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Kerrera, Gylen Castle

Tower House (Medieval)

Site Name Kerrera, Gylen Castle

Classification Tower House (Medieval)

Alternative Name(s) Gylem Castle

Canmore ID 22936

Site Number NM82NW 1

NGR NM 80538 26495

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Argyll And Bute
  • Parish Kilmore And Kilbride
  • Former Region Strathclyde
  • Former District Argyll And Bute
  • Former County Argyll

Archaeology Notes

NM82NW 1 80538 26495.

(NM 8053 2648) Gylen Castle (NR)

OS 1:10,000map. (1976)

Now roofless and ruinous, Gylen Castle occupies the full width of the SW extremity of a high, rocky peninsula at the southern tip of the island of Kerrera. Probably completed in 1582, it was a stronghold of the MacDougalls and was strategically situated to command the southern approaches to Oban by the narrow Sound of Kerrera. Built to the popular L-plan, it consists of a main block, four storeys high and measuring 6.4m square, with a stair tower 3.7m by 2.8m at the west angle. The main walls of the castle are provided with the usual defensive machicolations, small windows, shot holes and splayed gun-loops.

The entrance has a defended approach. This forework consists of two parallel, loop-holed walls each about 0.9m in thickness and now standing to a maximum internal height of about 2.0m. It leads, through a vaulted passage to a small, level courtyard bounded by precipitous rock faces. North-east of the tower, the outer bailey measures 48 metres NE-SW by 18 metres transversely, but the wall which formerly enclosed it survives only as a low, turf-covered mound. In the SW part of the bailey are the turf-covered remains of a small, rectangular building measuring 10m by 5m overall. The castle was beseiged and burned by General Leslie in 1647 and was probably never re-ocuppied thereafter.

D MacGibbon and T Ross 1887; N Tranter 1969-70; RCAHMS 1975, visited 1971.

As described. See Illustration Card.

Surveyed at 1:2500.

Visited by OS (D W R) 26 August 1971.

NM 805 264 Repairs to the wall-heads of Gylen Castle (NMRS NM82NW 1) were monitored, followed by limited excavation.

Monitoring revealed much dramatic evidence for the demise of the 1582 tower house in the siege of 1647 where the MacDougalls of Dunollie were defeated by a Covenanting force under Montgomery and Argyll. The tower was subsequently sacked and burnt as can clearly be seen from the fire-damaged interior stonework. Destruction deposits were revealed immediately below topsoil on all horizontal surfaces at the wall-heads. Within the NW bartizan the remains of the collapsed slated roof were recorded, many of the slates fire-reddened, and overlying a substantial carbon deposit containing carbonised roof timbers and quantities of straw. Within the cap-house remains of carbonised floorboards were found in situ, overlain by fallen slates and wall plaster. An assemblage of burnt or fire-singed bone would appear to represent the provisions of the defenders.

Details of the roof structure of the tower included the junction of sole piece, ashlar piece and rafter surviving as impressions within the surrounding mortar of the S wall and as voids within the masonry of the N wall. Fragments of a fire-shattered dormer pediment displayed relief-carved lettering and a thistle. Three carved stones removed from the castle at the turn of the century were collectively identified as elements of a single dormer pediment surmounted by a bearded male figure with ruff collar. This may have formed the terminus for the prospect window above the entrance pend on the N side of the tower.

A report will be lodged with the NMRS.

Sponsors: Historic Scotland, private client.

T Addyman 1998

NM 8052 2647 Building recording was undertaken on the exterior N, W and S walls of Gylen Castle in advance of repairs. A detailed resurvey of the oriel window was undertaken. While essentially a structure of a single phase (c 1582), the extent of an earlier repair programme was defined for the new areas recorded.

An evaluation trench was excavated in the principal interior first-floor chamber. This ran E-W from within the fireplace on the E wall. The purpose of the trench was to assess whether archaeological deposits relating to the destruction of the tower in 1647 remained within. It was discovered that, despite a build-up of some 0.5m of material within, the tower interior had been cleared and partly refilled in the 19th century. A small strip of silver foil was recovered that displayed the engraved copper-plate initials, 'A J McD.', dated to the time of the clearance (assay mark illegible). Part of a fire-reddened schist whetstone was the only residual find from the period of destruction.

Various stones cut from the castle were identified, built into the floor of the cow byre of the nearby Lower Gylen farm steading. These include keys from one of the two turnpike stairs, one still displaying a quirked newel.

Sponsor: Historic Scotland

T Addyman 2001

NM 805 264 A full topographic and geophysical survey was carried out by GUARD in February 2002 of Gylen Castle and the nearby clachan immediately to the N to investigate the nature and history of the monument in its landscape (see also DES 2001, 21).

Merging the data from the two surveys indicates that sub-surface structures survive within the bailey ramparts. Structures along the inner side of the rampart and what may be a large structure within the central northern part of the fortified area were visible in the geophysical survey area. It is possible that some of these remains, including the earthen ramparts, pre-date the existing 1580s tower house.

Archive to be deposited in the NMRS.

Sponsors: HS, Dunollie/Gylen Preservation Trust.

D Connolly 2002.

NM 805 264 A watching brief was conducted on the excavation of spoil from the first floor of Gylen Castle (NM82NW 1) in August 2005. Test trenches were sunk into the first floor spoil, revealing disturbance of spoil since the 1647 destruction, and the floor slabs beneath. The excavation of the rest of the first floor spoil was monitored and a mid-17th-century copper turner coin with the letters 'NEMO' and part of a thistle visible was discovered on the slabs. This ties in well with the 1647 destruction date.

Archive to be deposited in NMRS.

Sponsor: MacDougall Preservation Trust.

C Muirhead 2005


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