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    Urquhart Castle – History, Nessie & Sherlock Holmes

    10 min read

    Urquhart Castle was built for defence and it has felt a great number of battles and assaults throughout its 1000+ year history between the armies of the English and the Scottish. 

    See below to learn more about the history of Urquhart Castle and its association with the great Loch Ness Monster.

    Image Credit: Visit Scotland

    By Neil Irvine, Content Editor
    More by Neil

    Where is Urquhart Castle?

    Urquhart (pronounced er-ch-ert) Castle was formally one of the largest castles in Scotland when it was fully intact. Still, to this day, its ruins are an impressive sight to behold. In its native Scottish Gaelic, Urquhart Castle is known as Caisteal na Sròine. The historical castle ruins can be found on the famous banks of Loch Ness in the heart of the Scottish Highlands.

    Near Urquhart castle is the beautiful small village of Drumnadrochit which is located around 1.2 miles away from the castle on the western shore of Loch Ness, while the capital city of the Highlands, Inverness, is around 13 miles north-east. Some even refer to Urquhart Castle as Castle Loch Ness because of its iconic location.

    Inverness River Ness

    The picturesque city of Inverness

    Urquhart Castle Map

    On the map below you can view where Urquhart Castle is in the Highlands of Scotland. Use the + and – symbols to zoom in and out for a closer look and to see where places such as Drumnadrochit and Inverness are in relation to the castle.

    What is Urquhart Castle?

    The castle is formed of two ‘baileys,’ or enclosures, known as the Nether bailey on the northside and the Upper bailey on the southside of the land. The southern end is considerably higher than the northern end.

    Urquhart Castle Ruins

    The Urquhart Castle Ruins has felt the impact of the waring Scottish and English armies over the centuries

    Nether bailey

    On the Northern tip stands an impressive tower, known as the Grant Tower. This was first built in the 14th century, but the tower remains mostly from rebuilding that took place in the 16th century. The tower is the tallest part of the castle that has survived from the years of destruction and decay – this is despite the southern wall collapsing in a severe storm which occurred sometime during the early 18th century.

    Upper bailey

    The southern end is considerably higher than the northern end. The mound which this part of the castle sits on is the site of the earliest defences of Urquhart dating back to the medieval period. It is thought that the buildings in this area could have been home to the stables and possibly a rather enchanting great hall.

    Urquhart Castle History

    The Ruins of Urquhart Castle are said to be over 1,000 years old and date back to the 13th century. It was built on the foundations of an early Medieval fortification. Some historians believe that Urquhart Castle held status as a royal castle as early as the 12th century, but there seems to be debate among other historians questioning if this was actually the case stating that there is not enough evidence to paint a clear picture.

    Urquhart Castle Ruins

    A closer look at the ruins of Urquhart Castle.

    1296 was the year of the first recorded document of Urquhart Castle. During this time the castle was besieged by the English and captured by Edward I, thus marking the beginning of the Wars for Scottish Independence, which would go on continuously until the year 1537. It seems that over 200 years there were many Urquhart Castle battles between the English and the Scottish armies, both who would intermittently claim the castle over this long period of time.

    In 1298 Urquhart Castle would once again be in the possession of the Scottish, but in 1303 the castle was again in the hands of the English after succumbing to an attack on the castle. Thanks to Robert the Bruce in 1306 the castle was yet again in control of the Scots after defeating the Comyn family – it was around this time that Urquhart Castle (once again – depending on your what you believe from different history books) became a royal castle.

    In 1509 the Grant clan was ‘granted’ the castle and despite numerous raids of the building the castle was strengthened over time, but unfortunately, this did not last long and the castle was abandoned during the 17th century. The restructuring that happened during the period of the Grants fell apart and to further its downfall was subject to deliberate damage in a strategy to prevent the Jacobites claiming Urquhart Castle as their own.

    Urquhart trebuchet

    The Urquhart trebuchet “catapult’ would have been used a number of times to help defend the castle from invading forces. You can really see that it is an impressive structure of engineering when viewed up close. Credit: Visit Scotland

    After years of warfare, Urquhart Castle had felt its fair share of destruction and by the 19th century, the structure was totally roofless but was regarded by artists and many visitors to the Highlands during the time as a uniquely romantic setting with its view of Loch Ness. Many in the present share this romantic notion about the castle with a number of couples from all over the world tying the knot with their own dream Urquhart Castle wedding.

