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Folklore: the mermaid of Loch Assynt

mermaid loch assynt

Opposite the end of the drive to Inchnadamph Explorers Lodge sits the dark, icy waters of wondrous Loch Assynt.

The biggest loch in the local area stretching to 6 miles long, it sits surrounded by the spectacular mountains of Canisp, Quinag and Beinn Uidhe.

There are many fantastic walks around, whilst within are excellent fishing opportunities, with the likes of salmon and brown trout often found within its waters.

The eastern part of Assynt is known for its rugged and remote wilderness, dotted with lochs and waterfalls. A favourite area for climbers and explorers, this part of Scotland is the perfect place to have a real adventure, surrounded by some of the most impressive scenery. Loch Assynt runs alongside the main road, teasing drivers with its beauty and, sometimes, mystery.

Sitting on the shores of the loch stands the ruins of Ardvreck Castle.

Built during the late 1500s as the seat of the MacLeod of Assynt, Ardvreck Castle was only lived in for a short time, before becoming abandoned during the 1700s. Sitting on a rocky promontory, it can still be explored today – and visitors will often spend time wandering around the ruins, absorbing the history and views surrounding the castle.

The weeping mermaid of Assynt…

As you wander around the loch, and in particular around the castle, you may hear the soft sound of sobbing. Is it the wind? Or might it be the noise of the legendary weeping mermaid of Assynt?

Folklore has it that when the Chief of the MacLeod’s ran into financial difficulty whilst planning the build of the castle, a dark, mysterious figure approached him and offered to help build and finance the castle himself. However, there was a catch: in return, he wanted the soul of MacLeod himself. It didn’t take long for MacLeod to realise he was dealing with the Devil – known as Clootie in Scotland – and no matter how hard he tried to fight this offer, his dreams of building his own castle overtook him, and before long the deal was agreed.


However, upon meeting MacLeod’s daughter Eimhir, the Devil changed his demand from MacLeod’s soul to his daughter’s hand in marriage. Again, the powers of the castle took control, MacLeod agreed, and shortly after the castle was built, the Devil was ready to claim his prize.

Unbeknownst to Eimhir, she dutifully went along with planning the wedding – knowing nothing of who her groom truly was. The night before the big day, MacLeod confessed the truth to her. Heartbroken and not seeing a way out of the marriage, Eimhir sadly threw herself from the top tower of Ardvreck Castle, plummeting into the waters of Loch Assynt below.

The Devil was furious, and in his rage, he attempted to destroy MacLeod’s land by causing huge rocks to fall from the sky. These boulders can still be seen today, adding to the mystery of this tale. Scientific findings of these rocks indicate that northwest Scotland was stuck by an object from space some 1.2 billion years ago – possibly the biggest meteorite to have ever hit the British Isles.

Ken Amor, from the University of Oxford, described the event:

"If there had been human observers in Scotland 1.2 billion years ago, they would have seen quite a show. The massive impact would have melted rocks and thrown up an enormous cloud of vapour that scattered material over a large part of the region around Ullapool. The crater was rapidly buried by sandstone which helped to preserve the evidence."

Eimhir’s body was never recovered, though everyone felt that she’d died. It wasn’t long before locals noticed a weeping sound near the loch and occasionally the flick of a large tail disappearing under the water. They believe Eimhir had transformed into a mermaid and kept hidden in caves deep below the surface, far away from the Devil.

These sounds can still be heard today – and so the tale lives on. The water level fluctuates in the loch, and it’s believed that when the waters begin to rise it’s the tears of the Mermaid of Assynt, mourning for the life she never had.

While these sounds can’t be heard from the lodge, there are plenty of captivating views of the loch from the windows.

The river Traligill runs alongside the lodge driveway before flowing into Loch Assynt, trickling alongside walkers as they make their way over to the loch.

Inchnadamph Explorers Lodge acts as the perfect base for your adventures in Assynt. With shared hostel rooms, shepherds huts and private rooms, there is accommodation to suit every traveller. If you’d like to explore Loch Assynt and perhaps even hear the mermaid yourself, book your holiday today and start planning your Scottish Highlands expedition.

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