• Michael

#0026: The Castle By The Loch

Updated: Jun 2, 2020

55.8840452, -5.2846471

As the midday sun heats the ground around me, the warm air rises, smelling of bracken and earth. On it rides a sparkling tide of electric blue, as damselflies rise on the warm currents before settling on the foxgloves and buttercups which line the path toward Asgog Loch.

The air hums as bees feed from thistles, whilst a golden-ringed dragonfly, the longest species to be found in the British Isles, keeps close to the trail ahead of me.

To live in Scotland is to be privileged. To live on the Secret Coast is to be truly blessed.

What most other people see only in movies or picture books, we have in abundance on our doorstep. Dramatic landscapes filled with promises of adventure and stories as yet untold.

This is where history was made.

And, if you know where to look, this is where you can find windows into the past.

From the shade of an apple tree hugging the shore of the loch, I watch as a swift flies low to the water, racing across the surface before rapidly changing direction and soaring over the tree which grows from the highest point of the remains of Asgog Castle. The mast of an ancient, ivy-clad shipwreck, sinking slowly into the earth.

The castle sits on a grassy knoll, on the north-western shore of the loch. What was once a two-storey keep is now little more than a crumbling wall, giving only the slightest clue of its former glory. The roots and branches of the undergrowth have penetrated the masonry, becoming one with the fabric of the building. The land claiming the castle as its own. Deep below, hidden beneath the ruined tower, the air in the vaulted cellar is cool, damp and still.

Aside from a watchful sheep, we're the only ones here. It's peaceful. Beautiful. Calm.

But that wasn't always the case.

At the foot of the keep lies the skeleton of a deer. Its sun-bleached bones recalling Asgog's violent past.

It's 3rd June, 1646. On this same spot, smoke billows into the night sky, whilst flames lick the highest points of the tower. The loch echoes with the screams of women and children as they are slaughtered where they sleep. As the roof of the tower collapses, the disembowelled corpses of thirty five men sway in the flickering light, hanged from the branches of a nearby tree.

This is the fall of Asgog.

For a hundred years leading up to tonight, this was the home of the Clan Lamont, whose lands were slowly being seized by the neighbouring Clan Campbell, who dominate Argyll. When the Campbells were left weakened following their defeat by Royalist forces at Inverlochy the previous year, the Lamonts found that Asgog's position gave them a tactical advantage, allowing them to mount raids on Campbell land.

Retaliation was swift and brutal.

Under the order of Archibald Campbell, First Marquis of Argyll and de facto head of Scotland's government, Asgog Castle was besieged. After a month being held prisoner in their own home, the Lamonts reluctantly agreed to surrender Asgog in exchange for a safe passage which was never to be. The Campbells reneged on their promise of a peaceful end to the siege that night and, across Cowal, hundreds perished as a result.

Fifteen years later, following the restoration of the monarchy to Scotland, Archibald Campbell was beheaded under charges of treason. Following Campbell's death, Asgog was returned to the Lamonts, but the Lamonts never returned to Asgog, leaving it instead to fall further to ruin over the centuries to follow.

Over three hundred and fifty years later still, I'm back under my apple tree, gazing out over the loch. Despite the horrors of what came before, this really is a beautiful place. And, like so many other beautiful places on the Secret Coast, a scratch of the surface reveals a remarkable story.

#secretdiaryargyll #argyllsecretcoast #cowal #argyll #scotland #asgog #lochsandcastles

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