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Ardtornish Castle

Castle (Medieval)

Site Name Ardtornish Castle

Classification Castle (Medieval)

Alternative Name(s) Ardtornish Point; Ardtornish Bay; Lochaline; Aird Toirinis

Canmore ID 22449

Site Number NM64SE 1

NGR NM 6919 4265

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number AC0000807262. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Highland
  • Parish Morvern
  • Former Region Highland
  • Former District Lochaber
  • Former County Argyll

Recording Your Heritage Online

Ardtornish Castle, late 13 th century Ruined stump of one of the principal residences of the Lords of the Isles, heirs of Somerled, who controlled the Western Seaboard until the late 15th century (see p.91 for more on its history). Prominently sited on a headland projecting into the Sound of Mull, this curtain walled stronghold contained a semi-fortified two-storey hall house of dressed basalt blocks, with a mural stair rising from its entrance in the east wall to give access to the hall above. The ruin was crudely consolidated in the early 1900s, when fairly extensive intervention included a refacing of most of the east wall and upper half of the south wall, where a segmental-arched window was introduced. A new entrance doorway was created in the original opening. Only the cills of original slit windows on the south wall survive, and a passage leading to a projecting garderobe on the north-west corner. Vestigial remains of outbuildings lie scattered about the site.

Taken from "Western Seaboard: An Illustrated Architectural Guide", by Mary Miers, 2008. Published by the Rutland Press

Archaeology Notes

NM64SE 1 6919 4265

(NM 6919 4265) Ardtornish Castle (NR)

OS 1:10,000 map, 1976.

For (possible successor) Ardtornish House or Tower (NM 7033 4753) and related buildings, see NM74NW 13.

Ardtornish Castle stands at the seaward end of a promontory which projects southwards into the Sound of Mull about 2km SE of the mouth of Loch Aline. The principal building, a hall-house, occupies the summit of a rocky outcrop rising about 10m above the general level of the promonotory, while other structures, now mostly reduced to their foundations, lie scattered on the N side of the hall-house and along the E foreshore. There are no traces of any defensive works on the landward side of the promontory, and the narrow gorge that bounds the site to the SW appears to be of natural origin.

The hall-house is oblong on plan (q.v.), and measures about 17.2m from W to E by 8.8m transversely within walls some 2.7m in thickness which now stand to a height of about 5m. The interior is choked with debris. The present appearance of the building owes a good deal to a misconceived 'restoration' carried out in 1910 and 1914-5, during which considerable areas of the facework were renewed, including the greater part of the E wall, the NE and SE angles, and the entire upper portion of the S wall. The doorway at the centrre of the E wall, by which the hall-house is now entered, was formed during the restoration, but evidently supersedes an earlier opening in the same position. There may also have been a separate first-floor entrance, but no traces of such now survive.

The disposition of the outbuildings is shown on plan. 'L' appears to have been a barn with an attached corn-drying kiln, while 'P' may have been a boat-house.

Little is known of the early history of the castle. Stylistic considerations suggest that the hall-house was erected in or about the second half of the 13th century. It was probably abandoned in or before the end of the 17th century. Thereafter it appears to have stood derelict until 1873, when the walls of the hall-house were re-pointed.

D MacGibbon and T Ross 1887-92; P Gaskell 1968; RCAHMS 1980, visited 1973.

The remains of Ardtornish Castle and other buildings, which are presumably later, are generally as described.

Visited by OS (NKB) 16 June 1970.

Ardtornish Castle, 2.2km NE of Lochaline. Prominently sited stronghold placed on a steep promontory jutting into the Sound of Mull. The house appears to be late 13th century, a rectangle c. 17.2m by 8.8m, constructed of basalt blocks brought to rough courses by flat pinnings.

J Gifford 1992.


Aerial Photography (6 March 2005)

Photographed by J S Bone, 6 March 2005.

Fabric Recording (1 April 2015 - March 2016)

NM 69190 42650 (Canmore ID: 22449) The ScottishMedieval Castles and Chapels C14 Project (SMCCCP) is a nationwide buildings archaeology project investigating the archaeological potential of building materials surviving within upstanding medieval structures. The SMCCCP combines the survey and analysis of medieval buildings and environments, with the analysis and radiocarbon dating of surviving building materials. The project seeks to constrain building chronologies, and investigate the technical conversion and palaeoenvironmental potential of source materials. This work was undertaken 1 April 2015 – March 2016.

The upstanding masonry of Ardtornish Castle was analysed and a number of building and environmental materials recorded and sampled. These materials are undergoing further analysis and, where appropriate, will be AMS radiocarbon dated.

Archive: National Record of the Historic Environment (NRHE) intended

Funder: Historic Scotland

Mark Thacker - University of Edinburgh

(Source: DES, Volume 16)


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