Castle Tioram, Inspiration for Highlander Unbroken

Today is release day for Highlander Unbroken, the latest novel in my Highland Adventure series! I want to tell you about the castle which inspired the setting of both My Captive Highlander and Highlander Unbroken. I used the fictitious name of Bearach Castle but in my mind I was always seeing Castle Tioram. (Yes, that's it on the cover.) I so wanted to visit this castle for further inspiration, information and to get a real feel for the setting. While writing, experiencing the setting helps me bring the story more to life.

Last September, I was fortunate to get to visit Castle Tioram on Loch Moidart. It's located in an isolated place on the west coast of Scotland. My friends and I stayed two nights in Glenfinnan in order to visit the castle, which is about 25 miles from Glenfinnan, through very remote and wild areas with amazing scenic beauty, along narrow winding roads, most of them single track. There are a few houses, crofts, and tiny villages or communities here and there. The drive took twice as long as it should have because we had to stop several times along the way to take photos. Who could resist? :) We passed lochs, mountains and old bridges. Two pics of my LEAST favorite part of the road.

From Google Streetview. The one track road leading to the castle by River Shiel. Click to enlarge.

From Google Streetview. It's scary driving around this narrow sharp curve into oncoming traffic, so close to the river. Click to enlarge.

An amazing view of islands in the distance. Click to enlarge.
 Some of the beautiful scenery of Lochaber on the roads leading to Castle Tioram.

Castle Tioram on its tiny island. The tide is out.
Castle Tioram (pronounced Cheerum) sits on a tiny island called Eilean Tioram (meaning 'the dry island' in Gaelic) in Loch Moidart near where the River Shiel empties into it. The castle is privately owned and in an unstable ruined state. Going inside was not possible when I was there because of dangers from falling masonry. Still, we were able to get close to it and walk around to view it from all sides. It's an amazing piece of history.

The castle occupies a spot, near River Shiel, which was strategic for Scotland's defense hundreds of years ago, because it allowed easy travel toward the Great Glen and the center of Scotland, along Loch Shiel and other inland lochs. Even during the Iron Age, long before the current castle, the site was important. Artifacts from the time have been found. There is also much evidence of Vikings' presence in the area during medieval times. The beaches around the island would've been ideal for sheltering galleys, ships and other boats.

 From the car park in the woods, we walked along the beach to the island on a sandbar causeway which might be underwater during the highest tides or during heavy rainstorms. We were fortunate to be there at low tide on a beautiful day.

The sandbar causeway leading to the castle.
 After leaving the sandbar, we walked along uneven paths among heather, bracken (tall ferns), brambles, and thorny gorse bushes. The rough paths climb and descend among rocks and boulders all around the island and you have to be careful.

The beautiful but rough terrain--rocks, heather, bracken and the loch.
 We climbed up the path to the northeast side of the castle where the arched, barrel-vaulted gateway is located, the only entrance.

Barrel-vaulted Gateway.
It's blocked now but in the past, visitors went inside, at great risk to themselves because of possible falling stones. Another danger outside, is the sheer drop off of the cliff to the northeast of the castle.

The drop off of the cliff.
 The pentagonal curtain wall is built directly on the cliffs and highest part of the island. According to reports, the interior is much bigger than it seems from outside. This curtain wall and beginnings of the castle date from the 1200s.

It's constructed of local stone of all different sizes called Moine schist and held together with lime mortar. The corners are rounded. Some non-local stones like slate have also been found. It is likely that originally the wall was much shorter, as it appears to have been heightened during later centuries. The interior of the castle has been altered, rebuilt and added to over the centuries, but the curtain wall is basically the same shape it was when first built around 800 years ago.

 Christina MacRuari inherited these lands in the early 1300s and this is the first written record of the island in the form of a charter. Christina granted use of the island and castle to Arthur Campbell in return for the use of his twenty oared galley and the men to row it for her own transportation. After her death, the island passed to her half brother Ruari, and he passed it to his daughter Amy MacRuari. Historians believe Amy updated and refurbished the castle during her life, by replacing the wooden timber buildings inside the walls with a stone tower house, which can still be seen along the south east of the wall's interior.

It appears that the walls were heightened during this time and crenelated battlements added. When Amy passed, her son Ranald inherited the property. He was also the son of John of Islay, who had divorced Amy and married Princess Margaret Steward, daughter of the future King Robert II of Scotland. Ranald was the first chieftain of Clan Macdonald of Clanranald. He was granted the "Castle of Elantyrim" (Eilean Tioram) and this was confirmed by Robert II in 1373.

