Ardtornish Castle was a Hall House built in the thirteenth century and by the 1300s it was in the hands of the MacDonald clan. They retained the castle until the fifteenth century despite John MacDonald sealing the infamous Westminster-Ardtornish Treaty there in 1461. By the sixteenth century the castle was owned by the MacLeans and it later passed to the Campbells.
Ardtornish Castle stands upon a promontory overlooking the Sound of Mull. This major waterway was an important means of movement in pre-industrial Scotland with easy access to the Inner Herbrides and to Loch Linnhe which provided a direct link with the Great Glen. The castle was built in the late thirteenth century possibly by Clan Ruaidhrí. By the start of the fourteenth century it was in the hands of the MacDonalds and became one of their primary residences.
The castle took the form of a Hall House. The centrepiece of the castle was a two storey rectangular block built from squared basalt rock. This hall occupied the summit giving it a commanding view of the surrounding area and would have been a prominent landmark for vessels moving along the Sound. Various ancillary buildings - including a kitchen, brewhouse, bakehouse, barn (with an attached kiln for drying corn) and boathouse - surrounded the structure.
Ardtornish Castle remained an important MacDonald residence throughout the late medieval era. John MacDonald, Lord of the Isles died there in 1387 and his successor, Donald, mustered his forces at the site before commencing upon the campaign that culminated into the Battle of Harlaw (1411). Later his grandson - John MacDonald, Lord of the Isles and Earl of Ross - was resident in the castle when he sealed the Westminster-Ardtornish Treaty (1461); this pact was an agreement with Edward IV and the dispossessed James Douglas, Earl of Douglas to seize control of Scotland and divide it between them. Despite this, the Lords of the Isles retained Ardtornish until 1493 when James IV finally broke their power.
After the fall of the MacDonalds, Ardtornish Castle passed into the hands of the MacLeans although precisely how this came about is unclear. Even MacLean was recorded as an illegal occupant in a record dated 1501 but his successor, Roderik MacLean, was the legal owner in 1541. The castle remained occupied throughout the MacLean tenure but this came to an end in the 1690s after which it passed to the Campbells and was abandoned as a residence. The castle drifted into ruin until the structure was stabilised in 1873. Later restoration work, conducted in the early twentieth century, was done with scant regard to historical accuracy.
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Ardtornish Castle consists of the ruined remains of a thirteenth century Hall House. The ruins are freely accessible but are a three mile walk from the nearest car parking.
Hall House. The castle was dominated by the Hall House. This was built on high ground overlooking the Sound. The hall was surrounded by ancillary buildings.
Arched Window. The arched window is a remnant of imaginative but historically inaccurate twentieth century restoration work.
Entrance. The ground floor entrance on the eastern side is an early twentieth century reconstruction but the medieval original was probably located in the same place.
Strategic Site. In pre-industrial Scotland lochs and rivers were the primary means of movement through otherwise impassable terrain. Ardtornish was located overlooking the Sound of Mull and was in directly proximity to the mouth of Loch Aline. Accordingly, whilst the site seems remote and isolated today, it was originally well placed at the centre of important trade routes. The castle would have been a prominent landmark for vessels transiting the Sound.
Ardtornish Castle is located on a remote promontory overlooking the Sound of Mull. The best place to park is in the hamlet of Ardtornish which is accessed off the A884 (the turning is sign-posted). It is then a three mile walk to the castle along a private road (with a pedestrian right of way).
The castle is accessed via a private road. Follow this (on foot) for three miles until you reach the farm and then take the path that leads to the castle.