For centuries it has stood guard over the deep waters of the Cromarty Firth.

Perched on a rocky outcrop of the Black Isle, Castle Craig is one of Scotland’s most distinctive and significant landmarks.

However, there were fears the ruined tower would crumble completely and be lost.

Now fresh hope has been sparked after an architect was appointed to oversee vital preservation works and owner the Clan Urquhart Foundation confirmed it would press ahead with plans aimed at reviving the structure as a fully functioning visitor attraction.

It comes after Kirkmichael, another historic site on the Black Isle, was restored thanks to a successful community campaign.

Those involved in the Castle Craig project hope to start work later this year once coronavirus-related restrictions are lifted.

Captain Glen A Cook, secretary of the Clan Urquhart Foundation Board, said: “The vision is to return the castle to a usable state and a community resource to interpret the historic architecture, archaeology and lives of the people who lived on the Black Isle.

“There will be intermediate steps. We need to complete the stabilisation of the structure, then move to archaelogy studies of the site before more extensive repair may be accomplished.

“Archaelogy work outside the conservation area has been accomplished over the last two summers by Dr. Connie Rodriguez.”

Castle Craig, which is a Scheduled Monument and considered to be of national importance, has a history stretching back to the 16th century.

It came into Urquhart possession in 1561, when the Bishop of Ross granted ownership of the lands of Craig, along with its tower-house, to Thomas Urquhart, second son of Alexander Urquhart of Cromarty.

The site was probably used as an occasional episcopal residence in the post-Reformation period.

However, the castle’s past also has shadier chapters, with stories of the lower section being turned into an illicit still around 200 years ago.

By the 19th century, it had become a ruin.

Chris Bowes, founder of the Edinburgh-based McGregor Bowes architecture firm, will oversee masonry repairs.

He said: “The owners have established a foundation, The Clan Urquhart Foundation, and there is a determination to preserve this important Scheduled Monument.

“The work I will carry out is basically specification and organisation of the masonry repairs.

“There are a couple of large cracks in the building and it needs repair work so the condition does not get worse.

“I’m no knight in shining armour but it is work that has to be done and work that has to be done by skilled masons – people who are knowledgeable in the right approach.

“The building is currently stable. There has been work done on it previously – timber shoring – which helps to keep it in place. The repairs to the cracks are just another part of that.”

He added: “It’s a real privilege to be involved because you are a small part of the continuum to something that’s a national landmark and that’s one of the attractions of doing historic building work. It means you can do your small bit.

“It’s hard to say when work may start given the Covid-19 pandemic and the Scottish Government’s understandable restrictions on non-essential construction work. We might be able to do [the work] this year. That would be the goal – to do it this year.”

Dr Jim Mackay, chairman of the Kirkmichael Trust community group, whose members have shown visitors around the castle and helped prepare the ground for archaeologists, said he was “delighted” that efforts to restore it are moving forward.

“The castle is one of Scotland’s last real keeps,” he said.

“It’s a very strange castle. One side is almost perfectly preserved, while the other has been eroded by the sea.

“And, once upon a time, 200 years ago, people were using the downstairs as an illicit still.”

He added: “It’s great to see some interest shown in it. One of the things I would really like to see explored is whether it could be visited from sea... I would love to see a little pier put up.”