Columba was a Gaelic-speaking churchman who founded a monastic community in Iona. He travelled up the Great Glen to Inverness to visit the Pictish King, Bridei (or Brude), whose principal residence, in the shape of a well-guarded hillfort, was near Inverness. Although Craig Phadraig, a hill overlooking the northern end of the Caledonian Canal, is the favoured candidate, the precise location is not known.
Columba’s travels were documented 100 years later by a monk named Adomnan, one of his successors as abbot of Iona. It was he who recorded the story of the ‘fierce water beast’ who had already killed a local man. One of Columba’s followers went into the river at the head of the loch and the beast ‘…suddenly swam to the surface, rushing open-mouthed with a great roar to the man as he was swimming…’. Columba raised his hand and commanded it to go no further, and ‘…at the sound of the saint’s voice, the beast fled in terror…’.
Ornately carved Pictish ‘symbol stones’ can still be found in the Black Isle, Easter Ross, Sutherland and Moray that attest to the extent of the Pictish realm at this time, and to the high quality of their craftsmanship.