Kilchurn Castle is a ruined 15th century structure on the northeastern end of Loch Awe, in Argyll and Bute, Scotland. It was the ancestral home of the Campbells of Glen Orchy, who later became the Earls of Breadalbane also known as the Breadalbane family branch, of the Clan Campbell. The earliest construction on the castle was the towerhouse and Laich Hall (looks onto Loch Awe). Today, its picturesque setting and romantic state of decay make it one of the most photographed structures in Scotland.
Kilchurn Castle was built in about 1450 by Sir Colin Campbell, first Lord of Glenorchy, as a five storey tower house with a courtyard defended by an outer wall. By about 1500 an additional range and a hall had been added to the south side of the castle. Further buildings went up during the 16th and 17th centuries. Kilchurn was on a small island in Loch Awe scarcely larger than the castle itself, although it is now connected to the mainland as the water level was altered in 1817. The castle would have been accessed via an underwater or low lying causeway.
At the turn of the 16th century Kilchurn Castle was extended by Sir Duncan Campbell with the addition of a single storey dining hall built along the inside of the south curtain. During the second half of the century, another Sir Colin Campbell, the 6th Laird, continued to improve the castle’s accommodation by adding some chambers to the north of the tower house, and remodelling the parapet. This included the introduction of the circular corner turrets adorned by corbels, most of which have survived remarkably well.
Towards the end of the 16th century the Clan MacGregor of Glenstrae were occupying the castle. Once owning the lands of Glenorchy during the 14th century, until they passed through marriage to the Campbells, the MacGregors were appointed keepers to Kilchurn Castle as the Campbells spent much of their time at Fincharn. This arrangement lasted until the very early part of the 17th century, when a violent feud between the two families brought it to an end and the Campbells retook possession.
In 1681, Sir John Campbell of Glenorchy was made 1st Earl of Breadalbane. To take advantage of the turbulence of the times, he converted Kilchurn into a modern barracks, capable of housing 200 troops. His main addition was the three storey L-shaped block along the north side.
Engraving of Kilchurch Castle by William Miller, 1846
Kilchurn was then used as a Government garrison during the 1715 and 1745 Jacobite risings. The Campbells attempted, unsuccessfully, to sell Kilchurn to the government, after they moved in 1740 to Taymouth Castle in Perthshire.
In 1760, the castle was badly damaged by lightning and was completely abandoned; the remains of a turret of a tower, still resting upside-down in the centre of the courtyard, attest to the violence of the storm.
William Turner’s watercolour Midday depicts the castle amidst the weather conditions and the geology of Scotland. It was created in 1802.
The ruin is currently in the care of Historic Scotland, and is open to the public during the summer. Access, during summer only, is by either by boat from Lochawe pier, or on foot from Dalmally. Both points are on the A85 road. During 2006 and 2007 there was an access problem to the castle. Network Rail, in accordance with their policy of blocking foot crossings on railway lines, closed the crossing to Kilchurn, effectively removing land access. However in 2007 access via the nearby viaduct was created, restoring landward access once more
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