The Holy Grail of Castles: Doune Castle

And now! At Last! Another castle completely different from some of the other castles which aren’t quite the same as this one is.

To the uninformed Doune Castle might not be that impressive and in fact it isn’t. Compared to the plethora of castles that litter the Scottish countryside it is rather ramshackle and bare. While the castle was originally built in 1425 and has a rich history with enough executions, ransomed kings and sieges for a handful of Shakespearean tragedies, the truly interesting history is a lot more recent. 1975 recent in fact, because as all people with a good sense of humour should know, Doune Castle was used for the filming of one of the greatest comedies of all time: Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

You might have guessed by now that I am a rather big Python fan, so visiting Doune was a kind of pilgrimage for me and listening to Terry Jones’ commentary and snippets from and about the filming of the movie was as close to nirvana as I could get. And for only £5.50 to walk in the footsteps of the Pythons and the mighty Trojan Rabbit it was a steal!

The Monty Python team originally planned on filming at several other castles around Scotland for the movie, however at the last moment the National Trust for Scotland withdrew permission at the last moment of all but Doune Castle, forcing the Pythons the use tight shots of various parts of the castle as stand in for the various other fictional castles in the movie. Considering the relative small size of the Castle and the number of castles in the movie, this is a really impressive piece of cinematography.

Stepping inside the castle and listening to Terry Jones’ audio tour is unbelievable and, unlike many other castles I’ve visited lately, included in the entry fee.

Thankfully the audio commentary has two options: a normal commentary about the castle’s actual history ranging from its political intrigue to the various refurbishments that have been done over the centuries, and a second extended part that goes into details about several of the scenes and how the Pythons accomplished them. I’m really glad they did this since it has been a few months since I last saw Monty Python and the Holy Grail and the scenes were so well disguised that I wouldn’t have recognized them if they were not pointed out to me. This scene for example:

This is the window that the King of Swamp Castle described to Prince Herbert his perseverance in building a castle in the swamp despite the fact that the first three sunk into the swamp. Being able to look out as Prince Herbert did and hearing Michael Palin speak those hallowed lines made me shiver.

The Great Hall might not look that great by the Pythons only had a few hours to film the entire of the Knights of the Round Table song and dance routine in it. Considering that it had over 40 shots this is really impressive.

I’m pretty sure that I was not the only person tempted to yell “Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!” at the people walking up the path. Aside from the temptations to verbally abuse passersby in a horrible French accent, the views are stunning and there are some really great walks around the castle.

Even visiting the gift shop is a dreadfully punny activity:

Leaving Doune Castle I found a swallow’s nest underneath one of the arches and I was left with a silly grin on my face and one question racing through my mind: “Was that an African or European swallow?”