Urquhart Castle, Inverness-shire

Urquhart is one of the most frequently “incidentally” photographed castles. Standing as it does on the shores of Loch Ness it is one of the focal points for Nessie-spotters and travellers around the Loch. Whilst the big draw here is still the massive Loch Urquhart Castle itself has a long and completely un-monster-related history.

The castle stands on the Point of Strone, a little peninsula sticking out into the waters which was fortified in pre-history. A castle, per se, did not emerge until after the Battle of Dunbar in 1296 when Edward I enlarged a small fort here to create a strong castle to control the Great Glen.

Edward’s hold on Scotland was never as strong as on Wales and he never built castles with the same strength he had there. The Scots did not stay quelled for long. William Wallace rose in the south (very fictionally portrayed in the movie Braveheart) whilst Andrew Moray attacked Urquhart Castle and the Great Glen.

Moray took the area and Wallace’s forces moved north through Aberdeenshire to meet up with Moray’s – the two then moved west and the Highlands were secured from the English. Edward, never a man to be pushed in a direction he didn’t want to go in, mustered a huge army and marched north. In many places the English met with little resistance. Not so at Urquhart Castle. The keeper of the castle, Sir Alexander Forbes, refused to leave the castle and the King’s army laid siege. Forbes smuggled his pregnant wife from the castle disguised as a peasant and she watched from a neighbouring hill as the English stormed the castle and massacred everyone inside, her husband included. She then fled to Ireland.

Like a good deal of Scotland Urquhart Castle remained in English hands until 1306 when Robert the Bruce humiliated Edward II at Bannockburn and sent the English ‘homeward to think again’. Scotland gained independence which it would hold until the Act of Union with England.

Robert the Bruce himself held Urquhart Castle against an attack by Edward III which failed to break into the fortress. After the English/Scottish Wars settled a little the castle became the subject of the inter-clan fighting which would, eventually, loose the Scots their independence.

In 1513 the Lord of the Isles arrived in the Great Glen and laid waste to the entire area. Urquhart Castle was taken and sacked. In 1545 it was laid waste completely and was never occupied again. It’s final act of defiance was during the First Jacobite Rebellion when it was deliberately blown up to prevent the Jacobites using it as a power base. A few short years later the south west wall blew over in a massive storm and collapsed into the dark waters of the Loch.

Oddly enough it wasn’t many years after this that the castle became one of the focal points for Loch Ness Monster hunters, a role it has played with aplomb ever since, turning nearby Drumnadrochit into one of the great tourist traps of the Highlands.

Even today there is a majesty about this castle belying the relatively small amount of ruins left and, of course, the possibility – however improbable – that you might see the waters part and something emerge from them makes this places that bit more special still.

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