Ardvreck Castle and Further North Beyond Ullapool - (Part 1)

Where a ruined castle sits within yet another beautiful Scottish location, but that is also surrounded by myth, betrayal and death

Setting The Scene - So if the title of this chapter hasn't grabbed you already, then perhaps the next paragraph will - Ardvreck Castle (Caisteal Àrd Bhric in Scottish Gaelic), has often been declared to be the most haunted structure in Scotland and it is easy to see (and feel) why when you are there, as what little still remains of this once large and very imposing structure, continues to be broken back down into the ancient hand hewn granite blocks that were originally used to construct it by the forces of nature, leaving but a single weather worn tower that refuses to fall and which seems to be pointing defiantly at the sky as if flipping a finger at the heavens and everything that mother nature has been able to throw at it over the last 500 years and shouting "c'mon you *******, do your worst". So yes as you have now probably gathered, I think Ardvreck Castle and the area that surrounds it is special and just one of those most rare of places on this planet, that not only looks spectacular for photography under any weather conditions, but that also feels like each and every moment of its long and troubled history, continues to hang in the air around it like some sort of dark and forbidding aura.

Ardvreck Castle was originally built as a stronghold for the Chief of the Clan MacLoud of Assynt, because he thought that as this area was so remote it would be easy to defend. But as soon as the construction of the castle began in the late 1400's, it quickly became fraught with problems, due to the fact that any man who was set to work on it, soon fell ill or died in mysterious circumstances. Until finally at the beginning of the 1500's, the Clan Chief MacLoud realised that the construction of his castle was never going to happen if he didn't do something about it, so he began to hatch a diabolical plot that he thought would then resolve all of these problems. So he had a local 'Mystic' man brought forcibly to his camp and demanded that he use all of his dark powers to summon up the Devil, who the Clan Chief would then make a pact with, so that the Devil would then help to build his castle for him. The Devil was then duly summoned and appeared angrily before the Clan Chief demanding to know why he had been summoned, but when asked the Devil refused to agree to build his castle, even when the Clan Chief offered him his soul for the rest of eternity as payment. But just as the Devil was

about to start berating the Clan Chief and make him pay for having the audacity to raise him up from the depths of hell on such a trivial matter, Eimhir (who was the youngest daughter of the Clan Chief) walked into the room carrying refreshments for her father... The Devil's eyes narrowed down to slits as he watched the young girl walk across the room in front of him and where she soon became aware that someone or something else was in the room with them, even though she couldn't see anyone but her father, as the Devil rose up to tower over her and began to drool with lust - now I bet you can already make a good guess as to what is going to happen next can't you? So she fled from the room as quickly as she could to leave her father and the Devil staring at each other, one with a look of complete shock at the realisation of what was about to happen next and the other with a look of such evil intent and lechery, that only the Devil could make it.

So the pact was finally agreed upon, but only after the Chief realised he no longer had any say in the matter and would have to do whatever the Devil asked of him, whereby the Devil agreed that he would indeed build the Chief his Castle and not only that, he would do it the very next day, but at the cost of the Chief handing over his youngest daughter to the Devil in a quickly arranged marriage.

The Castle was duly built to completion the very next day and where the hastily arranged marriage then took place in the main hall, but with Eimhir crying with despair having now seen who her father was giving her away to. Then, as soon as Eimhir could slip away for a moment after the hurried ceremony had finished and just before the Devil could sweep her up in his arms and take her down to hell, she ran out of the hall and straight up to the top of the highest tower of the newly built castle and threw herself off the top, to then lay broken at the bottom of the tower next to the loch and where she quickly drowned in the shallow water. Before her soul then leapt out of her body to disappear beneath the waters of the loch, where she could hide from the Devil until he finally gave up looking for her and angrily returned to hell and where it said that her spirit could often be seen swimming just beneath the surface of the loch wearing a white flowing wedding gown and is how she then became known as the 'Weeping Mermaid of Assynt'.

How to get there - Street View - Map View - driving on from the location described in the Little Garve chapter, continue heading North along the A835 towards and then through Ullapool for another 40 miles or so (and then passing the first Stac Pollaidh viewpoint as discussed in the following chapter), until you eventually arrive at a 'T' junction with the A837, take a left turn on the A837 and continue heading North towards Lochinver and Durness for another 15 miles or so, until you finally reach the Ardvreck Castle Car Park and then park wherever you can. You will now see an information board near the top of the car park with lots of historical information about the castle and a graveled path that heads off around a small hill to your left, so walk down this path. Then as you get near to the castle, you will see on your left there is a flat, wet, grassy piece of land and which is where I setup my camera for shot TWO shown above. I then continue along the path and across a thin sandy spit of land to get closer in to the Castle Ruins, as shown in image ONE at the top of this page.

These ruins really are set in the most stunningly beautiful and wild looking location and I would even say that this is a subject and location, that any photographer will find it quite difficult not to walk away with a set of images they can be proud of, be they taken at dawn, sunset, under sunny conditions or dark skies, raining or stormy, it is just that good as well as being very, very atmospheric and is a truly amazing place that I know you will want to spend several very enjoyable hours with your camera.

I then continued driving for a little way further up the A837 to the opposite side of Loch Assynt, to a small unofficial roadside parking area on the left and where I then walked down to the edge of the loch to setup my camera there to take shot THREE shown above, so I could then show you a much wider alternate view of the castle ruins as it sits in its surroundings, but this time from the back of what remains of it.

Tip: this location is now part of the NC500 (North Coast 500 mile tourist route) and so does get quite busy during the day at the peak of the holiday season, so perhaps it would be better to avoid visiting Ardvreck Castle during these peak visitor times. So I would suggest based on my own experiences, that to optimise your chances of getting a good clean shot of the scene, as well as being able to work quietly and without your shots being dotted with selfie-stick toting tourists, is to time your visit to Ardvreck Castle to be on the shorter days of the year and when it is cold and maybe even when it has snowed across the tops of the hills. This way you should be able to have this location pretty much to yourself and not have to worry too much about how you are going to clone out all those hordes of people wandering aimlessly around in front of the castle - don't get me wrong, I am not against the tourists who visit here and their right to enjoy this location just as much as I do and at the same time help to pump in large amounts of money into this very rural economy, but if I can avoid or at least reduce the chance of them being in my shot then I will do so and also, I have found that the atmospheric mood of the place is just so much more tangible when the weather becomes how shall I say, less tourist friendly..

-- Exif information for each of the numbered shots shown throughout Part 1 of this chapter

-- 1 - Canon EF16-35/2.8L USM, 1/40th Sec, f/16, ISO 100, Focal Length 20mm, taken on 7th Sept at 16:04

-- 2 - Canon EF16-35/2.8L USM, 1/200th Sec, f/16, ISO 320, Focal Length 35mm (cropped to a horizontal pano), taken on 7th Sept at 16:15

-- 3 - Canon EF16-35/2.8L USM, 1/80th Sec, f/16, ISO 100, Focal Length 35mm (cropped), taken on 18th Oct at 11:38

Continued in Part 2 - Stac Pollaidh

If you have enjoyed reading these 'Extra' chapters to my Guide Book and think you might also enjoy reading 79 more chapters across 270 pages, that also includes more than 340 Fine Art quality images, along with detailed descriptions and large scale maps to guide you to the exact location of where I took each and every one of them and which then goes onto discuss the techniques and tools I used to process them, but where everything is written in plain easy to understand English? Then please consider buying the Book.