Out & About …

… on the North York Moors, or wherever I happen to be.

Strome Castle

One of the must-see destinations on an early 20th-century grand tour of Scotland was Strome Castle, the fortress that once stood imposing, overseeing the crossing of Loch Carron. But, as the main roads were upgraded, and the ferry service to Strome axed in the 1970s, the castle found itself nestled in a tranquil cul-de-sac, its visitors reduced to curious cyclists and ardent enthusiasts of the medieval era. No tour buses stop, there is no café or visitor centre. If there is an information board, we didn’t spot it.

Nowadays, this castle is nothing more than a solitary archway perched on a rugged promontory, guarded with unwavering determination by a flock of stubborn sheep. In its heyday, back in the early 15th century, it served as the abode of the esteemed MacDonells of Glengarry, a clan of considerable renown1https://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/lochcarron/stromecastle/index.html,

As Royal authority grew stronger in the western Highlands, many clans that once enjoyed a fair degree of autonomy began feeling the weight of the law upon their shoulders. Numerous clan chiefs, recognising the shifting tide, decided to embrace the new system, understanding that aligning themselves with the King offered better prospects for retaining their cherished lands, compared to steadfastly clinging onto archaic traditions.

However, the MacDonells were a conservative lot. They resisted the call for submission, resorting to swift and violent retribution whenever conflict reared its ugly head. Their steadfastness was legendary. Yet, it all came to a head in the late 16th century when a member of the MacDonell clan met his untimely demise at the hands of the Mackenzies, a rival clan.

Now, Kenneth Mackenzie, the chief of the Mackenzies, had pursued the submissive path. He had pledged his clan’s loyalty to the King and, whenever trouble arose, he took his grievances straight to the Privy Council. Such was his cunning, his favour with the Council grew, and he often received legal permission to suppress his neighbours through force.

But the MacDonells wanted revenge for their fallen kin. They journeyed to Applecross, stealthily entering the house of one of the perpetrators, and there, under the cover of darkness, they brought justice with a swift blade. Little did they know that they had stirred the ire of a formidable foe.

When he heard Chief MacDonell knew his clan’s future was hanging in the balance. The stakes were high. In a desperate bid for justice, he followed in Kenneth Mackenzie’s footsteps, making his way to Edinburgh to plead his case. Armed with his good reputation and experience with the Privy Council, Mackenzie wove a tale of horror and presented the bloodied shirt of his clansman as damning evidence.

The odds were against MacDonell. He had no chance, and faced with the looming threat of royal justice, he fled north, ignoring the summons of the King and finding himself declared an outlaw. With MacDonell out of the picture, Kenneth Mackenzie seized the opportunity to destroy Strome Castle, the symbol of MacDonell’s defiance.

In the year 1602, Mackenzie launched a fierce assault on the castle. But try as they might, the Mackenzies found themselves repelled at every turn. The defenders unleashed a volley of gunfire upon their foes, forcing them to retreat time and time again.

Yet fortune can be a fickle companion, and it was a twist of fate that would turn the tide. One fateful night, in the darkness that shrouded the castle, a servant made a grave error. He mistakenly poured a bucket of water into the MacDonells’ last barrel of gunpowder. The servant’s mistake was duly reprimanded, but a Mackenzie prisoner, listening keenly, seized the moment to alert his clansmen that the castle was now defenceless.

With no other recourse, the MacDonells struck a deal, surrendering to the Mackenzies.

And so it was that the Mackenzies, using their own dry gunpowder, blew up the walls of Strome Castle, reducing it to the ruins we see today.







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