The Highland Castle demolished to make way for the A9

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The history of Helmsdale Castle is so grim it is said to have inspired William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Built in the late 15th Century for the Countess of Sutherland, it loomed over the pretty Highland village for almost 500 years.

Helmsdale Castle in the early 1900s. PIC: helmsdale.org

Helmsdale Castle in the early 1900s. PIC: helmsdale.org

Today, a stone with the inscription ‘Helmsdale Castle was built near here in 1488” is all that remains.

Long abandoned and in rapid decline, the ruin was demolished in 1970 to make way for the A9 road bridge.

READ MORE: The North East castle that disappeared in a sand storm

But the story of its dark past lingers on.

The castle in 1962. PIC: Graeme Dodd/copyright S Barnes/Timespan Archive

The castle in 1962. PIC: Graeme Dodd/copyright S Barnes/Timespan Archive

The castle was constructed on the instructions of Margaret Baillie, Countess of Sutherland.

In 1567, its dark reputation was sealed when the 11th Earl of Sutherland and his wife were poisoned in by his aunt, Isobel Sinclair, to clear the way for her own son to take the title.

READ MORE: Then and now: the vanishing castles of Scotland

Sinclair herself prepared the deadly concoction and her own son, who the plot had sought to protect, also died after being given the poison by a servant.

Demolition of castle in 1970. PIC: Polson/Timespan Archive

Demolition of castle in 1970. PIC: Polson/Timespan Archive

The Earl’s heir, Alexander, who was just 15, escaped unharmed given he was out hunting at the time of the deadly gathering.

Sinclair also died after committing suicide to avoid execution.

The castle fell into ruin in the 1800s with it slowly crumbling away into the river below over time.

By the late 1960s the south part of the castle had been destroyed by erosion and the rest was in danger of collapse.

It’s demolition removed the landmark once and for all with Coupar Park now spanning the site.

A recent project by artist Nicky Bird with Timespan Museum and Arts Centre has sought to re-imagine the castle in the village landscape.

A new archive of photographs, film and recollections has been created as part of the Ghosting the Castle project, including the old cine footage featured above (Copyright Wendy Angus).

The material has also been used by Bird to help to create an image of how the castle would look in Helmsdale today.