    Urquhart Castle is a part of Scottish heritage and today the castle is a must-see location of the Highlands.

    Urquhart Castle and Nessie

    Over the years Urquhart Castle has long been associated with a number of ‘supposed’ sightings of the famous Loch Ness Monster. In popular media, Nessie is usually depicted commonly in one of two forms – either, with the body of an aquatic dinosaur-like creature with its body hidden beneath the water and a long neck that stretching out high into the open air, or as a gigantic eel with two humps which can be seen above sea level as well as possessing a long giraffe-like neck. In both instances, the description of the sea creature suggests that it needs to surface every once in a while to breathe in oxygen – so if you find yourself exploring Urquhart Castle find a good high vantage point as you never know when she will next surface for air!

    Loch Ness Monster at Drumnadrochit

    Credit: Visit Scotland. Loch Ness Centre &; Exhibition in Drumnadrochit displays a full-size model of the Loch Ness Monster depicted in the dinosaur-like form rather than the other popular gigantic eel form.

    Peter McNab’s Famous Photo

    Possibly the earliest, and maybe the only, photograph taken of Nessie with Urquhart Castle in the background was snapped in 1955 by Mr. Peter A McNab. In his picture, two long black ‘humps’ could be seen in the distant water travelling towards a shadowy Urquhart Castle in a purely black and white photo. Some sceptics believe the ‘humps’ in the sea could easily just be a wave effect from a few trawlers closely sailing across the loch or that the photo had been tampered with in some way to show the illusion of an undiscovered sea mammal racing across the water.

    Loch Ness Phenomena Investigation Bureau

    Sounding like something straight out of an episode of the X-Files, although this preceded the show by over 30 years, the LNPIB was set up in 1962 and ran up until 1972. The group was started through a group of volunteers and their purpose was to search the whole of Loch Ness in order to discover the whereabouts of Nessie. The idea of the group was to survey the Loch with a number of cameras and telescopes at different vantage points around the Loch in order to capture footage of the Loch Monster.

    Urquhart Castle

    Not far from here in the late 1960s sonar scanning took place in the hopes that the elusive Loch Ness creature would be found.

    Originally the group was located at Achnahannet but later moved to Urquhart Bay (near the Castle) as part of a sonar study, which would hopefully help the identification of the Monster. The bureau was made up of 1,030 members of which 588 were from the United Kingdom, according to a bureau report in 1969 – it is safe to say that the mystery of the Loch Ness Monster has inspired people from all the around the world for many decades.

    Loch Ness Muppet

    During a peaceful day in 1977 whilst camping beside Urquhart Castle, Anthony ‘Doc’ Shiels claims to have taken a very clear photo of Nessie with her neck standing tall above the water. Unfortunately, many believe the photo to be a hoax and it seems to too clear a shot of the creature for the photo to have been quickly snapped and others state because there are no ripples surrounding the monster then the photo has undoubtedly been doctored.

    Many people became sceptical of Shiels as the professional magician and psychic stated that he apparently summoned the creature to come out of the Loch shortly after the photo was taken claiming that the animal actually resembled a gigantic squid. The reason this photo is referred to as ‘the Loch Ness Muppet’ is perhaps not a kind reason – it is likely because the creature in the photo looked very much like a muppet floating in the water.

    2018 Urquhart Castle Nessie Sightings

    Fast forward to 2018 and according to official records, a total number of 13 sightings were reported. These reports stated that they had witnessed Nessie swimming around the seas of Loch Ness, which was an increase from 11 sightings in 2017. Out of 13 sightings in the Loch Ness area, 4 were spotted around Castle Urquhart in 2018.

    During March 2018 an American tourist noticed a dark shape around 40 feet in length moving in the water towards the Urquhart Castle jetty area. The next month in April an Irish-man took 10-minute video footage from the Loch Ness webcam that apparently showed a creature travelling the water near Urquhart Bay but it sank soon after two boats appeared to have had scared it away.

