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History of Kilchurn Castle

The history of Kilchurn Castle has its roots in the time when a five-storey defensive tower was built on a small rocky island in the mid-15th century. The tower itself was protected by a defensive wall while the island was connected to the mainland with a built causeway that was hidden from strangers by Loch Awe. Over several centuries, the shallow lake uncovered an artificial pass, transforming the island into a peninsula. However, in the previous years of the castle history, only insiders knew about the route running along the embankment. The founder of the castle was Sir Colin Campbell, the first Lord of Glenorchy from an influential clan. He controlled a great part of west Scotland in the late Middle Ages.

Due to his numerous trips and visits in Rome, Colin Campbell, called by the people of that time Black Colin of Rome, became famous for his fight against Turks in Rhodes in the ranks of the Knights Hospitallers. According to the legend, a charm stone – a magic stone-amulet that later was displayed in the collection of similar artefacts in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh – protected Colin against danger. No wonder that the construction of Kilchurn Castle was supervised by Margaret Campbell for most of the time, who successfully managed this task during her husband’s long-lasting war expeditions. On the ground level of the tower were dungeons and cellars. On the first floor was an audience hall and on the other floors were private chambers and auxiliary facilities.

Colin's successor, Duncan Campbell, at the beginning of the 16th century slightly extended the family castle, building a one-storey Lower Hall in the south. In the second half of the 16th century Kilchurn Castle was restored by the 6th laird of Glenorchy, Sir Colin Campbell, who was called Grey Colin. To the north of the keep, several buildings were constructed and the top of the tower house was crowned with four angular turrets decorated with corbels. Anyway, despite improving the castle, at that time Kilchurn was not the seat of Clan Campbell of Glenorchy anymore because Colin Campbell built a new house for his family in the years 1570-80, Taymouth Castle in Perthshire. The ownership of Kilchurn Castle was given to old allies from Clan McGregor, who earlier (until the 14th century) administered those lands until they gave them to Clan Campbell as a dowry through a marriage.

For several decades Clan McGregor lived behind the walls of the castle, however, an unexpected bloody internal quarrel broke all promises made and led to great hostility between the former allies. Clan Campbell retook the stronghold but soon a civil war broke out in Scotland, in those years the spectre of taking the castle by the Royalists hung over it many times. In 1654 General Middleton besieged the castle for several days until Cromwell's army came to help the besieged people under General Monck. Another siege took place in 1685 when Earl Argyll joined the rebellion of the Duke of Monmouth against King James VII.

Several years later, the owner of Kilchurn Castle, John Campbell, having realised how important the strategic location of his seat was, tried to gain as many benefits from that as he could. In his opinion Kilchurn Castle should have been transformed into a perfect stronghold for the government army that would have been able to control the rebellious inhabitants from the west part of the Highlands. For this purpose, a three-storey garrison for two hundred soldiers was built on the castle premises. During the Jacobite rebellions of 1715 and 1745 there was a garrison of government soldiers in the castle but the government was not in a hurry to buy the castle from Clan Campbell.

After some fruitless attempts to sell Kilchurn Castle, Clan Campbell finally moved to Taymouth Castle, and after a catastrophic storm in 1769, when one of the towers was damaged by a thunderbolt, the last inhabitants left Kilchurn. The abandoned stronghold was gradually falling into ruin, in addition, it was damaged as a result of actions by local landowners who used materials from this ancient building for their own purposes. The picturesque ruins of Kilchurn had been a source of inspiration for the poets and painters of Romanticism for many decades. Today tourists who get some rest at Loch Awe enjoy visiting the castle.