The remains of a Tower House built in the fifteenth century and heavy modified thereafter. The ruins stand four storeys tall but the entire northern side has been demolished. The foundations of various support buildings and a walled garden, all existing as low earthworks, are visible on the promontory. Calda House is nearby.
NO OFFICIAL SITE
Promontory. The castle was built on a promontory of land jutting out into Loch Assynt. A curtain wall originally barred access along the thin neck of land and the entire promontory would have been used to house the various support buildings associated with such a settlement. Later a walled garden was built.
Notes: The castle is surprisingly accessible as it is found directly off the A837. A dedicated car park is provided with (grass) footpaths to the castle and Calda House.
Calda House. This lavish mansion house was built shortly after the MacKenzies wrestled control of Assynt from the MacLeons. The house replaced Ardvreck Castle and was ideally situated to allows its occupants to view the old ruined castle.
Ruined. Whilst the ruins of the Tower House still stand to an impressive height, the northern face has been demolished - its stonework recycled and used to build Calda House.
Situated on a promontory of land jutting into Loch Assynt, Ardvreck Castle was constructed by the MacLeon Clan in the fifteenth century. Embroiled in local clan warfare throughout its history, it became famous for its role in national events when James Graham, Marquis of Montrose was betrayed here and handed over to his Covenanter enemies.
HISTORY OF ARDVRECK CASTLE
Assynt was granted to Siol Torquil in 1343 by David II on condition of feudal service of one Galley (such service was essential to maintain Royal control over the myriad of islands of the West Coast of Scotland). It passed from him to his son, Tormod, and then through his descendants who became of the Macleods of Assynt. It was a member of this clan, Angus Mor III, who built Ardvreck Castle around 1490. Constructed on a promontory of land jutting out into Loch Assynt, it would have been cut off from the mainland when the water level in the Loch was at its highest level. The castle itself took the form of a simple rectangular block, perhaps three or four storeys tall, and was positioned near the land approach. Access to the promontory itself was controlled by a rampart that ran across the thin neck of land. The interior would have been occupied by all the supporting facilities associated with such a settlement including a brewhouse, bakehouse and stables plus berthing facilities for the boats that would have used for travel and exploiting the Loch's rich resources.
Significant upgrades were made to the castle in the sixteenth century - a lost engraving recorded a date of either 1571 or 1579 - by Donald Ban IX again of Clan MacLeod. He upgraded the existing rectangular block into a Tower House, the fashionable form of residence for Scottish lairds of the time. It took the traditional form with storage (in this case vaulted cellars) on the ground floor, a Great Hall on the first and accommodation above. A semi-circular tower was also added that changed form into a square caphouse for the second and third storeys which providing additional accommodation. At somepoint in the castle's use a walled garden was also added in the promontory.
The castle acquired its place in history in 1650 when James Graham, Marquis of Montrose was briefly imprisoned within its walls. He had been a key Royalist commander - most notably with his successful 1644/5 campaign where he had effectively mobilised the Highland forces and won a number of impressive victories. At the Battle of Tippermuir (1 September 1644) he had captured arms for his small force facilitating his assault on Aberdeen later the same month. In February 1645 he defeated and humiliated Archibald Campbell, Marquis of Argyll at the Second Battle of Inverlochy with an impressive advance over the foothills of Ben Nevis. He defeated further Covenanter forces at the battles of Auldearn (May 1645) and Alford (July 1645) but his crowning achievement was the Battle of Kilsyth, fought on 15 August 1645, where he briefly became master of Scotland and summoned a Parliament in Glasgow. His victories came to an end on 13 September 1645 when he was routed at Philiphaugh. He fled to exile in Norway but, following the execution of Charles I, was persuaded to return in June 1649 in support of Charles II. However, this time he was unsuccessful and was defeated at the Battle of Carbisdale on 25 April 1650. Fleeing the field he sought hospitality and support from the then owner of Ardvreck, Neil Macleod. He was the local Sheriff and it would have seemed unlikely that he would have provided aid to Graham. Nevertheless he was allegedly away from Ardvreck at the time and it was his wife who betrayed the Royalist commander. She allegedly tricked him into entering a dungeon and handed him over to the Covenanter forces. This highly respected Royalist was then taken to Edinburgh where, on 21 May 1650, he was hung and quartered to the delight of his rival Archibald Campbell. His remains were placed on public display until the Reformation at which point Charles II had his mutilated body interred in St Giles' Cathedral and Campbell executed.
After the Restoration the MacLeods were politically isolated particularly by King Charles who held them culpable for the fate of Graham. This was exploited by the enemies of the MacLeons – in particular the MacKenzies of Wester Ross. By purchasing various MacLeod's debts, they claimed ownership of Assynt Castle and in June 1672 besieged the property. The castle was held by John MacLeod who initially defied the attackers but, after a 14 day siege and when faced with siege apparatus, surrendered. Assynt passed to the MacKenzies.
The new owners regarded the austere residential arrangements at Ardvreck Castle as wholly unsuitable and abandoned it within a few decades of seizing it from the MacLeods. In its place Kenneth MacKenzie commissioned Calda House - known locally as the White House for its whitewashed walls - with work starting in 1726. Stone was robbed from the old castle and the finished house was a lavish residence described as having "14 bedchambers, with the convenience of chimneys [and] fireplaces". It was superbly sited to view the ruins of the old castle and fuel the legend of the downfall of the MacLeods. However, within a few years the MacKenzies were finding it difficult to fund such a lavish residence as they were suffering from financial troubles inflicted on them by the Government for their Jacobite sympathies. Calda House was put up for sale and two potential buyers competed to acquire the site - William MacKenzie, Earl of Seaforth and William Sutherland, Earl of Sutherland. The latter won but not without significant enmity prompting MacKenzie supporters to loot and burn the house on 12 May 1737. The site never fully recovered and fifty years later it was partially demolished to provide stone for a schoolhouse at Kirkton.