Ardvreck Castle is a wonderful ruin that stands watch over the beguiling landscape surrounding Loch Assynt, making it easily one of the most beautiful castle ruins in Scotland. Sitting atop a small promontory of land jutting out into the southeast corner of the loch, Ardvreck Castle enjoys a rich and colourful past, easily imagined during a visit to the crumbling ruins of this once grand Keep. But, it isn’t just Ardvreck Castle to enjoy along this NC500 stop. There’s also Calda House and a pretty wonderful waterfall at Ardvreck Castle too.
So, is Ardvreck Castle worth a stop along your North Coast 500 road trip? You betcha. And below, we’re going to tell you everything you need to know about visiting.
To see footage of the wider NC500 road trip, feel free to watch our NC500 Hikes production.
The NC500 is more than just castle ruins. Read our 25 Epic Beaches To Visit On The NC500 and Complete Guide to Hikes Along the NC500 guides for information about other wonderful things to do on your road trip.
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About Ardvreck Castle
Ardvreck Castle, Scotland (AKA Castle Ardvreck) was built in the 15th century by the Clan Macleod of Assynt. Its tower shape is quite traditional of Scottish castles, with Ardvreck’s position on Loch Assynt strategic in terms of defence.
Ardvreck Castle made it into the history books when James Graham, Marquess of Montrose, sought refuge with Neil Macleod, the laird of Assynt, after suffering defeat at the Battle of Carbisdale. Montrose was a Royalist and had lost to the Covenanters.
But, James Graham was to be betrayed. Now, there are two theories as to what happened. The first is that the laird’s wife, Christine Macleod, welcomed Montrose into Ardvreck, but then tricked and trapped him in the castle dungeons, before sending word to the Covenanters. The second theory is that Neil Macleod himself betrayed Montrose, in return being rewarded with a handsome sum for his troubles.
Montrose was then taken to Edinburgh for trial, where he was executed. Macleod vehemently denied his involvement, which would be seen widely as a betrayal of Highland hospitality. It’s possible the theory was spread by the Clan Macleod’s rivals, the Clan MacKenzie as a way to ruin the family. Either way, the fortunes of Ardvreck and the Macleods of Assynt began to wane after this event.
In 1672, the MacKenzies attacked Ardvreck and came out victorious. They took over Ardvreck Castle until a century later, when it was hit by lightning and destroyed. So, the MacKenzies decided to build the Calda House manor house nearby as a replacement. A decade later, the more modern Calda manor house burned down, and, before the clan had a chance to rebuild it, the house was seized by the Crown.
Ardvreck Castle and Calda House have been ruined ever since, standing eerily on the banks of Loch Assynt.
Where Is Ardvreck Castle?
Ardvreck Castle sits on the eastern banks of the beautiful Loch Assynt in Sutherland, Scotland. It’s an easy stop along the NC500 drive as the A837 road passes right by. South of Ardvreck Castle is the large Highland town of Ullapool, whereas driving west will bring you to the pretty coastal town of Lochinver.
Feel free to click on the interactive Google Map below to see where Ardvreck Castle on Loch Assynt is located.
How to Get to Ardvreck Castle in Scotland
It’s easiest to reach Ardvreck Castle, the waterfall and Calda House with your own set of wheels. Loch Assynt is fairly remote and public transport isn’t ultra reliable. It’s around 40km (25 miles) and a 40 minute drive north of Ullapool. From Lochinver, Ardvreck Castle is a closer 20 minute drive and 18km (11 miles) away.
Public Transport to Loch Assynt
The #809 bus runs between Lochinver and Ullapool, stopping at Ardvreck Castle. But, please note that this bus only seems to operate on a Tuesday, so using public transport is fairly inconvenient. To that end, we can only really recommend having your own vehicle.
Of course, if you don’t have access to your own set of wheels, then we recommend hiring something. When hiring a car, we always get the ball rolling with a search on RentalCars.com. Booking a car with Rentalcars.com is easy and stress-free, plus they offer an unbeatable free cancellation policy too.
