Castle Stalker is a mid-fifteenth century Tower House built on a small islet at the mouth of Loch Laich. Originally owned by the Stewarts, it was lost to the Campbells in 1620 and remained in their hands for almost three centuries. The castle was sympathetically restored in the 1960s/1970s.
Castle Stalker occupies a small islet at the mouth of Loch Laich near its confluence with Loch Linnhe. In pre-industrial Scotland, where the main means of movement through the highlands was by boat, this prominent location meant the castle was in direct proximity to a major communications artery between Inverlochy (Fort William) and the Inner Hebrides. A small fort or hall house was established on the site circa-1330 by the MacDougalls, Lords of Lorn. This powerful clan owned lands in Argyll but they were affiliated with the Comyn family and accordingly came into conflict with Robert the Bruce during the First War of Scottish Independence. They were reconciled with his successor, David II, and it was at this time they raised Castle Stalker. However, in 1388 the Lordship passed through marriage into the hands of the Stewart family. With vast estates elsewhere, little was done with the existing residence until the mid-fifteenth century when Sir John Stewart built the castle seen today.
The castle was a three storey, rectangular tower house. The ground floor comprised of two cellars and a pit prison, all of which were barrel vaulted. The upper two storeys were two large halls, the lower one probably serving as a Great Hall whilst the upper level was probably divided into chambers by timber partitions. The main entrance into the castle was on the first floor directly into the hall. This was originally accessed via timber stairs which were later replaced by a drawbridge (and more recently by a stone stairway). A second entrance on the south-eastern side was at ground floor level and was equipped with two doors, one of which was presumably an iron yett. A turnpike stair was embedded in the northern corner of the tower and provided access to all levels. Surrounding the tower was a barmkin (curtain wall) which enclosed the ancillary buildings including a brewhouse, bakehouse and storerooms.
Sir John Stewart was murdered in 1463 by Alan MacCoul, an affiliate of the MacDougalls. He was followed by his son, Dugald, who defeated the MacDougalls and killed Alan at the Battle of Stalc (1468) fought on the shores opposite Castle Stalker. In 1497 Dugald was killed in a skirmish with the MacDonald of Keppoch and Castle Stalker passed to his son, Duncan. During his tenure he forged a close relationship with his cousin, King James IV, who made regular trips to the castle to exploit the excellent hunting facilities in the vicinity. Duncan was murdered in 1512 and followed by his younger brother, Alan. He was present at the Battle of Flodden (1513), where James IV and many Scottish magnates, were cut down by an English force under Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey. Surprisingly Alan Stewart survived the encounter.
In 1620 Castle Stalker passed into the hands of the Campbells of Airds after Duncan Stewart lost it during a wager. It was briefly regained by the Stewarts of Appin in 1689 when they supported the first Jacobite rebellion in support of the ousted James VII (II of England). The uprising was defeated at the Battle of Killiecrankie (1689) and the Campbells attempted to retake control of Castle Stalker. A two month siege followed before the castle finally fell to the Campbells.
During the 1745/6 Jacobite rebellion, Castle Stalker was garrisoned by the Campbells with a force of 59 troops. The Stewarts of Appin, who again supported the Jacobite cause, tried to exploit the uprising to recover the castle. They attacked Castle Stalker with a force of 300 men but their attempt failed. Despite much of the area falling under the influence of the rebels, the castle's garrison was sustained by the Royal Navy as ships sailed between the Campbell's stronghold at Inverary and Fort William in the north. The rebellion was defeated at the Battle of Culloden (1746) and, in the months that followed, Castle Stalker was used as one of numerous local centres where arms were surrendered to Government forces.
Castle Stalker remained in use as a residence until circa-1800 when the Campbells built a new house on the mainland. By 1831 the castle had lost its roof and was drifting into ruin. In 1908 it was finally recovered by the Stewarts when it was purchased by Charles Stewart of Achara. He did little with the structure nor did his successor, Duncan Stewart, and in 1965 it was purchased by Lieutenant Colonel Stewart Allward who commenced a decade long restoration project.
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Castle Stalker is a mid-fifteenth century Tower House that was sympathetically restored in the 1960s/1970s. The site remains in private use but regular (pre-booked) tours of the castle are offered by the owners. There is a memorial stone marking the Battle of Stalc (1468) in Portnacroish churchyard.
Castle Stalker. The name of the castle derives from the Gaelic word Stalcaire which implies a role of Hunter or Falconer. It stands on a small islet separated from the mainland by approximately 100 metres.
Access. The Tower house had two entrances. The primary one was on the north-east side at first floor level and originally accessed via a wooden stair/drawbridge but now reached by a stone stairway. The second entrance was at ground floor level on the south-east side. Note the machicolation at parapet level directly above it.
Coat of Arms. The well worn coat of arms on the structure is believed to be that of King James IV. He was the cousin of Duncan Stewart, who owned Castle Stalker between 1497 and 1512, and made regular visits to the castle.