Legend says that the MacLeods procured the help of Clootie (the Scottish name for the Devil) to build Ardvreck Castle. In return Eimhir, the daughter of the MacLeod chieftain, was betrothed to Clootie as payment. In despair, the girl threw herself from one of the castle towers.
After that, locals whispered tales of MacLeod’s lost daughter Eimhir and her continued presence at Loch Assynt. Instead of jumping to her death, they say Eimhir plunged into the caverns of the Loch, hiding from the Devil to whom she was betrothed. There she made a new home beneath the water’s surface, becoming the elusive Mermaid of Assynt.
Historically, the locals also used this legend to account for natural changes in the landscape. When the loch’s water rose above normal levels, legend saus that these are Eimhir’s tears mourning her life lost at Ardvreck. Some even claim to have seen her weeping on the rocks, her body now transformed into half woman, half sea creature. Some contest her form, instead calling her Selkie, a mythological figure of the sea, who must first shed tears into the water in order to become visible again to the human eye.
Back in the day, the legend was a great way to account for the geology of Inchnadamph. Clootie, infuriated by the broken promise of marriage, summoned meteoric rocks from Chaos to obliterate Inchnadamph and MacLeod’s kingdom. It is thought that this legend bears some relationship with the scientific findings that indicate northwest Scotland was struck by an object from space around 1.2 billion years ago. Geologists from Aberdeen University described the event;
"a massive impact would have melted rocks and thrown up an enormous cloud of vapour that scattered material over a large part of the region around Ullapool. The crater was rapidly buried by sandstone which helped to preserve the evidence."
These legends are invoked to offer some mythical explanation for the unique geological and topographical character of Inchnadamph. Another version of the tale of the mermaid of Assynt relates to the creation of the Moine Thrust belt. Some believe Clootie’s rage produced a tectonic rumbling from the earths core, resulting in the thrust westwards of the European plate, which is understood by geologists to account for the Moine Thrust belt.
(Ardvreck Castle was constructed around 1590 by the Clan MacLeod family who owned Assynt and the surrounding area from the 13th century onwards.)