Ormacleit Castle
Ormacleit Castle

Think of Ormacleit as a fortified manor rather than a castle and you will be closer to the mark. There are no pinnacled towers here, merely the impressive shell of a ruined mansion intended to show the power and influence of Clan Ranald.

Ormacleit had one of the shortest lifespans of any castle in Scotland. It was begun around 1701 by Allan MacDonald, the chief of Clanranald, on the site of an earlier 16th-century house built by another Allan MacDonald, the 9th chief.

Parts of this medieval house may be incorporated into the current building. The second MacDonald brought in a French architect and team of stonemasons to do the work. This they did, taking seven years to complete the project, and Ormacleit was occupied from 1707.

No sooner had the castle been finished than it burned down in 1715, on the eve of the Battle of Sheriffmuir (or on the same day, according to other sources). Perhaps it was an ill omen, for the chief died in the battle, and the castle was never rebuilt. Instead, the main Clanranald residence shifted to Nunton, on Benbecula.

The castle was built to a T plan, and stood two storeys high, with a forecourt to the north. Local tales tell that the castle was roofed with marble. This seems more than unlikely but finds of green gneiss on the site suggest a reason for the belief.

Today, the roofless castle stands beside a farmhouse. It is not open to the public, but you can get a very good view of the ruins from the road.