architecture, Bothy, landscape, Scotland, Sutherland

The ‘Hermit’s Castle’, Achmelvich, Sutherland

On a rocky stretch of shore at Achmelvich, in the remote Assynt district on the west coast of Scotland, is a little concrete structure. Built in the early 1950s, it is known today as the Hermit’s Castle and the tale is told that having erected a shelter in the form of miniature fortress, the builder spent only one night under its roof.

Approaching the building it appears to be a toy fort, far too small to allow a grown man space to sleep. The Folly Flâneuse was very lucky with the November weather, but just imagine the scene on a dank day.

In fact locals remembered the builder as a sociable man rather than a hermit. His name was David Scott and he was apparently an architect from Norwich who loved this part of Scotland and ‘expressed a desire to build a retreat in keeping with the mood of the coast and mountains’. Scott built the curious structure as a bothy where he could spend the night after walking on the coast and sketching local scenes, and he saw the project as both a ‘practical exercise and artistic endeavour’. He carried the materials to the shore himself and furnished the interior with a stone bed, shelves for basics, and most importantly a fireplace for warmth. Scott is remembered as a frequent visitor in subsequent years.

The tiny interior. Squeezing in through a narrow door, which is skewed to keep out the wind, one finds a concrete bed platform, fireplace, and shelves.

Scott continued to keep in touch with villagers in the tiny hamlet of Achmelvich for some years after work took him to Norway and Greenland, but then the letters stopped and locals were left to wonder what had happened to the striking bearded figure who had become part of their community.

In the 1980s Gordon Bryan interviewed Achmelvich residents who wanted to ‘put the record straight’ as newspapers were repeating the inaccurate story that Scott only spent one night in the bothy. Bryan’s article about ‘One Man’s Castle’ was published in The Scot’s Magazine in 1986: it is an invaluable source for the true history of the curious coastal cabin, and one which the Folly Flâneuse gratefully acknowledges as her main source. Bryan ended by asking if any readers knew what became of David Scott, but there does not appear to have been any response.

The so-called Hermit’s Castle has been featured by the crime novelist Val McDermid. Inspired by the poet Norman MacCaig, who spent much time in the area and featured it in his work, McDermid visited Assynt. In her 2017 short story ‘Ancient and Modern’ her characters stumble across the incongruous ‘miniature fortress’:

‘Then we crested a shoulder of hillside and both stopped in our tracks. Ahead of us, on the edge of the cliff above a steep-backed inlet in the promontory was something so unexpected I wondered if I was hallucinating it. But a quick glance at Alan’s face told me he could see it too’

McDermid also featured the bothy in her 2004 novel The Torment of Others and in her 2019 book My Scotland.

The beach at Achmelvich is one of the recommended stops just off the North Coast 500, the popular circular driving tour of northern Scotland. This has brought more visitors to Achmelvich (although the Flâneuse expects many visitors leave without finding the bothy), and yet more repetitions of the myth that Scott was a recluse who only spent one night in Achmelvich, so it is good to once more put the record straight.

The view from the door.

It is now almost 40 years since Bryan appealed for information about this fascinating man and his sui generis structure. The flâneuse’s more recent research has also drawn a blank (top marks to the librarian at the National Association of Norwegian Architects for replying to an email in under an hour). So over to you: if by chance you do know anything about an architect called David Scott, who practised in Norwich, loved Scotland, and worked at Dounreay power station and in Norway and Greenland, do please get in touch.

The concrete bothy merging with the local stone.

Val McDermid’s short story is from a collection called Bloody Scotland published by Historic Environment Scotland in 2017. ‘Ancient and Modern’ was published in the i newspaper and you can read it here

The bothy is not listed, but it is on Historic Environment Scotland’s Buildings At Risk Register. It is marked on some map apps, but if you visit do just wander and get a little lost before you find it and enjoy the thrill of the chase.

After perhaps a little too much festive frowsting by the fire, the Folly Flâneuse is back in action. Best wishes to all readers for a fun, fit and folly-filled 2024.

Thank you for reading and please scroll down to the comments box at the bottom of the page to share any thoughts or further information.


