(More photos below)

I’ve been wanting to build this castle for years now, so much so that I had to make it one of my 101 Things in 1001 Days in order to see if I could actually get it done. It was my first attempt at building something that actually exists in real life. Yes, there is some level of accuracy to the movies and books required in Harry Potter MOCs, but in general I’m able to use my imagination to get things to look the way I want them to. As long as I have the essentials mentioned in canon (either canon) I consider it a success. In this case, however, it’s a real building people may be familiar with. Eilean Donan Castle is the most photographed castle in all of Scotland. It’s also the castle used in the first Highlander movie, and one of the castles I visited with my high school best friends during our post-college trip to Ireland and Scotland. It’s a gorgeous castle, so I wanted to do it justice. When I signed up for the October 2013 Potomac Mills LEGO store display, I thought that would be a great kick in the pants to finally get it done.

I ended up procrastinating. The castle was supposed to be done by August for Brickfair, but I didn’t have enough tan pieces then. I ended up freaking out because I’ve never built anything like this before and wasn’t sure what I’d need. I started and realized I’d be good on arches but low on roof pieces. $80 on Bricklink later, I felt confident I’d have enough to work with, but not exactly sure how to start. I built the bridge three times, as that seemed like an easy place to start. I built a microscale version of the castle to get my bearings. But my Bricklink order didn’t come in, so I procrastinated. I got my order on TUESDAY and the MOC was due at the LEGO store on SUNDAY. Yeah. And did I work on it on Tuesday? A little, when I got home from my volunteer job at 9pm. I didn’t get home until 10pm on Wednesday (and I didn’t really build a thing that night–did I mention I am a great procrastinator?). And I didn’t get home until 7:30 pm Thursday. Thus, I ended up taking the day off of work on Friday in order to get this castle built. I built almost all day on Friday and a little Saturday night (I got home at 6:30pm). How long did this take me? It took me Season 1 of Prison Break and 8 episodes of Season 2 of Revenge. However, the first 8 episodes of that time was spent organizing so I could figure out what bricks to buy. So, in total, about 16 hours of actual building time spread over one intense day and a few nights.

I realized a few things about halfway through:
1- In order to do a properly historically accurate MOC, I needed more overhead shots and something that showed more of the MIDDLE of the castle (I found one good overhead shot at an angle that helped with the front and sides, but not the middle)
2- In order to build this thing properly, I needed twice as much space as the display case in the store had (which is the size of 2 gray baseplates plus a little bit of wiggle room on each side)
3- No one except me, probably, would be able to identify it as Eilean Donan and, therefore, no one would be judging me on its historical accuracy, so I needed to just STOP freaking out about it not being perfect.

In the end, I got some aspects VERY close, some kind of close, and a few not remotely close and are pure imagination. I’m happy with the result, however. There are lots of little things I added that have made me smile. It was a series of firsts for me: first time trying a historical building (I used about 20 different reference photos from different angles), the first time I’d done something microscale, the first time covering blue paseplates with trans plates for water, the first time building a proper border around my whole MOC, the first time I’ve tried this technique for a tree, the first time I’ve used a chicken in a MOC (LOL), the first time I didn’t fill out each building’s interior (that’s my favorite part of a project, the set decoration, if you will–maybe my high school background in the theater props department showing through?), my first time doing a period piece, the first time building a base on top of a base to support substantial weight, and probably more I’m not remembering.

Here’s the final product in the LEGO store:

The men of the clan head out to fight

One corner. The pink flowers are meant to be heather, which I always associate with the Highlands of Scotland.

The Highlanders, from the side. The clan chieftain gets to ride a horse and has an extra shield and a short sword (not short enough to be a dirk) in addition to his claymore and most-decorated shield. There’s also a bagpiper following them out.

Caber tossing

Rowing by the castle (more on this from the other side, below)

Wait, does that girl have a beard? YES! “She” also has a bad wig. This is my version of Flora MacDonald helping to “smuggle” Bonnie Prince Charlie to safety by disguising him as her maid. Yes, I realize they didn’t go to this castle, but they probably passed right by it on the way to Skye. Yes, it doesn’t make sense for the Highlanders to go INTO battle after Culloden has taken place. And, yes, I think there were something like 6 men with them on the boat. But I thought this would be a fun detail. It was either that or a British soldier firing on the castle, which I didn’t want to do. I doubt anyone but me (and now you) will notice, but it was a fun little bonus for me to put in.

Large flag of Scotland, smaller flag of Scotland, and a microscale version of the castle)

The view from the back

A chicken by the well, bucket raised and water inside

The other side of the castle (this is the side I built from and I thought originally I’d display from this side. After setup and many photos, I decided to rotate it around and show the other side to the front of the store. But the nice thing about this display is that people can walk all the way around it, so you have to build it to look good and be interesting from all directions.

Close-up of the Highlanders, charging into battle

Another view

Yet another angle. Note the bagpiper playing as they head out.

On each side of the border, there is a little bagpipe, like a crest.

An overhead shot. Notice how the microscale and the actual castle sort of resemble each other 🙂

Some of my most-used photo references:

As you can see, there are some close similarities. And some things (in the middle section especially) I had to make up. Because I couldn’t go further sideways with the island, I was stuck rearranging a bit. After I spent many hours finishing the base, reinforcing it from below, I realized I should have used gray instead of brown. I had meant the brown to look like dirt, but I think it would have made a lot of sense to use gray for rock surrounding the island. I am happy with my original choice, but I wonder what it would look better to have for people not familiar with the photo references or people who hadn’t been there.

And here it is in the store (again, before I rotated it around to show the other side outward, like the first photo in this post shows).