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.
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.
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.
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.
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 https://inews.co.uk/culture/books/ancient-modern-val-mcdermid-short-story-bloody-scotland-crime-fiction-86913
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.