Strathclyde

Castle Stalker
Motorists passing along the A828 between Creagan and Ballachulish, on the rocky coast of Argyll, cannot fail to notice the romantic outline of Castle Stalker, situated on a small islet in Loch Laich. The castle dates to the early 14th century and was begun by the MacDougalls, Lords of Lorn.

Motorists passing along the A828 between Creagan and Ballachulish, on the rocky coast of Argyll, cannot fail to notice the romantic outline of Castle Stalker, situated on a small islet in Loch Laich. The castle dates to the early 14th century and was begun by the MacDougalls, Lords of Lorn.

The lordship of Lorn later passed to the Stewart family, and it was Sir John Stewart who built the current Castle Stalker sometime around 1446. The name ‘Stalker’ loosely translates from the Gaelic as Hunter, or Falconer.

Castle Stalker at dawn

History

From the start, the Stewart lordship of Castle Stalker was wrapped in violence and intrigue. In 1463 Lord Stewart was murdered at his wedding at Dunstaffnage by Alan MacCoul, of the MacDougalls. Stewart survived long enough to complete the marriage and legitimise his son, Dugald. Dugald thus became the first Chief of Appin.

Just 5 years later the combined forces of Stewart and MacLaren defeated the MacDougalls at the Battle of Stalc, just and Dugald himself killed his father’s murderer. A memorial commemorating the battle can be seen in the Portnacroish churchyard.

James IV of Scotland stayed frequently at Castle Stalker on hunting and hawking excursions to Argyll, and it may be that the castle was expanded to suit the king. The worn coat of arms over the door may be the royal arms.

Another murder followed in 1520 when Sir Alexander Stewart of Invernahyle was killed by a party of Campbells while fishing just off the islet next to the castle. Tradition says that the nurse looking after Stewart’s young son, Donald, hid the baby inside Castle Stalker.

The Campbells left without finding the child, and the nurse was able to return and retrieve her charge. When Donald grew of age he led a party of Stewarts on a raid to Dunstaffnage where they killed 9 Campbells in retribution for his father’s murder.

The castle passed to the Campbells of Airds in 1620 when the 7th chief, Duncan Stewart, lost a drunken wager. The Stewarts briefly regained Stalker in 1689 but lost it again to the Campbells in 1690 after a siege lasting several months.

During the 1745 rebellion of Bonnie Prince Charlie, Castle Stalker was garrisoned by about 60 royal troops. The Stewarts of Appin attempted to capture the castle but the defensive walls proved too strong. One story says that the cannonballs fired by the besieging Stewart troops bounced back off the thick castle walls.

Throughout the rebellion Castle Stalker was an important supply base on the west coast, and after the Highland clans were beaten at Culloden, Castle Stalker was a regional base where clansmen came to surrender their weapons.

The Campbells stayed at Stalker until 1800, when they built a new house on the mainland at Airds. Around 1840 the roof was taken down and the castle was abandoned. In an odd twist of history, Stalker was purchased by Charles Stewart from the Campbells in 1908, and it was Stewart who repaired the castle and stemmed the process of decay that threatened to destroy it entirely. It was further restored by Lt. Col. D. R. Stewart Allward.

Modern readers are probably most familiar with Castle Stalker from its role in the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail (the island castle that appears right near the end of the film).

Note

The castle is currently open to visitors on specified dates between May and the end of September. At other times there is no access unless you fancy swimming or taking a boat trip – but the sheer dramatic quality of the view and the romance of the location make Castle Stalker a ‘must see’.

Ardchattan Priory
Ardchattan Priory is Scotland’s second oldest inhabited religious house, founded in 1230. Parts of the church and domestic buildings remain. The Priory is located in Ardchattan Garden, on the north shore of Loch Etive.

Ardchattan Priory is Scotland’s second oldest inhabited religious house, founded in 1230. Parts of the church and domestic buildings remain. The Priory is located in Ardchattan Garden, on the north shore of Loch Etive.

History
The priory was founded around 1230 by Duncan MacDougall, Lord of Lorn. MacDougall is best known for building Dunstaffnage Castle, at the mouth of Loch Etive. Here on the shore of the loch he offered land to the obscure Valliscaulian order of monks from France. The Valliscaulians did not place emphasis on manual work as other monastic orders did; rather, they relied on endowments from benefactors to live a life of strict religious observance.

