The bleak castle depicted on the hardcover edition of A Brief History of Montmaray may seem like the work of an illustrator, but I recently discovered it’s an actual castle.
Okay, the book cover designer made a few adjustments to make it look as though the island were in the middle of the Bay of Biscay. But Castle Stalker is a real place that you can actually visit (if you happen to be in the general vicinity of Appin in Argyll, Scotland). And not only does Castle Stalker have a splendid name, it has its very own published Brief History, which is even more violent and dramatic than the history of Montmaray. It begins:
“In 1463 Sir John Stewart was keen to legitimise his son by getting married to his Mother, a MacLaren, at Dunstaffnage when he was murdered outside the church by Alan MacCoul, a renegade MacDougall, although he survived long enough to complete the marriage and legitimise his son, Dugald, who became the First Chief of Appin. The Stewarts had their revenge on MacCoul at the Battle of Stalc in 1468 opposite the Castle when the Stewarts and MacLaren together defeated the MacDougalls…’
There follows several centuries of Stewarts, MacLarens, MacDougalls and Campbells killing one another in various colourful ways. The Stewarts had a particular knack for getting murdered, even when they weren’t actually in Scotland – for instance, Duncan Stewart was appointed Governor of Sarawak in the 1940s and was assassinated a couple of weeks into the job. The Stewarts also weren’t very good at betting and lost the castle to the Campbells in a drunken wager. Unfortunately for the Stewarts, they’d fortified their castle walls so strongly that when they later tried to win it back from the Campbells by force, “their 2lb cannon-balls merely bounced off the walls”.
A couple of centuries later, the Campbells finally lost interest, abandoned the castle and allowed a Stewart to buy it back, and the process of restoration began. I would love to take one of the tours, but alas, I don’t think I’m likely to be visiting Scotland any time soon. I did do the virtual tour, which is pretty entertaining. And if you’re wondering where else you might have seen Castle Stalker, it makes an appearance in Monty Python and the Holy Grail as the Castle of Aarrgh.