By Lucrezia Rizzelli
Photography by Lucrezia Rizzelli
If you find yourself stumbling upon Castle Urquhart from land, you’d think it is but one dot in a constellation of ruins throughout the highlands. A favourable photo opportunity, but unremarkable compared to the more iconic Eilean Donan Castle. The moment you approach it from the water, however, it is hard to deny its magnetic allure in the misty stillness of the loch.
Walking amongst its turrets and winding paths, I felt that fascination hook something inside of me and draw me into a wandering and imaginative state. Gone were the other tourists, the guides, and the children all too happy to leap into muddy puddles. I walked slowly on the cobbled pathways, towards the main tower, up steep stone steps, and… oh, to be a 13th century laird! The main bedchamber of the castle projected right onto the loch, its balcony offering an unobstructed view of the seemingly endless body of water at its feet.
Spacing my hands far apart on the railing, I leaned into the landscape, a sighing woman of the 21st century captivated by echoes of history. I contemplated what thoughts might have traversed the minds of those who had occupied this room through time. How many people had gazed upon the black waters on sleepless nights? Had they appreciated the view? Or had the extraordinary prominence of their chamber been a 'ça va sans dire' of their social standing, more a status symbol than something to be enjoyed?
The sounds were the hardest to imagine, surprisingly. My nose could conjure fictitious scents of freshly baked bread close to the kitchen, of pungent manure and hay in the stables, of the dusty dryness of the columbarium. My tongue could evoke flavours of salted meats and fish soups. And yet I still wondered whether bustling activity had filled the grounds with noise, or if monastic silence had reigned in the castle.
One of the most magical moments was venturing down to the boat dock. My hand glided on the stone wall to my right as I began my descent; the cold rock was stained dark grey by the rain and afforded very little security. The dock itself – or what remained of it – appeared even more slippery. The staircase continued seamlessly into the water as if slipping down to the underworld, or to a different dimension where mythical sea creatures would scoff at the ludicrous idea of an animal called ‘human.’
Two trees framed the liminal space between worlds. They appeared at once new – the branches thin and tentative, folding over the water in a poor attempt at a canopy – and eternal, the roots solid, snaking up on the surface before digging into the rocky sand. I wondered once again what it must have felt like to inhabit this space daily. How many trysts the trees had shielded from ruinous eyes; how many servants might have snuck down the stairs to find a moment of solitude or refreshment on a hot summer day; whether any noble child had once stepped out of their expensive shoes to dip their toes in the water, before a governess had dragged them back to their lessons.
Castle Urquhart felt like a place of infinite untold stories, a capsule of a bygone time still holding on to the souls of those who had passed through. When you leave the castle by water and gaze back, perhaps it is possible to imagine those souls taking shape again. One grudgingly looks out over the loch from the main bedchamber, readying themselves for a day of rote administration. Another waits on the highest viewpoint for their loved one to return. A full kitchen ramps up a fire, and horses beat their hooves to the ground, upset by thunder. Maybe, if you look closely, you’ll see someone sitting lazily on the last step of the boat dock, exchanging stories with the water.
LUCREZIA RIZZELLI is a third year Criminology DPhil, looking to stay in academia so she can spend her life reading and writing.