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Monday, September 08, 2008

Tour Scotland Kilchurn Castle

Tour Scotland Kilchurn Castle. In the years after 1500 Clan Campbell held much of western Scotland in a tight grip. Kilchurn Castle was a key link in the chain of strongholds that sustained Campbell power. Sitting at the head of Loch Awe, Kilchurn blocked access from the east through the narrow Pass of Brander and to the lands of Lorn beyond. Although today the castle sits on a thin peninsula, in the 15th and 16th centuries it sat on a small island linked to the shore by a secret causeway hidden below the surface of the water. Originally a five storey tower house, Kilchurn was also protected by a curtain wall that enclosed most of its island base, and by three corner towers added in the late 17th century.

The tower house at Kilchurn was begun around 1440 when the captain of Kilchurn was Sir Colin Campbell of Glenorchy whose crusading exploits earned him the nickname of the Black Knight of Rhodes. According to tradition, his wife Margaret busied herself overseeing much of the construction of the tower during his absence overseas. The MacGregors of Glenstrae acted as keepers of Kilchurn until falling out with the Campbells in a violent feud in the early seventeenth century. The castle was besieged by Royalists under General Middleton for two days in 1654 until relieved by Cromwellian forces sent in haste by Monck. It was besieged again in the troubled year of 1685 when the Protestant Earl of Argyll rebelled against the Catholic James VII. Kilchurn was garrisoned with Hanoverian redcoats as soon as news of the 1715 and 1745 Risings reached the ears of the government in Edinburgh. Sir John Campbell, who became 1st Earl of Breadalbane in 1681, was aware that Kilchurn's strategic position in the turbulent western Highlands was worth good money. Around 1690 he built a
barracks block at Kilchurn capable of holding over two hundred troops and then tried to sell the castle to the government as a ready-made fortress. His plans were only thwarted by the government's decision to expand its base at Fort William at the head of Loch Linnhe, which was more easily supplied by sea.

In the eighteenth century, the Campbells of Breadalbane paid more attention to their more fertile estates in Perthshire and they moved in 1740 to Balloch Castle, later known as Taymouth Castle near Kenmore. Kilchurn was abandoned and badly damaged by lightning in 1769. The sad loss of its roof the following year encouraged local builders to use Kilchurn as a convenient quarry. In 1817 drainage work on the outflow from Loch Awe lowered the waters and attached the castle more securely to the surrounding land.

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