The road to NC500Pods is filled with interesting & beautiful sights. Arguably the best is kept for last and is only about a 20 minute drive from our pods.
Ardvreck castle sits on a sliver of land jutting out into loch Assynt. It’s a ruin which adds to the interest and for extra drama, has the mighty Quinag mountain as a backdrop. Who built this castle? What brutal history caused the castle to fall into ruin? What happened to the people who used to live there? That’s exactly what we’ll find out in this blog.
Ardvreck Castle & Quinag
We’ve already looked at Hermit’s Castle in Achmelvich, but Ardvreck castle has a much more interesting story.
It is thought to have been built around 1500 when Assynt was controlled by the MacLeod clan. Originally the castle was a plain, rectangular 3 or 4 floor building. Inside the castle would have been a banquet hall, accommodation, kitchen & cellars. Unusually for a castle, a boat house was also part of the structure. That makes sense if you have a huge Loch in your back garden!
The circular-to-square tower (that can still be seen today) was added later in around 1600. A walled garden also featured during the peak of the Castle’s life.
Ardvreck Castle Ruins Today
History & Conflict
Two interlinked events changed the fate of Ardvreck castle and led to the castle falling into the ruin of today. Interestingly, there is a parallel with these events and North Coast 500 Pods!
The Marquis of Montrose
James Graham, the 1st Marquis of Montrose was a Scottish Noble. His history reads like it was taken straight from Game of Thrones! Scotland in the 1600’s was a turbulent and bloody time period. Known as the war of three Kingdoms, civil war & power struggles raged across and between Scotland, England and Ireland.
James eventually found himself in command of Royalist forces and won many battles in northern Scotland. During the battle of Carbisdale in 1650, James’ forces were caught off-guard and were defeated. James fled the battle but was ultimately imprisoned in Ardvreck castle by The MacLeods, who supported the opposing Covenanters.
James was handed over to Covenanter forces and transported to Edinburgh. He was hung and quartered, then put on public display.
Ardvreck Castle sits on a peninsula in Loch Assynt
Not long after James’ execution, the Royalist forces prevailed and the MacLeods in Ardvreck were suddenly outcast. Their neighbours, the Mackenzie clan, then received the type of support once enjoyed by the MacLeods. Soon the MacKenzies bought enough MacLeod debt to claim Ardvreck Castle as theirs. The MacLeods wouldn’t be evicted quietly however.
At this point we should highlight that NC500Pods are owned and run by a MacLeod & a MacKenzie. We’re happy to report that for the most part the relations between the two clans have improved!
Back to the history. Understandably the MacLeods did not recognise the MacKenzie’s ownership and refused to leave. A siege of the castle began, that lasted for 14 days. Once the MacKenzies brought out the big guns (siege weapons), the MacLeods surrendered.
It appears that the MacKenzies didn’t care for the decor of the castle and eventually built the nearby Calda House. In an early form of recycling, much of the stone used to build Calda house came from Ardvreck castle, which was abandoned & left to the mercy of the elements.
Calda house, now also a ruin, didn’t fair much better. The Mackenzie’s spared no expense on decor and are said to have held frequent wild parties. They too then lost ruling support due to their Jacobite leanings.
Once money became tight, the house was raided and torched (perhaps by the owners). It was then sold to the Earl of Sutherland, who rebuilt it, only for it to be burnt out again. This time it was left in ruin, with some stone again being re-purposed for a school building.
Ghosts & Ghouls
Sir John Sinclair wrote of Ardvreck Castle,
“It was without a doubt the scene of ‘Many a wassail wild and deed of blood’; but now there is not a cat to mew nor a cock to crow, in the fortress of the Clan MacLeod.”
That might not be quite accurate (and we don’t mean all the tourists). A tall man in grey is said to be seen roaming the land around the castle from time to time.
The castle is also said to be haunted by the weeping daughter of a MacLeod Chief. It is said that a deal was done for her to marry the devil in exchange for securing the castle from ruin. Instead of marrying the devil, she leap from a window of the castle and drowned in loch Assynt.
Calda house too has had reports of a strange female figure and unusual lights have been seen at night that have perplexed motorists.
Most people who visit don’t have the pleasure of meeting an apparition of a 400 year old Macleod or MacKenzie. What will you find there?