In honor of the spooky time of year, I thought I would share with you a little spookiness from a trip to Scotland awhile back.
Ardvreck Castle sits on a lonely spit of land in the middle of gloomy Loch Assynt in the northwest Scottish Highlands. If all you know about Scotland are scenes from Rob Roy and Braveheart, and descriptions from books such as Outlander, whatever you imagined the Scottish Highlands to look like, you would find it here at Ardvreck.
I found myself braving a drippy Scottish day to explore the castle on a visit back in June 2013. The Loch is about a 15-minute drive along a winding two-lane road from the coastal fishing town of Lochinver, not too far from the village of Inchnadamph (where, incidentally, there are some caves that have housed the remains of some Pleistocene mammals – but that’s another story.)
The castle – built c. 1600 – was occupied for about 200 years. For the first 70 or so years, it was the home to the MacLeod clan. But, apparently, it was not always a happy home.
From the interpretive sign in the parking lot at Ardvreck:
Throughout its life, Ardvreck was the scene of much violence, with murders, executions, and sieges by both traditional enemies and quarrelsome branches of the MacLeod family. In 1672, a 14-day siege by the MacKenzies of Wester Ross marked the end of the MacLeod ownership of Assynt. […]
The MacKenzie clan eventually moved out of Ardvreck, into nearby Calda house, completed in 1726. Although, roughly 10 years later, the house was destroyed in a fire, so the MacKenzie’s didn’t have much luck on the shores of Loch Assynt either. The ruins of Calda house sit nearby – but shaggy sheep are the only creatures you see walking near those crumbling walls. More from the interpretive sign:
Many ghosts are said to haunt Ardvreck. The weeping daughter of a MacLeod chief, who drowned in Loch Assynt after marrying the Devil in a pact to save her father’s castle has been seen on the beach, but the tall man in grey, often seen in the ruins, seems to be an altogether happier ghost.
So, take a moment to imagine yourself there. Unlike more famous sites, there are no fences to keep you from climbing on the ruins of the castle walls – although there are some polite signs informing you of the risks involved. There are no modern buildings, even farms, in viewing distance of the ruins, and with so few tourists, you only have to wait a short while to have the place to yourself. As you stand on a mound of earth that was once the location of the castle kitchens (or so you’ve been told by the interpretive sign) and gaze out over the grey waters of the lake, you can almost hear the sounds of bagpipes, or fading battle-cries, on the wind. Wavelets lap quietly on the little beach below the castle, and occasionally the mist builds up so thick that features on the other side of the lake become nothing more than shadows, shimmering with the movement of the air – or is that a tall man in grey coming up the hill to the ruins?
Does that give you chills? I wasn’t lucky enough to see either ghost on my short visit and scramble up to the ruins. Supposedly it’s not uncommon to see them – anywhere in Scotland, for that matter. But wispy ghosts and stories of ancient, bloody battles don’t frighten me.
What sent shivers down my spine was the little note on the interpretive sign about the ultimate fate of the castle more than 200 years ago:
Nature carried out the final act of violence on the castle in 1795 when it was struck by lightning and largely destroyed.
LIGHTNING! Every student who has taken my intro meteorology class knows this is my greatest fear. How can you be afraid of ghosts when there’s something out there that can appear from the sky in one random moment (something with a temperature 5 times the surface temperature of the sun!) and topple everything to the ground. I’ll take my chances with the ghosts.
Curiously, the Wikipedia entry about Castle Ardvreck says nothing about it being struck by lightning. Rather, it mentions that Calda house was struck and destroyed by lightning in 1737. The locals say God was punishing the inhabitants for partying on a Sunday.
Happy Halloween, everyone. Be sure to wave to the ghosts – but hide from the lightning.