Dunvegan is still a family residence, and in fact it has been continuously occupied by the Chiefs of the Clan MacLeod since 1270. While privately owned, parts of the castle are open as a museum, holding many mementos of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Clan MacLeod. It’s a bit of a red-velvet-rope-museum piece, but very interesting.
The current castle consists of a 14th century square keep, and a 16th century tower — the Fairy Tower — and another half-block of the 17th century. Originally the castle was surrounded by a curtain wall, and the grounds are currently maintained as lovely gardens. The climate here is odd — it is apparently warm enough and humid enough to grow some rather amazing tropical plants, even so far north as Skye.
More buildings were added after 1680 (up to the present day, really) and the castle was extensively remodeled in the 19th century to add crenellations and ornamental bartizans. A lot of castles have had these defensive items added back, in fanciful form, as decorations.
Dunvegan is the home of the Fairy Flag, a tattered and faded piece of silk which, when carried by the clan in war, can be called upon to guarantee their victory. Many stories exist about how it was acquired — one says that it was given to the clan chief by his fairie wife, another that it was captured from the Saracens while on crusade. Regardless, it is held in high esteem by the clan and is ready to be unfurled once again when needed.
A sea gate also existed in the castle tower, which enabled the castle to get supplied if the landward side was under siege.
We got yelled at for trying to go through the museum backwards in an attempt to avoid the huge crowd. I’m not sure why, because you can’t really access any part of the castle except the tour, but we shuffled through with the rest of the horde. Some of the artifacts are interesting, and the extensive history of the Fairy Flag is quite engaging.