Visiting Ardvreck Castle
A visit to Ardvreck Castle, the waterfall and Calda House is very straightforward. There are at least five pull-in car parks located next to Ardvreck Castle, just off the A837. You’ll see all located on Google Maps and as such, would be highly unlikely to not find some form of parking as you pass by.
From any of the parking spots, it’s a short walk down onto the grassy embankment at the side of the road, across to the promontory Ardvreck Castle sits on. You’ll immediately fall in love with this most beguiling and wild setting. Ardvreck Castles pops perfectly against the backdrop of captivating Scottish mountains. There’s an air of mystery to the place and wonderfully, it’s completely free to explore.
Passing through a small stone wall, you’ll enter the grounds of this once-grand tower house. The remains are small but they allude to its past just enough to conjure romantic images of yesteryear. Exploring the castle grounds won’t take long. Take care as you scramble around – this is a crumbling ruin after all.
After exploring Ardvreck Castle, you must find the Ardvreck Castle Waterfall.
Ardvreck Castle Waterfall
Heading back to the parking areas, cross over the A837 and head into the grassy land beyond. You’ll roughly follow the small stream, that runs into Loch Assynt, into the hillside beyond. Soon, you’ll spot the Ardvreck Castle Waterfall. It’s a pretty cascade that’s a definite surprise to the Ardvreck Castle stop. But, it makes sense that such a lovely waterfall would be here, since the whole landscape is just so wonderful.
The trail leading to and from the Ardvreck Castle Waterfall can be quite muddy and slippery, so decent footwear is a good idea.
After visiting Ardvreck Castle Waterfall, you can head down to check out Calda House. You’ll find Calda House sits south of Ardvreck Castle along the banks of Loch Assynt. This now ruinous stone house once belonged to the MacKenzie Clan. It was named after the nearby Calda Burn and is said to have been built after the lightning strike that destroyed Ardvreck Castle.
In addition, there are theories suggesting that when Kenneth MacKenzie brought his new wife, Frances, to Ardvreck Castle, it was not to her liking. And so, Calda House was commissioned. Calda House wasn’t cheap to build though, and among other things, the expense caused the MacKenzie family to fall into debt. They were forced to sell to their rival, the Earl of Sutherland. Ardent supporters of the MacKenzie Clan, who were not keen on a Sutherland living in Calda House, determined to burn the house to the ground. And in 1737, they did.
Attractions Close to Ardvreck Castle
Assynt is one of the wildest and most remote sections of the NC500 and the Scottish Highlands as a whole. So, as you can imagine, there are plenty of natural attractions to explore beyond Ardvreck Castle and Loch Assynt. Below are some of our favourite places to see nearby.
- Wailing Widow Falls: a wonderful waterfall drops from Loch na Gainmhich surrounded by mountain peaks.
- Eas a Chual Aluinn: hike to Britain’s highest waterfall.
- Quinag: an incredible hike overlooking the beautiful Assynt wilderness.
- The Bone Caves: just south of Ardvreck Castle and Loch Assynt is a series of epic caves.
- Falls of Kirkaig: if you love waterfalls, this one is a must with wonderful views of Suilven.
- Kylesku Bridge (guide coming soon): one of the most photographed bridges in Scotland.
- Suilven: a full-day hike to a truly iconic mountain in the Highlands.
- Achmelvich Beach: discover a world-class beach on the NC500.
- Clachtoll Beach: the white sands and turquoise waters at Clachtoll will leave you astounded.
Other Castles on the NC500
If Scotland does one thing well, it’s castles. Below are some of the epic castles you can explore along the NC500.
- Strome Castle (guide coming soon): pretty ruins on the banks of the wonderful Loch Carron.
- Castle Varrich: a small castle ruin perched on an exposed hilltop overlooking the Kyle of Tongue.
- Old Keiss Castle: take a short walk along the rugged coastline to this castle, surely about to drop into the sea at any moment.
- Castle Sinclair Girnigoe: on the Noss Head headland, with views across Sinclair’s Bay, is a quick and easy walk to a history-filled Scottish castle.
- Dunrobin Castle: perhaps the most popular Highlands castle on the NC500, and for good reason.
- Castle of Mey: a perfectly positioned castle on the northern shores of Scotland with views to the Orkney Isles.
