Swordland Lodge, by Loch Morar
Humor me while I ramble, it is late at night where I am…
One of the tales in my collection The Blue Men of the Minch concerns the well-known Loch Morar Monster, Morag, whose visitations were thought to presage death for a member of the MacDonald family. Not to give too much away, but here’s a sneak peek…
The MacDonalds of Morar were once prosperous, a branch of Clanranald, and the holders of many lands in Lochaber and the Western Isles. Then, their misfortunes began; an heir was killed while hunting, the next young laird was struck witless after an accident, and so on it went, until within one hundred years of the building of the clan house at Arisaig, the Morar line came to an end. The descendants scattered and the family lands were sold to incomers, in the years just before the West Highland Line reached Mallaig and the new century began.
We may put it all down to the passing of the old times in the Highlands, and convince ourselves that the family’s demise was a normal affair, provided that we do not consider the case too closely, and seek the reason why so much ill-luck occurred to one family in so short a span of years; and provided also that we never travel to Loch Morar by Sworldland, where the water is clear and deep, and catch sight of something, large and serpentine, moving about just below the surface.
Anyway, I had known about the existence of other monsters besides Nessie for some years, but became even particularly interested in the Morar area as a base for a ‘water-monster’ tale after reading the accounts of Loch Morar and the Grey Dog of Meoble over at Mike Dash’s blog at the Charles Fort Institute. What got me hooked was the notion that there should be so much folklore in such a small remote area; there were not one but two death harbingers for the Macdonald’s, the Monster and the Grey Dog, within an area the size of my suburb in Adelaide.
And that’s just the tip of the (deep loch-forming) iceberg for this area; a bit more scouting around revealed a villain called Evil Donald who was followed about by a monster in the shape of a giant toad, a headless witch or ghost who terrorized the area, and a charmed dappled Bull that eventually killed the clan hero (Ronald MacDonald, no less) after he had put paid to the rest. All of it good stuff, and all of it connected to the MacDonald clan, who, judging by the account up here, were indeed a very unlucky family in the nineteenth century.
It is in the deep water near Swordland where many of the monster sightings seem to have occured, so that is where I decided to set the tale. The name, by the way, besides being the name of innumerble sword and sorcery constructions, is a Gaelic feudal concept meaning “lands granted for service in battle”, i.e. “Airbertach won swordlands in the lands of the Norsemen, including Mull and Tiree.”) Clearly, the land around the lodge was the spoils of battle at some point in the past.
According to Wikipedia (Loch Morar):
Although the only road along the loch extends no more than four miles along the north shore, both sides of the lake were inhabited along their length as late as the early twentieth century. Emigration and the introduction of sheep farming and sporting estates in place of the traditional cattle farming, however, led to the abandonment of all settlements on the south shore and of those on the north east of Bracorina. Kinclochmorar, at the head of the loch, was last inhabited around 1920 and Swordland Lodge, at the midway point on the north shore and level with the deepest part of the loch, has been no more than a summer home since 1969.
Further investigation found a Geograph photo of the lodge (at the top of this page), as well as lots of references to it as a hiking destination. The lodge is only accessible by boat, but if you are too lazy to walk along the north shore you can take a boat from Mallaig, twalk over the ridge to Tarbert from the lodge, then boat back to Mallaig through the Kyles on the other side.
That’s about all. Other than a few business and real estate pages, the internet is remarkably quiet on Swordland Lodge.
Hmmmm. A Victorian hunting lodge on the edge of a famous loch, with it’s own monster just nearby, but it hasn’t been permanently occupied since the 1960s, and not accessible by road!
Are the Scots totally mad? In a more populous region a place like that would be fairly swarming with tourists. In Morar, it’s uninhabited most of the year. Even though my story was set in the 1870s, I decided Swordland seemed interesting enough to visit one day if I ever make it back to Scotland, to see if I could find out who really lives there….
I even found a website posting by a similarly intrigued tourist by the name of Ozneil:
I took a boat from Morar up Loch Morar for about 7-8 miles to Swordland Lodge, a magnificent Victorian hunting lodge accessable only by water. From there we walked across a low saddle, sorry dont know Scot’s term, about a mile to a little hamlet, Tarbert, on Loch Nevis where we were picked up by another boat which took us back to Mallaig & thence by train back to Morar. For pristine scenery with no sign of man it was magic. I never found out who owned Swordland lodge…
Well, Ozneil, I just found out. I think the Special Operations Executive own Swordland lodge. The SOE (formed by Winston Churchill in WW2) closed off much of Lochaber for training purposes and also requisitioned many other large houses in the region. I have this list from SECRET SCOTLAND:
- STS21 – Arisaig House, Arisaig, Inverness-shire – Finishing School
- STS22 – Rhubana Lodge, Morar, Inverness-shire
- STS22a – Glasnacardoch Lodge, Morar, Inverness-shire – Foreign Weapons Training
- STS23 – Meoble Lodge, Morar, Inverness-shire
- STS23b – Swordland Lodge, Tarbet Bay, Morar, Inverness-shire
- STS24a – Inverie House, Knoydart, Mallaig, Inverness-shire
- STS24b – Glaschoille House, Knoydart, Mallaig, Inverness-shire
- STS25a – Garramor House, Morar, Inverness-shire
- STS25b – Camusdarach Lodge, Morar, Inverness-shire
- STS25c – Traigh House, Morar, Inverness-shire
The site says that it was used for training commandos in WW2 but its specific function is now unknown. Right.
Anyway, I’m calling that my post for October. None of this really affected my story, which employed a fairly generic hunting lodge setting and in fact, could have been set anywhere with the ingredients: ‘loch’, ‘monster’ and ‘lodge with history of hunting accidents’. However, the idea of a mostly abandoned building in a haunted area being used for a training excercise has a lot of potential for a future story.
So, I might have to set another tale in Lochaber, the place where the people aren’t…