Earl of Cromartie and would serve as the Secretary of State for Scotland while retaining a strong friendship with the famous scientist, Sir Isaac Newton.
Later, George, the 3rd Earl, would move against the establishment and raise around 500 Mackenzie men to take part in the 1745 Jacobite rising on the side of Bonnie Prince Charlie. The Mackenzies would fight on the front line at the Battle of Falkirk but George would be captured the day before the infamous Battle of Culloden and sentenced to death while the family would be stripped of their titles and estates. However, thanks to the bravery of his wife, ‘Bonnie Bell’ Isabella Gordon,who would show extraordinary bravery to petition the king and befriend the Prince of Wales, his sentence was reduced to a life of exile in Devon.
George’s son, Lord MacLeod, would be allowed to leave custody at the age of 19 and would be recognised as a fantastic soldier in Sweden, where he would be given the title of ‘Count Cromartie of Sweden’, before returning to Castle Leod where he would see out the rest of his days.
The family’s fortunes would then wane, although the castle would be renovated in the mid 19th century by the Hay-Mackenzies, who would also add a large extension to the north of the castle as a new section for use by the family’s butler. The structure would see another restoration in the early 1990s as its roof was made watertight.
Today, the castle still occupies fine grounds, including a rose garden and a 470-year-old sweet chestnut tree, which was planted in 1550. It can be visited by the public on a number of limited days throughout the year.