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21 thoughts on “The ‘Hermit’s Castle’, Achmelvich, Sutherland”

  1. Edward Mirzoeff says:

    Happy New Year, Madame La Flaneuse.

    What a fascinating tale you bring us to begin 2024.

    But the mysterious lost architect is named both Peter Scott and David Scott.

    1. Editor says:

      Well done Edward – you have spotted the deliberate mistake I included to check if you were concentrating! Seriously, thanks for pointing out my silly mistake, I have corrected it. Happy New Year.

  2. Steven Myatt says:

    What a glorious madness, in such a splendid – but yes, very remote – part of the world. I would have taken if for a wartime pillbox. thank you, as ever.

    1. Editor says:

      Thank you Steven. The first glimpse of it as you crest a ridge is truly breathtaking- especially against the blue sky I was lucky enough to enjoy.

  3. Paul K Kirkwood says:

    “Curious coastal cabin”: I like your concise, alliterative description. I managed to find this castle two years ago. Super spot.

    1. Editor says:

      Hello Paul. It’s an amazing structure in an amazing location.

  4. Garance says:

    Unfortunately I cannot extend your research, but can applaud the extraordinary ends you go to in order to find new and interesting follies, which you generously share with your ever expanding audience.

    Happy New Year to you and your fellow traveller and congratulations on your excellent navigation skills.

    1. Editor says:

      Thank you Garance. Hopefully 2024 will be full of adventures for us all.

  5. Alastair Fairall says:

    Another most enjoyable account of a memorable folly. I have made preparations for some time to visit this folly but have not yet achieved it. Your detailed account and pictures make it as if one has visited it. I feel that age is catching up with me so may not be able to actually visit it, but seeing your pics is the next best thing. Thank you for your efforts in getting there, so many miles up North.
    Best wishes to you and kind regards.

    1. Editor says:

      Good evening Alastair. It is a bit off the beaten track, so I am pleased that you have been able to experience it from the comfort of your armchair. I hope you have some fun folly jaunts in 2024.

  6. Charles Cowling says:

    Extraordinary how sympathetic the concrete is to the location. A marvellous read, as ever, FF.

    1. Editor says:

      Hello Charles. Yes, on a darker day the bothy would be indistinct from the rocks. Thanks for your kind comments

  7. Nick Addington says:

    Thanks for this and for busting the one-night-only-never-to-return myth about David Scott. I visited it in 2014 and plan to feature it on my Twitter blog at some point – I was in danger of repeating that myth, but shall now try ro track down that Scots Mag article first! Brutalist archiecture historian Baranbas Calder opens his 2016 book, Raw Concrete, with an account of visiting and spending the night in the Hermit’s Castle, which he describes as ‘one of the most evocative and beautiful buildings I had ever seen’.

    1. Editor says:

      Good evening Nick. I didn’t know about Calder’s comment so thanks for sharing that and I couldn’t agree more with his description. I have to say I preferred to admire the exterior and the stunning setting – I found the interior claustrophobic and concluded I definitely wouldn’t cut the mustard as a hermit! I will scan the article and send it to you tomorrow.

  8. Gwyn Headley says:

    Perhaps the only Brutalist folly! What a discovery!

  9. Jonathan Holt says:

    It’s featured in the Scottish Issue of Follies Magazine (No. 105 Autumn 2019) in an article by Tim Buxbaum, who did the opposite of David Scott – he’s a Scottish architect who went to work in East Anglia. He doesn’t anything to what you have found out.

    1. Editor says:

      Hello Jonathan. Yes I checked Tim’s article during my research and concluded it relied on the usual sources which misrepresent the history. But how interesting that the two architects geographical paths were the opposite of each other, albeit decades apart.

  10. Christine U says:

    Thank you for this. What an intriguing tale! It will linger in my imagination.

    1. Editor says:

      Good afternoon Christine. It really is one of the most memorable structures I have ever seen. And quite possibly the most beautifully situated. Once seen never forgotten.

    1. Editor says:

      Hello Neil. I have to say that I am torn between wanting to know more and allowing the mystery of this enchanting structure to remain intact. I was pleased to find the article that debunks the ‘one night only’ myth. It is the most amazing building and location, although personally I would like a little more in the way of home comforts. Which only adds to my admiration of David Scott.

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