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Hidden away in a remote corner of Northwestern Scotland, Loch Assynt offers a scenic vista consisting of nearly 2,000 acres of sparkling cold waters, several nearby mountains, a castle in ruins, a small settlement and plenty of solitude. The nearly 300-feet deep loch connects to the North Atlantic via the River Inver at the fishing village of Lochinver. Water flows into Loch Assynt from the River Loanan, from Loch Awe and a number of smaller streams. All of this clear cold water makes Loch Assynt one of the Highlands' best trout waters and a favored place for visitors to enjoy mountain trekking, wildlife watching and exploring. A number of small islands in the loch are no longer inhabited.
The peaks of Beinn Uidhe, Quinag and Canisp overlook the loch basin. Several steep and strenuous hiking trails begin on the northeastern shoreline near the ruins of Ardvreck Castle. The castle, built in the late 1500s by the McLeod clan, stands as testament to the long history of human struggles at Loch Assynt. Nearby, the remains of several 'chambered cairns'-megalithic burial chambers-give evidence that humans lived here long before recorded history. The tiny village of Inchnadamph at the eastern end of Loch Assynt hints at the much larger population that once farmed these lands, grazing their livestock along the slopes.
Now, only a few remnants of the settlement remain, some converted to vacation rentals and lodges. Small boats can be rented; fishing is permitted on both the loch and adjacent rivers for trout, and during the annual runs of salmon and sea trout. Permits for fishing rights are sold for river frontage space along the streams by the local historical association charity as a means of supporting their archaeological and preservation work. Fly fishing is an art that is celebrated among these high valley visitors, and the cold water fishery is fiercely protected.
The storied past of the Assynt region reveals itself to observant visitors. Many archaeological digs are in the process of uncovering ancient human history in the area, including the burial cairns, remnants of daily Iron Age life. Other archaeological projects are uncovering the secrets beneath the many massive round houses or broches and smaller crannogs found throughout the Assynt area. Evidence of Viking invaders remains in place-names and the rare artifacts found. Legend says the area was first granted to the McNichol clan, but soon passed to the McLeods. The history of the clan system is obvious in the ruined castle built by the McLeod Clan, who imprisoned a Mackenzie chieftain within its walls. History also tells us that the Mackenzie Clan was the ultimate winner in these struggles, with the wife of a Mackenzie wanting-and getting-a newer, modern house at some distance from the cold and drafty castle. The grand Chalda House, now in ruins, was the first classical-style house built at Loch Assynt.
The old Parish Church at Inchnadamph holds the remnants of a large 9th century cross. The fertile limestone fields maintained a relatively large population in the Loch Assynt area for many years. However, financial reversals and bankruptcy led to the land being sold to the Sutherland estates; the notorious 'clearance' of the land in the 1800s forced the majority of historic tenants from their farms and transplanted them to the coast or even as far away as America. The hills around Loch Assynt became sheep farms. Today, efforts have been made by a few of the descendants of displaced families to band together and buy out portions of the surrounding lands and reclaim a piece of their history.
Loch Assynt is the ideal place for a Highlands nature holiday. Many of the vacation homes and residences are available for rental on a short-term basis. A small resort hotel offers lodging, hiking, hunting and fishing. Although there are a number of sandy beaches, the water remains too cold for such activities as water skiing or swimming. The scenery is excellent and the ambience decidedly rural Scotland.
Many small inns, pubs and lodgings in the Assynt region make for a welcoming vacation, although often a rather chilly one. And no visitor will want to miss the interesting Kirton Heritage Trail which begins at Inchnadamph. The trail passes a waterfall, several examples of unique geological formations and the remains of the settlement of Kirton, where the residents were evicted in the late 1800s for 'clearance' purposes. The Eadar a Chalda Heritage Trail begins near the parking area for Ardvreck Castle and also passes by the remains of early farmsteads and the ruins of early structures. The hikes are strenuous and the views awe-inspiring. Other hiking trails exist in the area which highlight the history of early residents, including Iron Age sites.
Loch Assynt is accessible by road from Lochinver and A837 Highway. Both Glasgow and Edinburgh are about 250 miles away. Loch Assynt is certainly not a place where you will find crowds of vacationers and sightseers, but will definitely keep you busy reaching for your camera or pondering the long history of this remote and storied land. Come to Loch Assynt and you will be forever changed.
* All statistics appear to be derived from a book of early lake surveys titled, "Bathymetrical Survey of the Fresh-Water Lochs of Scotland, 1897-1909" at the National Library of Scotland and no longer available online. The bathymetry map is still available and listed in the sidebar.
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