Why did MacDougall choose to endow a monastery to the Valliscaulians? Possibly he wanted to curry favour with Alexander II, who himself founded a monastery for the order at Pluscarden. Royal support was important at a time when both Scotland and Norway claimed Argyll and the Inner Hebrides.

Ardchattan House (c) Andrew Longton
Not only did the MacDougalls found the abbey, they dominated its religious life. Over the following centuries the position of Prior of Ardchattan became almost a hereditary post for members of the MacDougall family. The priory was rebuilt in the late 15th century, with a new refectory and enlarged monk’s choir.

The last MacDougall prior was Eugenius, who was deposed in 1506. His replacement, Duncan MacArthur, tried in vain to revive interest in the priory, but the numbers of monks slowly dwindled. By 1538 only 6 monks remained, and that number had fallen to just 3 when the Protestant Reformation brought monastic life to an end in 1560. After the Priory was dissolved Ardchattan was seized by John Campbell, who would become Bishop of the Isles. Ardchattan has remained a Campbell possession ever since.

in 1602 Archibald Campbell, John’s son, rebuilt the earlier monastic buildings to create a comfortable private residence, with the refectory becoming the family dining room. The monastic church remained as a parish kirk until 1732.

Today the remains of the priory stand beside the 17th century house, roofless to the sky. Among the ruins are several examples of carved stone memorials, including The MacDougall Cross, carved by a mason from Iona and commissioned by Prior Eugenius MacDougall. This is one of the very few examples of carved memorials in the West Highlands to bear the sculptor’s name, in this case John O Brolchan.

On the hillside above the Priory stands the ruined 15th century church of St Baodan, with a holy well just outside an overgrown burial ground.

Bonawe Iron Furnace
A charcoal-fired ironworks founded in 1753 in a spectacular setting at the head of Loch Etive. Bonawe used charcoal from the nearby woodland to produce pig iron, and the original furnace works are remarkably complete.

A charcoal-fired ironworks founded in 1753 in a spectacular setting at the head of Loch Etive. Bonawe used charcoal from the nearby woodland to produce pig iron, and the original furnace works are remarkably complete.

History
Making iron with the use of charcoal was a process that required a plentiful supply of wood. The woodland of Argyll attracted the eye of Richard Ford & Co. from Furness, in Cumbria. Attracted by the opportunity to draw on the forests of Argyll to make charcoal, the Cumbrian company opened a new iron furnace at Bonawe.

Though the proximity to the Argyll woodlands meant greater efficiency, the iron ore itself was imported from Cumbria, so the process was not as efficient as it might have been.

Despite those challenges, the furnace was a success, and produced up to 700 tons of pig iron each year, employing up to 600 people in the process. Most of these employees worked in the woodlands, using wood to create charcoal, which was then sent to the furnace. These ‘coalers’ were Gaelic-speaking locals and were employed only in the summer months. Only 20 men worked at the furnace itself, and their work schedule was the opposite of the coalers; they worked through the winter making iron and spent the summer repairing equipment.

The furnace primarily made pig iron for export, but during the Napoleonic Wars, it produced cannonballs for the British military. This connection to the military was emphasised in 1805 when the miners of Bonawe were the first in Britain to erect a monument to Lord Nelson after his death at Trafalgar. The monument still stands at Taynuilt, but its plaque can be seen at Bonawe.

The Bonawe furnaces remained in operation until 1876, and modern visitors can see the most complete example of a charcoal furnace in the country. What is fascinating at Bonawe is that you can trace the entire process of making iron, including the lade, or water channel that brought water from the River Awe to turn the waterwheel that powered the bellows.

See the pair of huge charcoal sheds where the fuel was kept dry and the charging house where raw materials were weighed. Then there is the furnace itself, along with the blowing house and casting house, where the ore was transformed into pig iron. See the houses where workers lived and the pier where the finished iron was loaded onto ships for transport. Beside the ironworks is Bonawe House, built for the site manager but now a private residence.

Bonawe Furnace is a significant piece of British industrial heritage, a rare surviving example of an early industrial site, in a wonderfully scenic location.