View from behind the castle east. Click to enlarge.

View from the front of the castle, west along Loch Moidart. Click to enlarge.

The second post about Castle Tioram will appear in 2 weeks.
Thanks for checking it out!! :)

Torture has driven Neacal MacDonald to the brink of madness. 
As the new chief of the MacDonald clan, Neacal will do whatever it takes to honor his late father and to help his clan thrive. But whispers of his madness abound and many in his clan turn traitor, wanting MacDonald of Sleat to lead them instead. Conflict ignites between the bitter rivals when Sleat garners the help of the man who tortured Neacal in the past. 

Can one woman's song pull him back and begin to heal his soul? 
Everything has been ripped from Anna Douglas except her angelic voice and the will to survive. When she meets Neacal, she recognizes something familiar in him—stark loneliness and pain. His past could be even more tragic and tarnished than hers. No one must learn her true identity or about the brutish man declaring she is his wife, for he will stop at nothing to reclaim her. Though Neacal vowed to never trust a woman again, he cannot resist the secrets in Anna's eyes or her spellbinding song, which threatens to break down the icy walls surrounding his tormented heart. 

Highlander Unbroken is available at all ebook retailers and the trade paperbacks are available from Amazon.

Now for a brief glimpse at Highlander Unbroken:
Loch Moidart, Scotland, September 1619

