The strong stone walls that protect Doune Castle might strike onlookers with a sense of familiarity — like it’s a place they’ve been before, even if they never actually have. That’s because this Scottish stronghold is a popular filming location, making appearances in Ivanhoe, Outlander, and even Game of Thrones.
Located in near the city of the Stirling in Perthshire, central Scotland, the structure is more than 600-years-old, according to Historic Environment Scotland. The exceptionally maintained castle has been heavily utilized in countless period film productions. But none have been as creative in using the location as Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Equipped with their trusty coconut shells, King Arthur and his men go on a quest in search of the Holy Grail which brings them to a number of different castles — most of which are actually just Doune Castle viewed from different angles, as reported by Movie-Locations. Needless to say, the crew’s creative prowess saved the production hundreds of thousands on costs without sacrificing the authenticity of the film.
The beautiful medieval castle has a far more colorful history though than just being a backdrop for popular films. Built on the site of an older castle, in 1361 it came into the possession of Robert Stewart, 1st Duke of Albany — who was the ruler of Scotland from 1388 until he died in 1420.
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After his end the stronghold became an official royal retreat, up until the early 1600s. It was subsequently inherited by a series of nobles, until it finally found protection under the ownership of the nation in 1984. Today, Doune Castle is looked after by Historic Environment Scotland.
The expansive castle features spacious rooms that were dressed to look like different locations for the iconic Holy Grail. For instance, the hilarious theatrically choreographed “Camelot Song” — a song and dance routine performed by the Knights of the Round Table when they first arrive at Camelot — takes place in the Great Hall, one of the best-preserved rooms in the castle.
Cinematography necessitated quite a bit of creativity in order to make Doune look unique enough to stand in as a variety of structures. One side of the castle became the fortress of Guy de Lombard, the leader of the French soldiers. The main entrance is where the (foolishly empty) wooden Trojan Rabbit is wheeled inside.
In one of the rooms, Castle Anthrax is easily recognizable, according to Movie-Locations. Here, Sir Galahad is saved from the “almost certain temptation” of Zoot, Midget, Crapper and the other “young blondes and brunettes, all between sixteen and nineteen-and-a-half.” (Script quotes taken from Another Bleedin Monty Python Website)
There were a few other structures used for the movie. For instance, a portion of Bodiam Castle in East Sussex was shot as the exterior of Swamp Castle. But the rest of the locations in the story are, of course, shot back at the ever-versatile Doune.
Today, Doune Castle is a popular tourist destination for fans of Monty Python, as well as the other prominent films that were filmed on site. The groups in charge of accommodating visitors have even gone the extra mile to make it a unique, interesting, and fun experience for those who wish to witness the castle’s colorful history in film.
According to Undiscovered Scotland, guests can borrow coconut shells at the castle’s reception to pay tribute to the iconic sound effect used for the low-budget Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
The running joke was the result of the cast having to use coconut shells to make horse-hoof sounds since they didn’t have enough budget to afford real horses, according to Mental Floss. Of course, that’s all just icing on the cake when taking the castle’s well-preserved beauty into account.
The stunning interiors, historical artifacts and fixtures, and period architecture inside the structure shed light on a time that is often only experienced through the magic of film and television.
Visitors can get a sense of what real, functioning castles used to be like, and of course, achieve a feeling of oneness with the colorful stories they’ve learned to love through the screen.