- Inverness Castle: a worthy stop as you begin or finish your NC500 road trip.
- Urquhart Castle: not strictly on the NC500, but just south of Inverness on the eastern banks of Loch Ness is this splendid castle ruin. It’s also one of the largest castles in Scotland.
Nearest Accommodation to Ardvreck Castle
Below, we’ve handpicked the best budget, mid-range and luxury accommodation options close to Ardvreck Castle and Loch Assynt.
- Budget: the Inchnadamph Explorers Lodge is a fantastic hostel option on the shore of Loch Assynt. There’s free private parking and guests can relax in the shared lounge after a day of exploring.
- Mid-range: you’ll find Newton Lodge in nearby Ullapool. The views of Quinag and Assynt from this picturesque white house are completely staggering. Plus, you’re close to Kylesku Bridge, so it’ll be super easy to visit this fantastic attraction too.
- Luxury: over in Ullapool, Ardvreck House is a popular stay. The spacious rooms come with awesome views, the breakfast is yummy and ultimately this hotel makes a great base from which to explore Ardvreck Castle, Loch Assynt and all the other attractions we listed which are nearby.
- Ardmair Point Holiday Park: Dan and I camped for a few nights at Ardmair Point Holiday Park. The facilities are great, there’s plenty of space and it’s just a 40-minute drive to get to Ardvreck Castle and Calda House.
- Achmelvich Beach: you’ll find the majority of other campsite options at Achmelvich Beach. It’s just a quick 15-minute drive from Lochinver and not too far from Loch Assynt. Here, you can happily pitch up practically on the beach. Top options include Shore Caravan Site and North Coast 500 Pods.
Of course, wild camping is permitted in Scotland. However, campers need to follow a standard set of guidelines. These rules revolve around respecting the countryside and ultimately staying safe. Tents should also be out of view from the roadside, where possible. Also, if using a car park with your camper, don’t linger too long into the day or arrive too early in the evening.
Beware the Ardvreck Castle ghost if you choose to camp here. Well, if you believe in that kinda thing anyway.
Travel Insurance For the NC500
Whether you’re from the UK or further afield, travel insurance is a necessary evil, especially if taking on a road trip like the NC500.
SafetyWing is an excellent budget-friendly travel insurance provider. Personally, Dan and I have used SafetyWing’s Nomad Insurance many times to insure our trips. The Nomad Insurance is fantastic value for money with a smaller additional cost to add a partner. Unlike most other insurance companies, there’s an option to pay on a monthly basis, similar to having a prepaid phone plan. Better yet, there’s no lock-in contract. In addition, you can cancel at any time, which will take effect the month after.
For shorter trips, it’s also possible to use Nomad Insurance for trips lasting just days or just 2–3 weeks. Indeed, SafetyWing is cheaper than almost all other travel insurance policies and covers just as much and sometimes more.
SafetyWing is a modern travel insurance company that is certainly leading the way in terms of how travel insurance should work in the future.
Travel Essentials For Ardvreck Castle
These are our travel essentials for visiting Ardvreck Castle on Loch Assynt, Scotland. For a more extensive hiking gear list, check out our 66 Travel Accessories That You Must Travel With. Alternatively, for a general summary of everything you’d need for a trip to Scotland and the North Coast 500, visit our Ultimate Packing Checklist.
- The North Face Venture Jacket: a fantastic windproof/waterproof jacket, because you know, this is still Scotland after all.
- Osprey Skarab 30L Day Backpack: a great backpack for day trips, which has plenty of space to store your gear.
- The North Face TKA Glacier Fleece Jacket: an excellent warmth:weight ratio fleece jacket that’ll help keep you warm when the sun drops and you want to enjoy a sunset.
You should also pack water, snacks and sunscreen. And of course, your camera!
- Weather: you can’t always rely on the weather to behave in the Highlands. But, it turns out visiting castles and waterfalls is a great thing to do on wet weather days, and Ardvreck has both! You can be prepared and check the local forecast for Loch Assynt here.
- Tours and Activities: for some hassle-free tours of the wider Highlands, GetYourGuide offers some pretty excellent trips around the Scottish Highlands.
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