St Conan’s Kirk
St Conan’s Kirk is an extraordinary early 20th-century church on the shore of Loch Awe, built by Walter Douglas Campbell, brother of the 1st Lord Blythswood, and incorporating fragments of carving from Iona.

St Conan’s Kirk is an extraordinary early 20th-century church on the shore of Loch Awe, built by Walter Douglas Campbell, brother of the 1st Lord Blythswood, and incorporating fragments of carving from Iona.

In the 1870s a new railway line was built along the north shore of Loch Awe, linking Dalmally and Taynuilt. Douglas Campbell took advantage of easy access to the loch to purchase the island of Innischonan and build a mansion for himself, his mother, and his sister Helen. Tradition suggests that Campbell’s mother found the carriage ride to Dalmally church too taxing, so Campbell decided to build a new church on the shore.

Campbell began building a small cruciform church here in 1881, situated where the nave of the current church stands. This was complete by 1886. But it was not long before Campbell decided to create something far more elaborate and grandiose. In 1907 he began a much larger, more ornate building, and entirely rebuilt the earlier structure. Campbell died in 1914 and the work was carried on by his sister Helen. Then she died in 1927, so it was not until 1930 that the building was finally consecrated.

Romanesque entrance doorway
Why did it take so long to build?
For a start, no workmen were brought in from outside; all work was performed locally. And no stone for the church was quarried; rather, boulders were found on the slopes of the hill above the loch, rolled down the hill to the building site, and shaped on the spot. And Campbell served as his own architect, designing a completely unique building that defies ordinary styles of description. The Kirk is heavy on Romanesque style, but uses both early and late examples of both, and mixes in other completely unrelated styles to create something completely unique and unusual. How unique? Well, rumour persists that Campbell intentionally included examples of every type of church architecture ever found in Scotland. That includes a group of standing stones set up at the church gates.

It was well worth the wait for the Kirk to be complete, for St Conan’s is one of the most uplifting and extraordinary early 20th century buildings in the west of Scotland. It is hard to characterise the style; it is really a bit of everything from Norman to Victorian. The interior is filled with light and gloom, with open spaces and deep shadows. Pieces of carving from Iona Abbey are built into the north wall of the south aisle.

The apse and altar
The south wall of the Bruce Chapel contains a window brought from St Mary’s church in South Leith. Also in the Bruce Chapel is a bell made for the Skerryvore Lighthouse in 1843. There is a wide ambulatory behind the high altar, with clear window glass giving wonderful views out over the loch.

The Bruce Chapel
One of the most intriguing features of the church is the Bruce Chapel, dominated by a larger-than-life effigy of King Robert Bruce, with the hands and face made of alabaster and the remainder carved from wood. The effigy lies atop an altar tomb, and set into the tomb base is an ossuary holding one of Bruce’s bones, taken from his skeleton at Dunfermline Abbey. The location of the king’s remains here at Lochawe is no accident, for it was in the Pass of Brander, high above the loch, that Bruce won one of his most important victories during the Wars of Independence. The effigy of Walter Campbell himself is in St Conval’s CHapel, and both he and his sister are buried in a family vault beneath the chapel.

The heavy timbers used to build the cloister are thought to have been salvaged from a pair of decommissioned navy destroyers, the Caledonia and the Duke of Wellington.

Visiting
It is hard to sum up St Conan’s Kirk; it is unlike any other church I’ve visited. In fact, I wasn’t even planning to visit; I was driving along the A85 on my way to Kilchurn Castle when I passed the church by the side of the road and saw the ‘open’ sign outside. Intrigued by the oddly medieval building that obviously wasn’t medieval, I made a snap decision and pulled over, grabbed my camera, and headed for the invitingly open door. I’m sure glad I made that decision, for St Conan’s was incredibly appealing.

It is very hard to describe the church; the apse and ambulatory remind me of St John’s Chapel in the Tower of London, one of the most evocative Romanesque sites in Britain. Yet other parts of the church just don’t fit any category at all. I can’t say more than to recommend a visit. St Conan’s isn’t anywhere near as old as most of the historic sites we list on Britain Express, but it is definitely a ‘don’t miss’ attraction if you’re in the Loch Awe area.

