My personal blog as a 'grown-up' Goth and Romantic living in the Highlands of Scotland. I write about the places I go, the things I see and my thoughts on life as a Goth and the subculture. Sometimes I write about music I like and sometimes I review things. This blog often includes architectural photography, graveyards and other images from the darker side of life.

The Gothic subculture is not just about imitating each other, it is a creative movement and subculture that grew out of post-punk and is based on seeing beauty in the dark places of the world, and looks back to the various ways throughout history in which people have confronted and explored the macabre, the dark and the taboo, and as such I'm going to post about more than the just the standards of the subculture (Tim Burton, Siouxsie Sioux and Anne Rice et al.) and look at things by people who might not consider themselves anything to do with the subculture, but have eyes for the dark places. Goth should not be limited by what is considered "goth", inspiration comes from all places, the key is to look with open eyes, listen carefully and think with an open mind..

Friday, 17 July 2015

Urquhart Castle

I have visited Urquhart Castle several times. One February a few years ago Raven and I went there on Valentine's Day - for an engagement photo-shoot for another couple, where Raven was photographer! This time however, Raven and I were there for an afternoon out together, and I took my camera. The weather was windy, with heavy rain coming in - just perfect for atmospheric photographs!

I know I am rather overdue with these pictures. We went to Urquhart Castle in early April, and it is now late July. Between now and then I have been incredibly busy (hence the blog hiatus) and I am only going to get busier over the next few months. Blogging is only a hobby for me, and I have quite a few offline commitments that have to take priority. There are quite a few photographs here, and I hope those who have been waiting enjoy them. 

Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness. Photograph by HouseCat

Urquhart Castle is on the banks of Loch Ness - supposed home of the famous cryptid - and beneath the mountains. Geographically, it is in a stunning location, a place of incredible natural beauty. Strategically, it guarded the loch and the pass beneath the mountains.  In its glory days it would have been a vast compound - more of a walled town or village than a fortified house. It is in ruins because it was deliberately destroyed by its owners, Hanoverians who, after being beseiged by Jacobites once, decided it was better to blow up their own castle than let such a strategic point fall into Jacobite occupation. If I owned a castle, I don't think I could ever contemplate anything as drastic as blowing part of it up, regardless of strategic necessity!.  They began by blowing up only the gatehouse, but this was the beginning of structural decline for the castle, as even when peace came, it was never repaired, but instead was quarried for stone (as was common for ruined castles in times past - it happened to Rait Castle, Wallingford Castle, etc. etc.) 

Craghy ruins. Photograph by the HouseCat.

Of course, ruins become picturesque as nature begins to reclaim them - especially the ruins of structures once grand and beautiful themselves. I, a true Romantic, am drawn to windswept crags and ruined castles (apparently, I am in the good company of Neil Gaiman in these tastes!), and even when swarmed with tourists, Urquhart Castle loses none of its majesty and presence. The ruins stand upon great earthworks - sculpted out of hard ground - and this unnatural landscape, once practical and now alien, gives an eerie quality to the place. The remains of buildings perch on arteficial ridges, above deep defensive ditches gouged out of the earth. I did read about whether the moat held water while I was there, but can no longer remember; if it did, the castle would have seem even more isolated, turned into its own island fortress like Eileann Donan Castle, or Le Mont-Saint-Michel.

Ruined wall with arrow slit. Photograph by HouseCat

The castle walls are now partly reclaimed by the landscape, seeming to almost be a geological feature in places, a crag or cliff with grass growing out of it and rough escarpments of boulders. There is enough remaining masonry for it to be built by the hand of man, but it is slowly blending into the Earth with time. ::Historic Scotland:: are doing a brilliant job of maintaining and preserving it as best as is humanly possible, but it is stone exposed to the scourging winds, rain, snow and frost of the Scottish climate - the elements and the centuries will take their toll; it is inevitable. 

A brooding sky. Photo by the HouseCat

That harsh Scottish weather that I mentioned made its presence felt the day of our visit. It started out bright, slightly over-cast but mostly sunny. There were fast-moving clouds on the horizon and a keen wind. As our visit progressed, the wind got harsher and colder, and the rain blew in with darkening clouds, leaden and grey. I did not get any good photographs of this (but Raven did), but the rain coming down the Loch was a sight to behold; a curtain of what seemed like almost opaque mist rapidly drawing towards us, lit by the afternoon sun, and shaded by thick clouds in bruise colours.

Best photograph of the rain I got. Photo by HouseCat

Before the rain came in, I took 111 photograph of Urquhart Castle - and a surprising number turned out relatively well. It was hard to pick favourites for this blog - I have the same problem I had with my photographs of Edinburgh Castle! There is something about exposed Scottish castles on bleak days that really compels me to try and capture a visual record - but no photograph I take really expresses what I feel when I am there and whatever flourishing words and purple prose I use to describe it also falls short. All I can say is to visit for yourself if you get the chance, preferably on a day where the weather is at least drizzling (this is Scotland, such days are frequent) and there are fewer tourists about (probably because it is raining). 


