21 Jul 2009

Chasing the storm at Ardvreck Castle

Sometimes in Scotland, you have to run to catch the sky. Even in the summer the clouds can sweep up over the horizon and cover the landscape in minutes. For photographers, every shift can be a missed opportunity.

Oh the agony, waiting for the clutch of visitors to move away from the castle so I could get a clear shot with the bulging clouds behind it. The road that now winds behind old Calda house, a roofless ruin of what had once been a 14-room manor, looks sturdy and reassuring as the wind picks up and the darkness soars over the surface of Loch Assynt. Without the road, the possibility of escape would seem to evaporate.
There is time yet to get to the other side, to catch the violence and the beauty of the storm’s black veil, and the rainbow that grows from two mounds of green on either side of the castle. The single stony spike seems to point accusingly at the belly of the rainbow, like a warning not to trust something simply because it looks inviting.

You see, James Graham, the 1st Marqess of Montrose, knocked on the door of this castle on 25 April, 1650. Charles I was already dead, but James had continued the fight for the royalist cause and had lost his most recent battle. Her husband away, Christine Macleod, wife of Neil Macleod of Assynt, opened the doors of Ardvreck Castle to the desperate James.

I wonder if she smiled as she led him to the dungeon. I wonder what she told him to make him think he was going somewhere safe. And I wonder what went through his mind the moment he realized he had been tricked. She locked him in there and sent for troops, who flung him off to Edinburgh. Less than a month later, he was executed.

Transfixed by the sight of the rainbow against the storm, I stay until the drops begin to pelt me and the wind pushes into my ears like fork tongs trying to scramble my brains. I thrust my camera back into my bag and run for the car, so grateful for the road that will see us away to safety.

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