The Castle and the Monster

Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle (Photo by Don Knebel)

Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle (Photo by Don Knebel)

Urquhart (pronounced “Urkut”) Castle played a role in Scotland’s wars of independence and later battles between Presbyterians and Episcopalians.  But the ruins of the castle are one of Scotland’s most popular tourist destinations because they are associated with one of the world’s best-known monsters.

What is left of Urquhart Castle lies on a point overlooking Loch Ness, 13 miles south west of Inverness.   The castle, once defended by a dry moat and a draw bridge, was begun sometime in the thirteenth century.  It was captured in 1296 by Edward I of England, beginning the wars of Scottish independence that continued intermittently for about 60 years, with Scotland ultimately retaining its independence.  The castle was the object of bloody battles seeking control of the Scottish Highlands, changing hands several times.

In the late sixteenth century, the badly damaged castle was restored for use as a private residence by the Grants, a powerful Episcopalian clan.  In 1644, the “Covenanters,” Presbyterians seeking to establish religious dominance in Scotland, attacked the castle and robbed and expelled Lady Mary Grant, who was staying there.  The castle, owned by the Grant family until the early twentieth century, was badly damaged and never again restored.

Christianity had been brought to Scotland in the sixth century by St. Columba, an Irish missionary.  He returned with a story of stopping by an unidentified fortress, converting its owner to Christianity, and then encountering a “water beast” in the river flowing north from Loch Ness.  According to the story, the beast, which had just killed a man, was repelled when Columba made the sign of the cross, giving lasting credibility to both the beast and Christianity.  A sign outside Urquhart Castle suggests Columba visited an earlier fortress on the same site and equates his water beast with the Loch Ness Monster.  Perhaps because of this association, several visitors to Urquhart Castle have reported seeing “Nessie” during their visits.

Loch Ness, viewed from above the ruins of Urquhart Castle, is a beautiful lake, well worth the short trip from Inverness.  If you get there, keep a lookout for the now famous monster that helped Christianity take root in Scotland.

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