One of the most popular tourist attractions in the area is Urquhart Castle nestling on the side of Loch Nessat Drumnadrochit. The history is well documented in the excellent booklet published by Historic Scotland and there is an all embracing account of the chequered history of this famous landmark. To a certain extent the position of the castle and its design indicates that it was in many ways self supporting in that it would be able to withstand any sieges. This is indicated by the massive “Trebuchet”, a medieval siege engine, and the modern replica that looks very forbidding. This defence and armament would have been boosted by the fact that supplies could be brought in by boat on Loch Ness to a help the beleaguered occupants. Unusually there is a further, albeit small, supply of food in the fact that there is a doocot within the outer walls of the fort. This is unusual in the doocots of the Highlands as very few, Kilravock Castle, near Croy, east of Inverness, is another one, where the doocot is attached or in the immediate grounds of the castle. The doocot would have been an invaluable supply of fresh meat from the young of the doves, and to a certain extent eggs, at all times of the year.
The Urquhart doocot is one of the very few that I had not visited before so it was with some anticipation that I went there recently. The doocot is of the old type in that it was built in the 1500s and its age and design is similar to the older of the two in the grounds of Gordonstoun school. The design is called the “beehive” as it resembles the shape of the old bee hives. The Urquhart Castle doocot is almost certainly the one described as the “dove-grove” referred to in the charter of 1509. The doocot is at the west end of the Castle site, within the walls. All that remains of the doocot are rubble walls standing nearly a metre high and the only signs of the dove nesting boxes are the four incorporated into the wall. Apart from the ruinous doocot there is a good interpretation of the castle and the doocot in the fine display inside the Visitor’s Centre. Historic Scotland has a model of the castle before it became a ruin and it gives a much better idea of the former layout of the site. The photograph shows the doocot in the foreground and the main part of the castle in the background with the great expanse of Loch Ness as a backcloth.
Doocots are scattered far and wide in the Highlands and at one time was an important source of food at all times of the year although, by law, only the wealthier people were able to have them or had the finances to build and maintain them. Some, such as the well known one at Culloden in Inverness, are in good order whilst others have fallen into disuse. The ruinous doocot at Foyers on the side of Loch Ness is a good example. Doocots also had a multipurpose such as the lower part of the one at Grangehall near Findhorn that was used to house pigs. The one at Foyers had pheasants in the lower part and others have similar multi-purpose uses. At a time when fresh food in the winter was scarce such buildings as doocots and structures such as fish ponds were essential before refrigeration came into being.