The chancel and altar beyond

The cloister walk

The Romanesque cloister doorway

Dunstaffnage Castle
A 13th-century castle surrounded by a high great curtain wall, guarding the mouth of Loch Etive. Dunstaffnage has a good claim to be the oldest castle in Scotland. Quietly tucked away in a wooded copse near the castle is a small 13th-century chapel.

A 13th-century castle surrounded by a high great curtain wall, guarding the mouth of Loch Etive. Dunstaffnage has a good claim to be the oldest castle in Scotland. Quietly tucked away in a wooded copse near the castle is a small 13th-century chapel.

History
There has almost certainly been a fort here at the point where Loch Etive empties into the Firth of Lorn for over 1500 years. The early Scottish kingdom of Dalriada had a stronghold here, and even more importantly for Scottish heritage, the Stone of Destiny (The Stone of Scone) was probably kept here for several centuries after it was first brought from Ireland.

Around 1225 the powerful Lords of Lorn, the MacDougalls, built a stone castle on the broad rocky site. The probable builder was Duncan, son of Dubhgail, and grandson of Somerled, King of the Isles. The MacDougall fortress was on a quadrangular plan, with extremely high walls reaching 60 feet in places, surrounding an inner courtyard with service buildings and living quarters.

Dunstaffnage from the beach
There were very few openings in the wall, and narrow arrow slits leave no doubt that this was a fortress first and a residence second. Three round projecting towers were added by Dubghall’s son, Ewen, who also added a great hall in the courtyard. So well did the 13th-century masons do their job that the castle has remained almost unaltered since it was built.

In the 13th century, the MacDougalls allied themselves with the Norse against Alexander II. The king brought an army to Lorn in 1249, but as he was poised to attack, the king fell ill and died in mysterious circumstances on the Island of Kerrera. Dunstaffnage was spared, but not for long.

The MacDougall lords of Dunstaffnage made a poor political choice, allying themselves with Edward I of England against Robert the Bruce in the Scottish Wars of Independence. When Edward died in 1307 they were left to the mercy of Scottish nationalist supporters. In 1308 they suffered a heavy defeat at the Pass of Brander, and King Robert besieged and captured Dunstaffnage the following year.

The castle wall and
rocky base
In 1463 a bitter and bloody feud between the MacDougalls and the new Stewart lords of Lorn saw John the 2nd Stewart lord, murdered by an assassin sent by the MacDougalls. For 6 years a bloody war waged between the clans, which ended in 1470 when Clan Campbell of Argyll finally took complete control of Dunstaffnage and Lorn.

The hereditary post of Captain of Dunstaffnage has been held on and off by a Campbell since 1322 and without a break since 1470. As a symbol of the clan’s connection with Dunstaffnage the Captain spends one night a year in the Gatehouse, even though Dunstaffnage is now officially in the care of Historic Scotland.

One final historical note: Flora MacDonald was briefly held at Dunstaffnage following her capture in 1746 for aiding Bonnie Prince Charlie’s escape to France following the Battle of Culloden. She only remained at the castle for a few days before being taken south to the Tower of London. There she was put on trial, but public sympathy meant that she was released in 1747.

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McCaig’s Tower
Built between 1897 and 1900, this striking tower is a fanciful copy of the Colosseum in Rome. McCaig’s Tower is perched on a hill overlooking Oban, and a public garden is located inside the hollow shell. Steep steps climb to the top of the hill.

Built between 1897 and 1900, this striking tower is a fanciful copy of the Colosseum in Rome. McCaig’s Tower is perched on a hill overlooking Oban, and a public garden is located inside the hollow shell. Steep steps climb to the top of the hill.

John Stuart McCaig was a successful banker in Oban, head of the North of Scotland Bank. In a spirit of public service mixed with no small amount of family pride, he decided to build a very odd public building on a high hillside overlooking Oban harbour. The project was intended to provide employment for local stone masons during the lean winter months, and at the same time create a lasting memorial to the McCaig family.

The Tower is built of local granite from Bonawe, with a circumference of 200 metres. There are two tiers of arches; a lower tier of 44 lancets, and an upper tier of 50 lancets. McCaig did not hire an architect but designed and supervised the building himself, to a budget of 5,000 pounds.

