The bleak and ruinous Ardvreck Castle, on the northern shore of Loch Assynt, may be situated in a beautiful and romantic setting, but it hides a sad and tragic secret, because it was here where James Graham, 1st Marquis of Montrose, was captured and handed over to the Covenanters.
Following his disastrous defeat at the Battle of Carbisdale on 27 April 1650, Montrose found himself alone and fleeing on foot north westward up remote Strath Oykell heading, as he thought, for friendly Reay country. Three days later, starving and disorientated, he stumbled into servants of Neil McLeod of Assynt, who led him to Ardvreck Castle. Montrose, for his ‘protection’, was secured in a basement cellar. Soon afterwards however he was handed over to the covenanting militia.
From that point on his fate was sealed. Having been paraded through Scotland on his southward journey to Edinburgh he was then shamefully and brutally executed; not as a peer of the realm and as one of Scotland’s greatest heroes, but hanged and quartered as a common felon.
Ardvreck Castle, Loch Assynt, can be found about 40km north of Ullapool, in Ross and Cromarty. This beautiful part of Scotland is very remote and this particular ‘Montrose related’ site is, for that reason, the most difficult to reach. I have visited Ardvreck Castle several times however and I have always found the effort worthwhile. There are now very few places in Scotland where one may stand, literally, in the footsteps of Montrose; but this is one.
This beautiful little castle stands forlornly on the shores of the loch and to be there alone in this bleak setting, with only the wind for company, one can’t fail to be caught up in the atmosphere of the place.
It is known that Montrose was incarcerated in a small castle cellar; and there are only two. Now partly collapsed and exposed to the northern storms which sweep this area, the vaulted cellars (and the adjoining passageway) are clearly visible.
Although much infilled now with fallen masonry, iron grills were fitted here some 20 or so years ago when the castle benefited from some consolidation work instigated by the local historical group ‘Historic Assynt’. Prior to this however the cellars were open and accessible.
I have stood in these cellars and the sensation of knowing that one is standing exactly where Montrose stood, and that within these walls the final acts of his life were shortly about to be played out, is utterly haunting.