As a young boy, going fishing with my dad was an absolute joy. Time spent away from normal, everyday life of work and school. There was (and is) nothing better than sitting next to the waters edge, rod in hand, for hours on end in the peace and tranquility. For me that meant only one place – Loch Awe. This beautiful loch in Argyle and Bute was an amazing and magical place and one where I spend many happy times out in the water or by the bank with my dad and brother. The majesty of Ben Cruachan looking down upon you while you sat. So when my wife said “let’s go for a drive” I automatically headed in that direction.
I knew there was another thing I wanted to see again (apart from the beautiful scenery and rugged terrain of the highlands and cattle roaming free). I had, and always will be, in love with a castle which sits at the head of Loch Awe – Kilchurn Castle. It’s picture may be familiar to you as it is one of the most photographed castles in Scotland. Very much “shortbread tin” in nature! It always captivated me, since first seeing it as a young boy and growing up and I’m sure you can see why.
The castle was built in the mid 15th centuary by Colin Campbell, 1st Lord of Glen Orchy as his home base. The area of Argyle was a Clan Campbell stronghold . The Campbells of GlenIorchy were the strongest cadet branch of the clan and at times rivalled the Clan Chiefs themselves for dominance. They certainly held most of the central highlands from Kilchurn castle’s construction for the next 150 years or so. The castle comprised a five-storey tower-house at one corner of an irregular-shaped courtyard. On the ground level of the tower were a cellar and prison. There was a hall on the first floor and private chambers above.
Kilchurn Castle remained in use until the mid 1700, although the Clan Campbell (now Earls of Breadalbane) had moved to a new castle in Loch Tay, Balloch (now known as Taymouth). The lintel above the doorway has the initials IEB and CMC for the owners of that time John, 1st Earl of Breadalbane and his wife Countess Mary Campbell. The castle played it’s part in the Jacobite uprisings – first for the Jacobites in 1715 – and second for the Government troops as a Garrison in 1745. The castle was badly damaged after being struck any lightening in 1760 and was largely abandoned a few years later and fell into disuse.
When we arrived at the castle, it was a very cold but extremely beautiful spring day. We parked the car and walked under the railway bridge and approached the castle from the walkway. Walking up to the castle, it’s shadow made it look majestic. Due to the time of year the castle was closed, but unlike other sites in Scotland you can still approach it, touch it, walk round it. The fact that it was closed and could not be seen from inside did not detract from the amazing experience. You could almost imagine what it would have been like to be there so long ago, at the height of the Campbell of Glenorchy’s dominance over the central highlands.
Although not a major player in wars or battles, Kilchurn castle still holds a special attraction for people all over the world. Perhaps it’s the scenery, the loch and the fact it was built in the shadow of a “hollow” mountain. Perhaps it was the fact the castle is built on a peninsula which in the winter or in times of high rainfall, essentially becomes an island. Whatever it is, this castle and it’s surrounding areas is one of the most beautiful places in all of Scotland, and one which I return to again and again.