You’ve likely seen this castle in countless images of Loch Ness and the hunt for the illusive Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster. From its perch high above Loch Ness, Urquhart Castle is now a ruin of what was once an imposing and important castle. Urquhart witnessed considerable conflict throughout its 500 years as a medieval fortress and its history from the 13th to 17th centuries was particularly bloody. Following Edward I’s invasion, it fell into English hands and was then reclaimed and lost again. In the 14th century, it figured prominently in the Scots’ struggle for independence and came under the control of Robert the Bruce after he became King of Scots. (Historic Scotland)
Before touring the castle itself we were treated to an excellent dramatic film of its bloody history in the new visitor center. When the film was done the screen lifted and a wall opened to reveal a large glass window through which the castle was seen. It was so well done, with such feeling and mood, we were fully prepared to see the castle and feel the horrors it felt.
Urquhart’s history begins around 580AD when St. Columba stopped through on his journey from Iona to Inverness. As he was passing up Loch Ness, he was called to the residence of an elderly Pictish nobleman at Airdchartdan (Urquhart). Emchath was close to death, and Columba baptised him and his entire household. (Historic Scotland) We had already visited Iona and learned about St. Columba so this tie-in to history created another wrinkle in my brain.
Like most castles, Urquhart was built in sections and changed many times over its thousand year history. The section toward the top of the image is the oldest and the section where you see the people walking was the newer wing. As you can see, the castle was completely destroyed, leaving only a few stone walls.
Traveling to ancient lands is a humbling experience. Standing in a place such as Urquhart Castle, imagining the people who walked here, lived here, worked here and died here over a thousand years puts Life into perspective. Wincing at the media’s outpouring of rubbish each day and worrying about this bill or that crazy senator or Wall Street nonsense, I’m reminded while writing this blog, inserting photos of these incredibly old places that older countries and ancient peoples have seen much, much more. I’m humbly reminded that our day-to-day is just that. Life will go on. Today’s castles will fall, too.
Most history: From the 13th century, until its demise in 1692, Urquhart saw much military action. In 1296 it was captured by Edward I of England ‘Hammer of the Scots’. Thereafter, the stronghold passed back and forth between Scottish and English control. In 1332, in the dark days following King Robert Bruce’s death, Urquhart remained the only Highland castle holding out against the English.
Soon after the English threat evaporated the MacDonalds, Lords of the Isles arrived. Time and again, they swept through Glen Urquhart in their quest for more power. The castle passed back and forth between the Crown and the Lords of the Isles like a bone between two dogs. Their last raid, in 1545, proved the worst. The Islesmen got away with an enormous hoard, including 20 guns and three great boats. (Historic Scotland)
When the last soldiers marched out in 1692, they blew it up. The castle soon fell into decay. Part of the Grant Tower crashed to the ground in 1715 during a violent storm. But attitudes changed, and during the 19th century the ancient stronghold came to be viewed as a noble ruin in a majestic setting. It passed into state care in 1913, and is now one of the most visited of all Scotland’s castles. (Historic Scotland)
I cannot describe the feeling in my soul when I think about my trip to Scotland. This trip changed me forever in a very, very good way. I can’t find any Scottish roots in my history, but I’m convinced this is where I began.