He drew inspiration from classical sources, both Greek and Roman, and intended the finished building to house an art gallery and museum, surmounted by a central tower. The tower was meant to house statues to his family. In the end, McCaig’s grand plans came to naught, for he died in 1902 at the age of 78 and construction came to a halt, with only the shell of the building complete.

The ‘tower’ is completely hollow, and roofless, but from a distance it bears more than a little resemblance to its Roman inspiration. The interior of the Tower is a public garden, and though the garden is pleasant enough, it is the superb views that make a climb to the Tower worthwhile.

Duart Castle
Perched on remote Black Point with spectacular sea views, Duart Castle dates to the 13th century, though it was razed in 1756 by the English. Rebuilt as a home in 1911, and a stronghold of the MacLeans for centuries.

Perched on remote Black Point with spectacular sea views, Duart Castle dates to the 13th century, though it was razed in 1756 by the English. Rebuilt as a home in 1911, and a stronghold of the MacLeans for centuries.

The location is superb, on a narrow neck of land jutting out into the Sound of Mull, at its junction with the Firth of Lorn and Loch Linnhe. The castle was one of a chain of fortifications along the Sound of Mull that acted as signal stations allowing beacon fires to transmit messages quickly from Dunollie (Oban) to Mingary on the Ardnamurchan peninsula.

There has been a fortification on Black Point since prehistoric times, and there was certainly a timber fortification here as early as the 13th century, consisting of a curtain wall cutting off the end of the promontory. In the 14th century the site fell into the hands of Clan MacLean, and it was probably Lachlan Lubanach MacLean who built the first stone castle keep around 1370. Perhaps it says something about that turbulent era when you realise that the landward defences are the strongest, with walls over 3 metres thick.

The castle entrance
Ghosts at Duart
Dark tales cling to Duart – this is the Highlands after all. The headless ghost of Ewan Maclain is said to ride through Glen Mhor to the south of the castle. But that is a relatively inoccuous tale when you consider the most famous episode in the history of Duart.

A Deadly Marital Spat
In the 1520s Lachlan Cattanach of Duart married Margaret Campbell, briefly allying the Campbells and MacLeans. But the marriage proved childless, and Lachlan blamed his wife for failing to produce an heir. He had her chained to a rock in the channel, to let the tide drown her. A passing fisherman heard the lady’s cries and rescued her. In a dramatic (and perhaps apocrophal) episode, Lachlan returned to his hall to find his wife, calmly seated, as if nothing had happened. But the Campbell’s plotted revenge, and in 1527 Lachlan was murdered in his bed. The islet where Lady Margaret was chained can be seen offshore; it is now called Lady’s Rock.

Inside the castle courtyard
The MacLeans were vassals of the Lords of the Isles in 1608 when the clan chief was invited to dine with James VI’s Lord Lieutenant aboard a royal ship moored in the Sound of Mull. MacLean was kidnapped and forced to swear an oath of loyalty to the king, and to destroy his own ships. This change of allegiance helped finally break the power of the Lords of the Isles in western Scotland.

The MacLeans supported the royalist Earl of Montrose, and held Duart for the king. But they could not withstand an attack by General Leslie in 1647, and the castle was forced to surrender. Cromwell knew the strategic importance of Duart Castle, and in 1653 he sent ships to besiege the castle. A storm drove off Cromwell’s navy and sank two ships, and the castle was saved.

The MacLeans lost more men and a great deal of money by following the royalist cause, and fell into heavy debt, much of it owed to their deadly enemies, the Campbells. Duart was put under siege in 1674 and 1688, and bombarded by Campbell ships. The castle finally fell in 1691.

Duart was garrisoned by royal troops in the 1745 Jacobite Rising, and when the troops finally left in 1751 they burned the castle behind them so it could not be held against the king. The castle remained a desolate wreck until Sir Fitroy MacLean stepped in; between 1911 and 1936 Duart was carefully restored, turning the medieval fortress into a comfortable home.

Visiting
The castle is a delight to visit. The location is magnificent, and the site is small enough to enjoy in a few hours. There are exhibitions on the long and often bloody history of the site, and on the heritage of Clan MacLean. I found it rather chilling to hear the story of Margaret Campbell and look out the castle window to see the very rock she was marooned on, visible in the waters offshore. History is close to the surface at Duart.

