In Search of Monsters

DSCF2319After our exploits on Uist we spend a day recovering in the van; the stormy weather making this an attractive option. The following day we are still marooned in Kintail and the weather is no better. Although we would rather not have had our plans diverted, there is some comfort in realising that this is the day we should have been on a boat going to Orkney. The weather is reputedly worse further north. It remains to be seen if we will get there but if we do the conditions can only be better.

We decide that we will take our courtesy car eastwards to seek out monsters in Loch Ness; maybe our form for wildlife spotting will improve. In rain and mist we pass the site of the battle of Glen Shiel, which took place in 1719 when the Jacobites and their Spanish mercenary allies fought the British troops. This was the last time that the British army faced foreign troops on British soil. We view Loch Ness through wind and rain. We drive further up the loch to Drumnadrochit, planning to utilise the car park of Castle Urquhart, which we can enter free, in order to photograph the loch. Here we encounter numerous foreign tourists on their ‘every possible castle in Scotland and then some’ coach trips and the car park is full. Fortunately someone is just departing and we slot in to their space.

Although it wasn’t on the itinerary, Castle Urquhart (bizarrely pronounced Uff-irt) is an interesting location and yet another example of serious investment in Scottish tourism, with an impressive visitors’ complex. Apparently, this met with local opposition when it was proposed in the 1990s and it is set partly underground to minimise the impact. Like everywhere else, the staff are very friendly and we are greeted by two members of Clan Grant in ceremonial dress. We are asked where we hail from and they decide that Devon just about qualifies us for entry. We are probably more local than 90% of today’s visitors; rain is doubtless keeping the less intrepid British holidaymakers indoors.

We are herded in to watch a well put together video presentation about the history of the castle. In the sixth century, Saint Columba visited the Pictish chieftain Emchath, who owned the fortress on this site, and converted him to Christianity. Sir Alan Durward built the stone Urquhart Castle in 1230. Edward I captured Urquhart in 1296, during the wars of Scottish Independence but it was soon regained. In 1395 it was seized by Donald, Lord of the Isles, seeking to increase his power. In 1509, James IV stripped the MacDonalds of their land and titles and gave Urquhart to the Grants. Raids by the MacDonalds continued. In 1545, they captured 2,000 cattle and many other animals, as well has taking furniture, cannon and the castle gates.

In 1689, the Grants supported William and Mary and there was an unsuccessful Jacobite raid on the castle. Nonetheless the Grants abandoned the castle, firing the gatehouse so that it could not be taken over by their enemies. Grant was compensated by Parliament but although they retained ownership until 1912, the castle remained in ruins. Much of the interpretation for this castle, one of the largest in Scotland, are of the ‘this may have been’ nature. Amongst the remains is what’s left of a ‘Doocot’, or dove-cot, which John Grant was obliged to build as a condition of his being granted the castle in 1509. There is a full size trebuchet in the grounds, accompanied by the proviso that there is no proof that one was ever used at Urquhart. What next, a nuclear war head complete with a similar caption?

Having done enough to feel that we haven’t wasted the day, we retire to the van to watch the European athletics championships.

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