Raven stepping out of the shadows. Photo by HouseCat

Despite being a ruin, it is not a place of desolation; the landscape is too mountainous, too forrested. Even with the wind whipping at my jacket and trying to snag my hair out of my (velvet) bandana, it seemed like when the walls and roofs had been intact it would have been good shelter against even the worst of the Scottish weather - which includes flash floods and winds in excess of 100mph in lower areas and in excess of 150mph up on the mountains. The gable end of a hotel near here was blown down in a recent storm, but I doubt any such thing would happen to the walls of the castle; if it had not been for deliberate destruction of various sorts, I think the castle could easily be standing whole to this day, and what remains will probably remain for centuries more. 

Base of a round tower and a shard of wall, overlooking the waters of Loch Ness

I did stare down into the depths of Loch Ness, hoping for a glimpse of the fabled monster, but I saw nothing. Logic tells me that any plesiosaurs or similar creatures that may have lived within the loch aeons ago will be long dead, with no contemporary descendents swimming in the murky dark, but the poetic aspects of me want to believe that somewhere in the seemingly unfathomable depths, the creature or creatures lurk, feeding on the fish that swim alongside, and avoiding humans with their loud engines and bright lights. I bought my 3 year old neice a souvenir monster hat - it's too big for her head so she wears its sideways with the tail draped across one shoulder, and the head dipped down to the other. I bought her several books too - including 'Nessie Needs New Glasses' by A. K. Paterson, as it includes an introduction to Scottish places. I keep promising her that one day she and her mother will come visit me in Scotland and we can all go to ::Nessieland:: and wander around Loch Ness looking for 'Niseag' as she is called in Gaelic. 


Steep stone spiral staircase. Photo by HouseCat

One thing I will warn potential visitors about is that the stairwells are for the most part medieval - this means they are narrow and cramped, with steep stone. I don't know if they ever originally had hand-rails (there must have been medieval people who thought hand-rails were a good idea! It's just practical!) but currently they have rope for a hand-rail (as pictured). Flat shoes, and patience for others on the stairwells are a necessity. I have spacial awareness and co-ordination difficulties due to neurological issues, so I had to walk slowly as I find going down stairs difficult at the best of times (I have to literally watch where I put my feet, and to take my time), and the tuts and glares I got from people behind me were not exactly polite.

Another stairwell photo. Photograph by HouseCat

If you are ever visiting the British Isles, I seriously recommend coming to Scotland if you like castles. While England, Wales, Northern and Southern Ireland all have beautiful castles, of all the places I have visited and all the castles I have visited (including those I visited before I began blogging) Scotland has the most castles in dramatic locations - by lochs and up craggy mountains being relatively common places to find castles.

Inside part of the keep. Photograph by HouseCat

One of my favourite things about Urquhart Castle is that despite being a ruin, there is enough of the structure that is still safe and stable for people to be actually able to go inside, and they have partially restored it in a way that greatly facilitates this. It was nice to be a little bit out of the wind, and it is interesting to be in these spaces with reconstructed wooden ceilings/floors and such. It is certainly not restored to how it was; the castle is very much in a state of ruin. It is, however, restored enough to make a lot more of the castle safely accessible than it would be otherwise, and to get a sense of how the remaining parts of the castle worked as buildings, rather than as a tumble of protruding stones. 

Great edifice. Rear of the keep. Photograph by HouseCat

As those who read my blog well know, I am rather fond of castles, especially ruined ones. Urquhart is no exception to that, and its location makes it one of my favourites. I love the natural world and the beauty of wild scenery even more than I love historical architecture (and that really is saying something!) so to visit a castle in such an amazing location really is a treat for me. I really got quite carried away taking photographs while I was there, and if (no, when) I next visit, there will surely be plenty more. It is somewhere that does not seem exhaustable for interesting angles, and as the light changes, the interplay of shadows changes; the shadows walls cast on each other, the shadows in the textures of the stones, the sense of space and the way I try and capture that in a mere flat image - it fluctuates literally with the weather. 

This view deserved to be in full colour. Photograph by HouseCat

Scotland has beautiful geography, and so much history. I love living here, and I do not regret having moved to here from where I was in England. I am much happier here amongst mountains and ruined castles, and I think only Ireland compares for rugged natural beauty, and Wales for castles (Ireland has some nice castles too, but in having visited more Welsh ones, I am probably biased). England is not boring, but I am definitely a 'mountains' sort of person - like Neil Gaiman, I seek the windswept craggy places and their solitude. Most of the hills around Loch Ness are more rounded, but there are certainly craggy ones near there too. One day, I hope to visit Urquhart Castle when it has freshly snowed, nice and early so that snow is mostly undisturbed... that would be perfect. 

4 comments:

  1. I think living in the British Isle and including Eire how fortunate we are to have such diverse architecture. I must admit I have a fondness for castles and Cathedrals, especially, medieval gothic. Personally, my true romance is rugged mountainous with forest and lakes. I love the South Ireland especially, Kerry and cork, but I am biased, it's my ancestral home.

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    1. I have been to some of Cork, but mostly in Cork city itself, and it had some lovely architecture. I went there long before I started my blog (2010?) and so there are no pictures here of my trip. If I go back (hopefully /when/), then I will blog about it /thoroughly/.

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  2. I really like castles and I can't imagine what it must feel like to take in the the entire setting, landscape and all. And there are so many to visit where you live! Thanks for sharing your wonderful photos and travel logs.

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    1. I have already got another set of photographs of a castle to edit and upload - this time it was the ruin of a castle at Loch An Eilein, near Rothiemurchus and Aviemore

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