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Loch Awe
Loch Awe is Scotland’s longest freshwater loch at more than 25 miles in length, connecting to the Atlantic Ocean via the River Awe and Loch Etive. Traditionally Loch Awe was the home of Clan Macarthur, later followed by Clan Campbell. Highlights to see include 2 picturesque castles, a remarkable early 20th-century church, an 18th-century industrial site, and a modern power station built into a mountain.

Loch Awe is Scotland’s longest freshwater loch at more than 25 miles in length, connecting to the Atlantic Ocean via the River Awe and Loch Etive. Traditionally Loch Awe was the home of Clan Macarthur, later followed by Clan Campbell. Highlights to see include 2 picturesque castles, a remarkable early 20th-century church, an 18th-century industrial site, and a modern power station built into a mountain.

What to See

Kilchurn Castle

One of the most scenic castles in Scotland, located on a narrow neck of land jutting into the loch. The castle was nominally begun in 1440 by Sir Colin Campbell of Glenorchy, but in reality, the project was guided by his wife Margaret Campbell. Kilchurn was besieged by Royalist soldiers in 1654, and again in 1685 by the Earl of Argyll. The castle was transformed in the 18th century into a military fort, housing a large garrison of government soldiers. It is now in the care of Historic Scotland.

St Conan’s Kirk

A remarkable architectural gem on the shore of the loch at Lochawe village, St Conan’s Kirk was begun by Walter Douglas Campbell in 1907 and finished by his sister Hannah. Campbell designed the church and included every style from Norman to Victorian. The centrepiece is a monument to King Robert Bruce, with a huge effigy lying above an ossuary holding a bone from Bruce’s skeleton. More historic interest is added by ancient carved stones from Iona, incorporated into the nave walls.

Cruachan Hydro Power Station

Near Lochawe village is a water-fed power station with a turbine hall built inside the mountain of Ben Cruachan. The turbines are fed from a reservoir on top of the mountain and the outflow goes into Loch Awe. You can take a guided tour inside the mountain to see the huge turbine hall.

Our family has taken the tour and the thing I recall most was the massive scale of the turbines. It truly is an impressive sight to realize you are inside a large mountain, in a man-made chamber, with 4 massive turbines generating power from the force of water rushing down through the mountain itself.

Bonawe Iron Furnace

A restored charcoal-fired ironworks located near Taynuilt. Bonawe was established in 1753 by iron-masters from Cumbria, who utilised the readily available wood from Argyll’s forests to make charcoal, which was then used to smelt iron. At the height of its prosperity Bonawe produced 700 tons of pig iron each year. Most famously iron from Bonawe was used to create the first monument to Admiral Nelson after his death at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Find out how iron was made, see the complete furnace, and look inside the huge charcoal sheds.

Ardchonnell Castle

This little known island-bound castle stands on a small, wooded island off the eastern shore of Loch Awe, near Divach. Until the late 16th century Ardchonnell (also known as Inis Chonnel) was a stronghold of the Campbell clan. The core of the castle dates to the 13th century, with 15th century rages. Very little is known of the castle’s history, and it was in a ruinous state by the early 19th century. There is no public access so you are limited to viewing the castle from the shore.

Inveraray Castle
The family seat of Clan Campbell, Inveraray Castle is a mock-Gothic extravaganza, set in glorious landscape beside Loch Fyne. Conceived by Sir John Vanbrugh for the 2nd Duke of Argyll, and built to designs of William and Robert Adam, Inveraray is at the forefront of stately homes in Scotland, with opulent interiors, art, and fine furniture.

The family seat of Clan Campbell, Inveraray Castle is a mock-Gothic extravaganza, set in glorious landscape beside Loch Fyne. Conceived by Sir John Vanbrugh for the 2nd Duke of Argyll, and built to designs of William and Robert Adam, Inveraray is at the forefront of stately homes in Scotland, with opulent interiors, art, and fine furniture.

History
Sir Duncan Campbell was a man with ambition and the will to make his ambitions come true. Sir Duncan was the head of Clan Campbell in the mid-15th century when he decided to move the Campbell family seat from the head of Loch Awe to Inveraray, on Loch Fyne. Sir Duncan was thinking big and wanted the Campbells to play a larger part in Scottish affairs.

