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Ardvreck Castle (Sutherland)

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The ruins of Ardvreck Castle are located on Loch Assynt in Sutherland, north west Highland, Scotland. The castle dates back to the 16th century.

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      28.01.2010 19:14
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      The ruins of a castle in North West Scotland

      The ruins of Ardvreck Castle stand like something from the scene of a fairly tale, perched on the edge of Loch Assynt in Sutherland on the remote north west coast of Scotland.

      I've passed this castle many times during my holidays in Scotland but each time it has always been at 60 mph so I have only usually seen it at the last moment and it hasn't been convenient to stop. Recently however when I knew that I would be passing by again I made a point of stopping for half an hour to check it out.

      It is clearly visible from the A837, which is the main road from Ullapool north to Durness and there is no denying that the castle has an idyllic setting. It is located on a rocky peninsula that juts out into the loch and when the water levels in the loch are high the castle is occasionally completely cut off from the land. The ruins of the castle are clearly visible from the car park but it's a short walk along a footpath to reach it. This path is however of good quality and therefore shouldn't really pose a problem for wheelchair users.

      The first point that I will make is that from a distance the ruins look interesting but as you get closer they get a whole lot better. There is a deceptive amount of the walls that are still intact behind the main tower, which are not actually visible from the road. I assumed like most visitors, until I got up close to it that only the tower of the original structure remained. In fact although it is still very much a ruin by any definition of the word there is a lot more to Ardvreck Castle than first meets the eye. In its heyday this castle would have actually been quite large with three different floors as well as a courtyard and a walled garden. The castle would have been rectangular in shape and if you look closely you can actually still more or less make out its original shape.

      Ardvreck Castle was constructed during the 1500's. We know that it was there in 1591, which is when it is first referred to a written document about the McLeod Clan. The castle would have been a stronghold for the Clan McLeod and was founded by Angus Mor the third. The Mcleod's owned most of the land of Sutherland and fought many fierce battles with the MacDonalds who controlled the land to the south so this would have been the site of many different conflicts.

      The most famous story relating to Ardvreck Castle concerns James Graham, the Marquis of Montrose. He was a Royalist and a supporter of King Charles. Following defeat in the Battle of Carbisdale he sought sanctuary at Ardvreck, having been enticed there by the wife of the Clan chief, but she tricked him and on the 30th June 1650 he was handed over to the enemy and executed in Edinburgh. It is said that the ghost of Montrose, a tall figure dressed in grey still haunts this castle.

      I visited Ardvreck Castle on a lovely sunny day in May 2009. I didn't see the ghost of the Marquis of Montrose but I can imagine that it is quite a spooky place at night but during the daytime it is such a peaceful place that it would make a good spot for a picnic when the weather is good.

      If you do visit the ruins of this castle then care should be taken, as some of the stones are quite loose and of course if you have young children then they should be supervised. If you are reasonably fit then it is possible to climb right up to the top of tower and if you are able then it is well worth the effort since you have wonderful views across Loch Assynt from the top. I guess I was lucky to visit on a nice day and it wouldn't seem quite as appealing if the weather was bad.

      Ardvreck Castle is the sort of place that almost seems untouched by time. It is true that its walls are starting to crumble but if you look around the landscape is almost as exactly as it would have been five hundred years ago when the castle was first built. In fact it is easy to assume that it has remained unchanged for a millennia. Perhaps to verify this lack of change is the fact that Loch Assynt is home to a particular type of fish called the Artic Char. This species is now virtually unknown from anywhere else in Britain and the tiny isolated population at Loch Assynt dates back to the last Ice Age when the loch would have been joined to the sea.

      Sadly Ardvreck Castle is not currently in the care of any trust. The downside of this is that it is still slowly crumbling away and there is no restoration project in place, which is a real shame. The other side to this however is that it is fully accessible at all times and there are no admission charges.

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