Question: Where in the world do the ruins of a castle overlook the home of a world-famous mythical creature?
Answer: Urquhart Castle, Scotland
Looming over the mysterious waters of Loch Ness stand the rocky remains of Urquhart Castle—a castle which has seen some of the most dramatic chapters in Scotland’s history unfold before it. While only ruins of the once glorious castle remain, from among the lasting curtain walls you can practically still hear the undeterred battle cries of Scots fighting for their independence. Once the largest fortress in Scotland, the structure has witnessed many grave battles between the forces of Scotland, England, and the Isles.
The castle is situated at the top of an outcrop of rock and surrounded by Loch Ness on three sides—making it the perfect place to hope for a glimpse of the legendary Loch Ness Monster. Stories of a saint performing miracles along the land and saving citizens from Nessie date back to the year 565 (see below). In 1228, King Alexander II of Scotland granted his son-in-law lordship over the land where he began building the castle. When it was completed, it was one of the most important strongholds in Scotland and guarded the route to Scotland’s Highlands.
In 1296, the castle was captured by Edward I of England, marking the beginning of Scotland’s War of Independence. Throughout the war, possession of the castle changed hands many times. The Scots even outlasted a devastating siege by the English while they held on to the fortress. When the Scots finally gained their independence in 1357, the attacks did not cease. Forces from the Isles began strikes on nearly an annual basis all the way up until the year 1692 when the fortress was finally deserted. Legend suggests that at this time, the departing troops destroyed the castle to prevent it from ever being used again.
Today, not much is left of the castle’s former glory, but the ruins of the great hall and the prison do remain. However, when standing on the hillside it’s easy to be transported back to the time of ferocious battles, and the castle’s history converges with the mystery of Loch Ness as the shimmering waters dance below. While you’re there, if you spot something in the water, is it just your eyes or is it the Loch Ness Monster?
The Legend of the Loch Ness Monster
- The legend of a creature living in Loch Ness dates back to ancient times—stone carvings by the local Pict people depicted a beast with flippers.
- The first recorded sighting of the Nessie, however, was in the year 565. It was said to have appeared from the depths of the lake, biting a swimmer and trying to pull another one under. Saint Columba intervened and urged the beast to “go back,” which it obeyed. In the following centuries, only occasional sightings were reported.
- Many Scots also believed other water spirits of Scottish folklore such as Kelpies and the Each-Usige (water horse) were living in Loch Ness.
- In 1933, construction began on the roads along the lake and it is believed that during the drilling and blasting of the new roads, Nessie was awakened. The streets created a clear view of the lake from the north, and sightings of the creature soon began to increase.
- The same year, one couple was driving along when they saw “an enormous animal rolling and plunging on the surface.” Their account was written up by the Inverness Courier using the word “monster” for the first time. It became a media phenomenon ever since.
- In 1934, a London surgeon took the iconic photo which showed a long and skinny serpentine neck rising from the water. The Daily Mail printed the photo which drew attention to Nessie worldwide. Later evidence proved that this photo was faked by using a plastic head attached to a wooden submarine.
- In the 1960s, an investigation bureau was formed to search Loch Ness with sonar and submarines. They searched the waters up to 950 feet deep and found a vast underwater cave—possibly the home of Nessie?
- The most recent sighting was in 2007 when a lab technician took a video of something 45 feet long moving quickly through the water. While the video was broadcasted on BBC Scotland, the credibility of the video has come into question.
Explore Urquhart Castle and take in the views of the legendary Loch Ness while traveling on our New! Scotland Revealed: Legends, Lochs & Highland Landscapes adventure.