A blade glinted from the torch-lit gloom of the dungeon.
Neacal MacDonald jerked to move aside, but rough, constricting ropes bound his wrists and ankles, tearing into his stinging flesh. He gritted his teeth and waited for the next blow from MacRankin's beefy henchman. He'd been paid well to wrench, twist and pull the truth from Neacal.
The man grabbed Neacal's hair, yanking it until pain shot through his scalp and neck. He held Neacal's head at an odd angle while another beast sliced a hot blade down the side of his face. The blinding pain consumed him.
"I'll kill you! I swear it!" Neacal roared, jerking at the ropes. If he could free himself, he would strangle every last one of them with his bare hands. But he couldn't. The ropes had been knotted too tightly.
They yelled questions and vile names, but he could no longer comprehend them. Sharp pain ripped through every inch of his body from the deep cuts, the bruises, the broken bones.
Their voices died away and, in the silence, another shadow fell across him, wavering in the torchlight, followed by the gritty crunch of boots on stone and the hiss of a steel blade against leather. He braced for the impending agony, his muscles stiffening…
Something warm, wet and friendly flicked over his face. Neacal jolted awake, out of the nightmare, gasping for breath… in his own bedchamber at Bearach Castle. Home… dear God… not a dungeon. His dog licking his face. The Irish wolfhound's bristly fur tickled, and his tongue washed Neacal's forehead.
Damnation! This was why he avoided sleep until pure exhaustion claimed him. The nightmares were too real, the memories too close. Two years was not long enough to forget; two hundred wouldn't be.
"Dunn? Saints." Exhaling a breath, Neacal looped his arm around the huge dog's neck, thanking Dunn silently for dragging him from the grip of the hellish dream-memories.
His heartbeat slowed and he crossed himself. Thank God, he was free, not back there in MacRankin's torture chamber. How he wished he could forget the past. Mayhap then he would appear halfway normal. But, nay, he was not blessed with ignorance or a faulty memory. Each night he must revisit the torture again… and again.
For now, 'twas over, and so was his slumber for the night.
The wolfhound maneuvered half his seven-foot-long body onto Neacal, washing his face again with his large tongue.
"Aye, I'm awake now, you lapdog." Neacal pushed him back, then ruffled his fur.
Dunn sat on the floor, panting.
Hell, the dog was his only close friend or family here at Bearach Castle. He had uncles, aunts and cousins, but his parents and older brother were all dead. His sister, Maili, had married and gone to live with the MacKenzie clan.
And his own clan, the MacDonalds of Moidart, expected a madman to lead them?
"They're more insane than I am," he muttered.
Dunn gave a soft woof and stared at him intently.
"Aye, I'm bloody well doing my best." He had to succeed as chief, for his father's sake. Da would want him to lead the clan and enlarge their forces, make them strong and safe again. This was the last thing—the only thing—Neacal could do for a man he'd admired above all others. Grief and regret clawed at his chest again. If Neacal hadn't been working for King James—and if he hadn't trusted a woman—his father would still be alive and Neacal would've never been tortured.
Unable to withstand the bed or the memories a second longer, he shoved himself up. Sharp pain stabbed through his left arm and shoulder. Halting, he ground his teeth. The bone had been broken during his capture and, although it had knitted back together, it still pained him. Muttering a curse, he worked his arm to loosen the muscles, then washed his face in the basin of cold water. He shoved his hair back and dried his face with a cloth.
Hell, he needed to be away from here. Aye, this had been his home from birth, but Bearach now felt like a prison. Confining. Suffocating. How he would love to savor the fresh air and expansive vistas of the Highlands and sea. His body yearned to climb a mountain… or swim across the loch. Physical exertion was the only thing that quieted his mind. Then, he could rest for a time.
After putting on his clothing and weapons, he silently opened the door.
Holding the lantern aloft, he found his bodyguard, Leith, asleep and sprawled against the wall of the corridor. Shaking his head at the guard's laxness but at the same time glad for it, Neacal closed the door softly and stepped over him. He didn't want any company at the moment.
Under the cover of the predawn darkness, he slipped out through the empty kitchens and, using his key, through the postern gate. He carried his usual weapons—sword and dirk, along with a bow and arrows. Dunn trailed him quietly down to the rough, lapping edge of Loch Moidart.
Neacal filled his lungs with the crisp, salty breeze. A hint of autumn's drying leaves and pine needles tinged the air. The cleansing freshness washed over him, loosening some of the tension from his body, quieting his mind. The tide slid its way out to sea, and the wet sand lay exposed beyond the rocky shoreline. Wanting to leave no tracks, he avoided the sand and walked several hundred feet over rocks and around a bend for privacy. He didn't need an audience when he stripped down to his skin for a swim. Dawn light glimmered at the horizon when he and Dunn waded into the cool water.
His clan would be vexed at him for slipping away with no company or guard except Dunn, but he didn't give a damn.
Prior to being inaugurated as chief a few weeks ago, Neacal had lived a solitary existence for over a year and had come to rely on no one but himself and his dog. While he'd resided on the island, Eilean Fraoch Dubh, he'd climbed the mountains of craggy stone every day. Each time he did, he grew faster until he could run up the mountain and scramble quickly over the boulders.
If some enemy wished to kill him now, let them try. He would put up a good fight.
He escaped into the freedom of a long swim in the sea loch. Since 'twas only September, the saltwater was not overly icy.
When he waded from the water, the chill wind blew over his wet skin, making him feel vibrantly alive. On shore, Dunn shook himself off, spraying water from his bristly fur, while Neacal pulled on his shirt and belted his plaid into place.
After donning his baldric, he picked up his bow and quiver full of arrows. He quickly made his way up the stony hillside toward the round, wool-stuffed plaid target he'd set up at the top, backed by rocks. From here he had an excellent view of the castle and the loch below. Seeing no movement, he focused on the target, some hundred yards away, nocked an arrow and let it fly. Bullseye. Dunn lay patiently nearby while Neacal released a dozen arrows, lining them up in the row of red squares of the plaid.
After collecting his arrows and preparing to shoot again, he noticed a movement from the corner of his eye. He stared down toward the loch. In the distance, four galleys sailed at a brisk pace from the sea toward the castle. Even though the breeze filled the square white sails, the oarsmen rowed as if they were in an all-fired hurry.
"Who the devil is that?" Neacal growled, heading down the hillside.

Highlander Unbroken, available at:
Thank you!!
Rocks and heather along the trail around Castle Tioram.


Anonymous said...

Lovely photos and interesting facts. We're headed back to Scotland on May 23 - I can't wait!

Vonda Sinclair said...

Thank you, Sherrie! Have a great time in Scotland! :)

Alanna Lucas said...

Love the cover and pics!! Congrats on the book!

Brenda B Taylor said...

Thanks for the virtual journey and lovely photos. Wishing you great sales of your new release!

Janet Greaves said...

Beautiful photos and I love the history about the castle!

Alexa said...

I'm so jealous you got to see Tioram!!! Congratulations on the book!

Vonda Sinclair said...

Thank you, Alanna, Brenda, Janet and Alexa!!! It's an amazing place! Hope you will get to visit it too!

Flossie Benton Rogers said...

Vonda, wonderful post, and Iove the pictures. The castle is beckoning me! Congrats on your book.

Vonda Sinclair said...

Thanks so much for checking it out, Flossie, and for the congrats!! So glad you enjoyed the post!!

Regan Walker said...

Beautiful pictures as always, Vonda. And your new release sounds intriguing!

Vonda Sinclair said...

Thank you, Regan!! So glad you liked it!! :)