Just off A85 in the shadows of the modest peak of Ben Cruachan in Scotland is a hidden jewel of a castle. It’s a dot on an atlas, a prominent enough destination to actually be listed on a road atlas of Great Britain. But while the little dot of Kilchurn Castle technically exists on a map, it remains a hidden mystery beyond the trees and on the banks of Loch Awe. Kilchurn Castle brings the magic of the Scotland Highlands to life, if only you know where to look.
In the foothills of some of the most beautiful landscape on this Earth lies a little village named Dalmally. It’s so tiny, in fact, there isn’t much more than a lovely bed-and-breakfast inn. There is a pub nearby, but only open seasonal. And apparently late May is not yet seasonal. But as a base of exploration of the western Highlands, Dalmally is a good place to start. But before driving through the beautiful landscape of Glen Orchy and Glen Coe on the way to try some whisky in Oban, drive west on A85. Just on the west side of Dalmally will be the intersection of A819 with A85. That’s when you should slow down and look for a little pull off on the left side of the road. This is the small parking area for Kilchurn Castle. There won’t be signs, so don’t look for them.
Once parked, follow the footpath south and under the railroad tracks. You’ll enter a clearing, and just beyond the cattle grazing will be the ruins of Kilchurn Castle with Loch Awe glistening in the distance.
When we were planning our visit to Scotland, we wanted to mix the best of the beautiful Highlands with a castle or two. Castles are fun for people of all ages, but it reaches another level for 5-year-old boys.
Our day of exploring the Western Highlands of Scotland started with a visit to Kilchurn Castle before driving a rough circle east on A85 and north and west along A82 through Glen Coe and south to Oban. It was a lot of driving, but provided a beautiful taste of the Highlands. And the tone was set at Kilchurn.
Like many of the castles in Scotland today, Kilchurn Castle is an uninhabited ruin. But while the ceilings and some of the walls are long gone, the castle itself is mostly in one piece.
I learned about the history of Kilchurn Castle from the website for Historic Scotland, the Scottish government agency that is charged with safeguarding the nation’s historic properties. When we visited the castle, we didn’t have a guidebook. There were a couple of signs with basic information posted. But a visit to Historic Scotland will provide all the below information, as well as facts about all of Scotland’s historic properties.
Kilchurn Castle was built in the mid-1400s by Sir Colin Campbell, the first lord of glenorchy. The land was granted to Campbell in 1432 to ensure his loyalty following the sudden death of his elder brother, Gillespic. Kilchurn was the powerbase for the descendants of Sir Colin Campbell, the Campbells of Glenorchy, for 150 years. It was abandoned in the 1700s. The exact date of the completion of the castle is unknown. It was built before Sir Colin Campbell’s death in 1475. However, a charter dated March 1449 confirms its existence by then.
A five-story tower house at one corner of a courtyard still stands mostly intact.
On the ground level of the tower were a cellar and prison. There was a hall on the first floor and private chambers above.
Kilchurn lost its place in prominence for the family when Colin, the sixth lord, relocated the Campbells of Glenorchy to their new home in Perthshire before his death in 1583, according to Historic Scotland.
The castle was converted into a garrison stronghold following the overthrow of the Stuart dynasty in 1689. The old tower house was converted into accommodation for officers. Later, a barracks was built along the north side of the courtyard. It still stands. It is the oldest surviving barracks on the British mainland, according to Historic Scotland.
The castle was used as an outpost for government soldiers during the Jacobite rebellions of 1715 and 1745.
One of my favorite parts of Kilchurn Castle is the tower and loch beyond.