    Travellers looking at Loch Ness

    Wilderness Scotland travellers looking out towards Loch Ness hoping to catch a glimpse of resident Nessie.

    Then later that year in the summer month of August, a 10-year-old girl had claimed she had taken a photo of a shadowy creature with her iPhone from her parent’s car whilst they were driving away from Urquhart Castle. On the 17th of August the Locke family, a group of visiting Canadians, filmed a solid dark shape near the castle that stayed in the area for around 1 minute.

    Judging from these sightings it appears that the best time to search for Nessie from Urquhart Castle is the months of spring and summer. Who knows for sure, maybe she goes into hiding during the winter months!

    For those interested, there is a complete register of Nessie sightings here.

    Urquhart Castle, Nessie and Hollywood

    Despite its iconic location on the banks of Loch Ness Urquhart Castle has not been used much in fictional TV and film dramas, although it has been mentioned in the hit historical time-traveling drama Outlander.

    Sherlock Holmes & The Loch Ness Monster

    The only film where the castle has been fully featured is perhaps a surprising one if you just judge the film by its given title, but Urquhart Castle was used for shooting a number of scenes for the 1970s film called ‘The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.’ Sherlock Holmes and Urquhart Castle may not seem like two things that should go together, but it turns out that a missing person case leads Sherlock to the iconic castle at Urquhart. There is even a scene in the movie where Watson spots the beast of Loch Ness, Nessie, surfacing around the Urquhart Castle area.

    Urquhart Castle at night

    There are some scenes in the movie which happen at night in Urquhart Castle. In the film, the interior of the castle is laid out with a long red carpet stretching across the ground and the ancient stone walls are lit up by torch fire – this really helps to add to the historical atmosphere that the castle radiates. Credit: Visit Scotland

    Even though the movie was filmed in the late 1960s it does have more recent relevance, as in April 2016 a 30ft prop of Nessie was hauled out of the Loch by a team that happened to be searching for the ‘real’ monster of the Loch. The prop was confirmed to have been made for the use in the filming of ‘The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes’ and nearly 50 years later it had been salvaged.

    The prop of the monster had sunk to the bottom of the Loch because director, Billy Wilder, wanted his version of Nessie to not feature any humps and only the neck and head of the creature was to be seen out of the water. Billy Wilder was unhappy with the prop featuring two humps and ordered that they needed to be cut off from the model. As a result, the Loch Ness Monster model ending up sinking beneath the waves and a new model was required to be created in a hurry. The discovery of the model must have been a great disappointment to Nessie believers as any hard physical evidence still seems yet to be found.

    Ted Danson’s Search for the Beast of Loch Ness

    In a 1996 film cleverly titled, ‘Loch Ness’, starring Ted Danson (probably best known for his roles in the sitcom, Cheers, and comedy series, the Good Place) plays the role of Scientist Dr. John Dempsey who is asked to travel to Loch Ness and dispel the centuries-old myth of the Loch Ness Monster. In the Movie, Danson’s character teams up with another scientist who has a strong belief in Nessie and is determined to prove its existence.

    Cairngorms and Central Highlands

    Loch Ness is famous worldwide for the monster that lives in the loch. As you might expect, most of the locals have seen it at some time! You can always try to find Nessie on a canoeing holiday! See if you can find the secret underground cavern underneath Urquhart castle where the monster lives, as the movie suggests, by canoe.

    Fictionally, the movie suggests that an underground cavern exists beneath Urquhart Castle and that the creature dwells within – so perhaps if you find yourself wandering the area be on the lookout as Nessie could very well be under your feet! The movie was only partially filmed around Loch Ness and the village scenes were actually shot in Lower Diabaig near Torridon.

    Visit Urquhart, Go Nessie Spotting at Loch Ness and Sense the History of the Area on a Wilderness Holiday

    Meet the Author: Neil Irvine

    “Neil has enjoyed a stint in city life but that flirtation soon ended and he's returned to the Highlands of Scotland for the peace, tranquility and closeness to nature that he loves.”

    View profileMore by Neil

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