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|
|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|
|A brooding sky. Photo by the HouseCat|
|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|
|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|
|This view deserved to be in full colour. Photograph by HouseCat|