The Campbell power base on Loch Awe made the clan important throughout Argyll, but moving to Loch Fyne gave them access to the Firth of Clyde and the sea, and allowed the Campbells to become one of the most powerful families in Scotland over the following centuries.

The rear of the castle
Sir Duncan established a small castle at Inveraray, and his son, Colin, founded a planned town around the castle in the 1470s. That medieval castle stayed essentially unaltered for over 2 centuries before the 2nd Duke of Argyll decided that something grander was needed in the early 18th century.

The amazing concoction of Gothic, Baroque, and Palladian style we see today is the result of an idea sketched out by John Vanbrugh, architect of Blenheim Palace, for the 2nd Duke. Vanbrugh died before his idea could be put into practice, and the 3rd Duke called in William Adam and Roger Morris to design and build his new family seat, Construction began in 1743 but took 43 years to complete. Both Morris and Adam had died by that time, and the work was finished by Adam’s famous architect sons, John and Robert for John, the 5th Duke. The Duke called in French artists to paint the ceiling of the Dining Room, and weavers from Beauvais to create chair coverings.

The stables
The castle was built on a rectangular plan with a sturdy crenellated tower at the centre and circular towers at each corner. The new house bristles with mock-military features including turrets, moats, and slit windows. To provide an uninterrupted view from the castle, the entire burgh of Inveraray was destroyed and rebuilt half a mile away in its current location. The Dukes of Argyll spent lavishly on Inveraray, prompting Dr Johnson to quip, ‘What I admire here, is the total defiance of expense’.

In 1877 a fire heavily damaged the 18th-century building, and the remodelling added a third floor and the iconic corner towers with their conical roofs that give Inveraray the air of a French chateau transplanted to the west coast of Scotland.

A corner tower
If the exteriors at Inveraray present a sophisticated, elegant look, the interiors are meant to astonish, and they do. Here is opulence on a grand scale, with no expense spared to impress visitors. The Campbell Dukes wanted visitors to be awed by their family home, and it shows.

The interiors put the ‘state’ in ‘stately’; from fine furniture to tapestries, a fabulous collection of paintings and family portraits, and stunning plasterwork ceilings, Inveraray amazes visitors at every turn. Among the most interesting things to see is the Tapestry Drawing Room, with ornate 1773 ceilings made of papier mache. This room features original Beauvais tapestries still in their original setting.

In the Saloon is the piano used by Lerner and Lowe to compose songs for the musical My Fair Lady. One of the most stunning rooms is the Armoury Hall, with a ceiling rising 21 metres; making it the tallest chamber in Scotland. Every surface of this chamber seems to be decorated with displays of weapons, dating from the 16th century to the Victoria period One of the most famous items is a dagger and sporran that belonged to Rob Roy MacGregor.

Inveraray Castle is stunning, easily one of the most impressive stately homes in Scotland. The house is magnificent and the setting by the shore of Loch Fyne is unforgettable.

Inveraray Maritime Museum
A 1911 schooner, one of the world’s last iron sailing ships, hosts displays on the maritime history of the Clyde and the devastation of the Highland Clearances.

A 1911 schooner, one of the world’s last iron sailing ships, hosts displays on the maritime history of the Clyde and the devastation of the Highland Clearances.

The Museum
The Arctic Penguin is a three-masted iron-built schooner, launched in 1911 and now moored permanently at Inveraray Pier. Hop on board and see displays covering the maritime history of the River Clyde. See nautical memorabilia, and have fun trying your hand at knot-tying and operating some of the boat’s equipment. Operate the onboard telegraph, blow the foghorn, and explore Davy Jones’ Locker.

The Vital Spark
Beside the Arctic Penguin lies the puffer boat Vital Spark, named for the popular series of books by Neil Munro, a native of Inveraray. The boat, originally named Eilean Eisdeal, was the last of the VIC class puffers to be built.

NOTE … NOTE … NOTE
We’ve been informed that the Maritime Museum is temporarily closed, as the Inveraray Pier needs urgent safety repairs. We’ll update this page as soon as we know more.

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