The ruins of a small fifteenth century tower house castle that was heavily modified in the late seventeenth century including addition of the first dedicated barracks built in Scotland. As is obvious from the photos, the castle is set in stunning scenery and is a favourite with tourists.
Notes: Located on Loch Awe the castle has off road parking facilities and accessed via a walk of approximately 600 metres. Strong footwear is recommended. Eilean Fraoch Castle is on an island in the middle of Loch Awe with no regular ferry service but it can be viewed from the various lay-bys along the A819.
The island of Eilean Fraoch (‘Heathery Island’) was granted to Sir Gillechrist MacNauchtan in 1267 by Alexander III. Today its remote and largely inaccessible location on an island in Loch Awe is deceptive - in medieval Scotland such waterways were the highways of the age. In such a context the castle was strategically sited to control the Pass of Brander where the River Awe, which links to Loch Etive and the Atlantic, intersects with the 25 mile long Loch Awe. The castle, one of the earliest Scottish built stone castles in Argyll, was intended to help secure this territory which had only recently been wrestled from Norwegian control following the Battle of Largs (1263) and subsequent Treaty of Perth (1266).
The MacNauchtan's castle took the form of a stone Hall House enclosed within a fortified courtyard which was initially a turf and timber barrier but was later also rebuilt in stone. A round tower and gatehouse were added to the curtain wall in the subsequent decades.
The MacNaughtan's lost much of their influence in the early fourteenth century when they opposed Robert the Bruce in his 1306 rebellion against Edward I. Although they later supported the new regime, their neighbours and rivals - the Campbells - had backed Robert from the start and prospered accordingly. By the mid fourteenth century they dominated Loch Awe and had control of Eilean Fraoch Castle. Little is known about the castle thereafter but the construction of Kilchurn in 1440 must have led, at best, to its marginalisation.
At the time of the Jacobite rebellions the Campbells supported the Government and, as part of the 1745 uprising, the island was captured by the rebels led by a member of Clan MacNauchtan. Their defeat the following year at Culloden ended this occupation and the site was returned to the Campbells. They made no further use of the property however and by 1769 it was ruinous.
With a picture postcard setting on the beautiful shores of Loch Awe, Kilchurn Castle is possibly one of Scotland’s most scenic fortifications. The family seat of the Campbells of Glenorchy, its remote location ensured it a peaceful history with only one siege recorded. Eilean Fraoch Castle is situated nearby on an island in the loch.
HISTORY OF KILCHURN CASTLE
Kilchurn Castle was built before 1449 by Sir Colin Campbell, Lord of Glenorchy (also known as 'Black Colin of Rome' on account of his foreign travels). He was the second son of Duncan Campbell, Lord Campbell and had been granted Glenorchy in 1432 by James I. Thereafter his branch of the family became known as the Campbells of Glenorchy (later known as the Campbells of Breadalbane) and he built Kilchurn Castle as their primary residence. Situated on the northern shores of Loch Awe, the longest fresh water loch in Scotland, this was an important location in medieval Scotland - such waterways were the highways of the day facilitating movement through the otherwise remote and inaccessible terrain of Argyll.
Originally situated on its own island, possibly linked to the mainland by a submerged causeway, the castle took the form of a Tower House - a popular form of fortified residence for the Scottish nobility of the period. The five storey structure conformed to the normal configuration with storage on the ground floor, a Great Hall on the first and accommodation on the upper levels. An irregularly shaped courtyard, enclosed by a barmkin (curtain wall), would have included all the ancillary buildings associated with such a settlement including a brewhouse, bakehouse and stables.
Sir Colin was succeeded by his son, Duncan, in 1475 and he built a Great Hall within the courtyard prior to his death at the Battle of Flodden (1513). He was followed by his son, also called Colin, but favoured Breadalbane as his main residence although he ultimately died at Kilchurn Castle in 1523. After this time the Campbells of Glenorchy stagnated - Colin was succeeded by Duncan who did little to sustain his powerbase and when he died in 1536 (also at Kilchurn), he was succeeded by John (nicknamed 'Weak John' due to his ill-health) who was also unable to effectively assert his influence. The Glenorcy lands were increasingly run by his younger brother, Grey Colin, who was responsible for some additions to Kilchurn - the turrets on top of the Tower House were his work. Grey Colin was also responsible for severing the long connections between the Campbells of Glenorchy and Clan MacGregor when he executed the head of the latter. In this he was supported by King James VI who outlawed the very name MacGregor in 1603. Although he still used Kichurn, Grey Colin also made Finlarig Castle and then Taymouth Castle near Balloch his primary residences.
The castle saw its only siege in 1654 during the War of Three Kingdoms. Following the execution of Charles I in 1649, conducted by the English Parliament without reference to Scotland, Clan Campbell initially supported Charles II on the agreement he signed the Solemn League and Covenant. However, the collapse of Charles' military campaign and the subsequent invasion of Scotland by Oliver Cromwell, saw the Campbells submit to the Commonwealth. This led to attacks on various Campbell strongholds - including Kilchurn and Castle Campbell – by Royalist forces in the Summer of 1654.
The Restoration of the monarchy saw the arrest and execution of Archibald Campbell, Marquess of Argyll (1661). But the Campbells of Glenorchy were reconciled with the new regime and in 1681 Sir John Campbell was made Earl of Breadalbane. Despite these rewards from the Stuart regime, he supported William and Mary in the Glorious Revolution of 1689 and used his regional influence to aid their acceptance amongst Clan chiefs in Argyll. Nevertheless, the Stuart regime had been rulers of Scotland for centuries and, coupled with social and religious reforms that were starting to impact upon the many small communities across the region, support for the subsequent Jacobite rebellions was inevitable. Sir John anticipated this and converted Kichurn accordingly by constructing the first purpose built barracks in Scotland in order to support his personal army. This 'L' shaped structure was built within the courtyard of the castle and consisted of 12 rooms capable of accommodating 200 troops with associated ablutions and cooking facilities. The barracks were occupied by Government troops during both the 1715 and 1745 Jacobite rebellions but the castle itself saw no action.
By the 1750s the garrison had been withdrawn from Kilchurn and it started to suffer from neglect. The deterioration was hastened considerably when the roof was destroyed by a lightning strike at somepoint before 1769 and slowly deteriorated into its current state. Later, in the nineteenth century, improvements to drainage saw the water level of Loch Awe drop connecting Kilchurn to the mainland for the first time in its history. Today its photogenic setting makes it a favourite stop for tourists.
The land access to Kilchurn - originally the castle was on its own island but drainage in the Victorian era lowered the water level of Loch Awe.
The water would have originally been much closer to the castle
The Pass of Brander - through which the River Awe connects Loch Awe to Loch Etive - can be seen in the centre-left. Eilean Frach Castle is on the island in the centre-right.