Thursday, February 25, 2010

Urquhart Castle

Urquhart Castle, one of Scotland’s largest medieval castles, standing on the shore of Loch Ness, was one of two main inspirations for Niall’s home, Castle Glenmirril. (Castle Tioram was the other.) It sits on a promontory jutting out into the loch, at the north end of the Great Glen.

Urquhart dates from medieval days, or earlier. Adomnan’s Life of Columba tells us that a structure of some sort stood on the same site as early as the 6th Century, most likely the home of an elderly Pict noble, Emchath, whom St. Columba converted, on his way to visit King Brude. As an interesting side note, other sources say it was on his trip to visit Brude that St. Columba became the first recorded observer of the Loch Ness monster. He saw a sea creature attacking a man, and drove it off by making the sign of the cross and ordering it to leave. As a second interesting sidenote, reports say that most Nessie sightings do occur near Urquhart. I guess it’s as popular among behemoth semi-mythical sea creatures as among humans!

Despite evidence of some structure on the site that early, there are no actual records of Urquhart Castle until the 1200’s. The land on which it is built was once the home of the Durward family, leading many to believe they built the castle. In 1250, Alan Durward, a powerful Scottish noble and brother-in-law of King Alexander III, held Urquhart. When Durward died in 1268, the castle went to the powerful Comyn family, Lords of Badenoch, who in later years became enemies of the Bruce family.

Through the years, however, Urquhart has gone through many hands. In 1296, Edward I (Longshanks) of England, threw the might of his trebuchet against Urquhart, tearing down its walls and taking it. 2 years later, the Scots regained it. In 1303, Longshanks took it again, only to have it re-captured in 1308 by Robert the Bruce, who gave it to his nephew, Sir Thomas Randolph, future Earl of Moray.

From the 1500’s until 1912, it remained mostly in the hands of the Grants, although it was frequently attacked, and on occasion captured by, the MacDonalds in the 1500’s, and by the Covenanters in 1644. 1689 saw the last government troops living in Urquhart, and in 1691 or ‘92, depending on the source, Williamite forces blew up the castle to prevent it being used as a Jacobite stronghold. For part of its history, in the 1700’s, it lived the ignominous life of a stone quarry, but today is the third busiest of Historic Scotland’s sites.

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