#0030: The Castle By The Sea
Updated: Jun 2
It's a moonless night in Cowal. A dead calm hangs over Strathlachlan, and mist clings to the mirrored surface of Loch Fyne. Where it breaks, the stars are reflected in the water; pinpricks of silver piercing the depths.
Without warning, the constellations twist and swirl as a ripple passes over them.
The stars are shattered into a thousand tiny fragments as a solitary shape cuts through the water. A riderless horse, swimming across the sea loch. Returning home to the rocky outcrop of Castle Lachlan.
To the south, the mist dances and parts as a Government warship emerges from the gloom. Slowly. Silently.
Then a shout.
It's April, 1746. The Jacobites have fallen at Culloden. The rising has been brought to an end.
For five hundred years, this outcrop has been the home of the Maclachlans, one of Scotland's oldest clans.
A year ago, Lachlan Maclachlan, the seventeenth chief of the clan, consulted Master Harry, the brounie of the castle. Often mischievous, that evening the brounie was anxious. Preoccupied by dark omens. There, in the dim, flickering light of the cellar, the creature gave news of a stranger arriving in the north. A stranger whose fortunes Maclachlan would follow, and from whom he would never return.
Now, with shells raining on it from the water, and its chief lying dead at Culloden, struck down by a cannonball whilst leading his clansmen to battle in the name of the young pretender, Charles Edward Stuart, Castle Lachlan will never again be called home.
Upon seeing Maclachlan's horse drag himself from the water and bolt for the castle keep, what was left of the clan, barricaded in the castle, knew their fate.
Castle Lachlan is lost. It's time to leave.
But it takes a lot to keep a good clan down. Within fifty years of abandoning Old Castle Lachlan, the Maclachlans had reclaimed their land and built a new castle less than a kilometre away. Even Master Harry is said to have made the move and, to this day, the new castle remains the seat of the Maclachlan clan.
Today, Old Castle Lachlan is guarded, not by sentries on the battlement, but by moulting Canada geese on the salt marsh flanking the shore.
It’s a still day. Clouds cling to the hills on the western shore of the loch, the sun breaking through where it can.
The ground is still wet from last nights rain as I approach the ruins across the boardwalk which hugs the shore. The air is thick and heavy, carrying with it the promise of a late summer storm.
To the east, the tower and turrets of New Castle Lachlan reach for the bruised sky. Between us, the roofless remains of Kilmorie Chapel lie hunkered under a copse of ash, its gables hairy with grasses and moss. Only three of the Maclachlan chiefs from the last six hundred years are missing from the circular graveyard, including Lachlan, who never left Culloden.
There’s no breeze and, like that fateful night over two hundred and seventy years ago, the sea is a sheet of glass.
Ask a child to sketch a fortress and they'll draw Old Castle Lachlan. A solid, square, brute of building, shrouded in ivy and sitting atop a promontory of twisted rock, like crashing waves turned instantly to barnacle crusted stone.
Inside the thick curtain wall, the building is split into two distinct tenements, with an open courtyard between, and connecting rooms within the northern wall. The western tenement, with its sensational views down the loch, housed a great hall and, above it, a solar, to provide living quarters for the chief and his family.
With its walls plastered and hung with tapestries, and fires roaring in the hearths to keep the sea air at bay, it must have been heartbreaking for the Maclachlans to leave this place. Yet leave they did.
Except for one.
Forever loyal, Lachlan's horse refused to abandon the castle with the rest of the clan. Instead, he chose to wait for a reunion with his master. A reunion which was never to be.
Some say he's still here.
Listen closely on a still, moonless night, and you might just hear the echo of hooves on the rocks.