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Kilchurn Castle

Castle (Medieval)

Site Name Kilchurn Castle

Classification Castle (Medieval)

Alternative Name(s) Kilcairn Castle, Loch Awe

Canmore ID 23673

Site Number NN12NW 5

NGR NN 13287 27626

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
© Copyright and database right 2018.

Digital Images

Administrative Areas

  • Council Argyll And Bute
  • Parish Glenorchy And Inishail (Argyll And Bute)
  • Former Region Strathclyde
  • Former District Argyll And Bute
  • Former County Argyll

Archaeology Notes

NN12NW 5 13287 27626.

(NN 1328 2760) Kilchurn Castle (NR)

OS 1:10000 map (1977)

Kilchurn Castle stands on a low peninsula, bounded on the landward side by an artificial ditch about 4.5m wide and 0.6m deep. It comprises a series of buildings ranging in date from about the mid-15th century to about the end of the 17th century.

The earliest is a five storeyed tower house standing at the E corner of the castle, which is known to have been erected by Sir Colin Campbell, who died in 1475. Immediately SW of the tower-house there was probably a small courtyard or barmkin, enclosed by a curtain-wall wall of which considerable remains survive on the S and SE sides.

The next building to come on record is the 'laich hall', built by Sir Duncan Campbell (1475-1513). Later documentary information suggests that this structure stood against the inner face of the S curtain, where the foundations of a substantial stone building lie just beneath the turf. Sir Colin Campbell (1550-83) reconstructed the upper storey of the tower-house, and was also responsible for the erection of a building known as the 'north chalmeris', which presumably stood on the NW side of the courtyard; of this, no traces remain. It is recorded that in 1614 the laich hall, together with a kitchen that seems to have occupied the S corner of the courtyard, was rebuilt and raised to a height of two storeys, while two years later a range of buildings comprising two cellars, a loft and a chapel, were built on the SE side of the courtyard. Further extensive repairs are known to have been made to the laich hall and tower-house in 1643. About 1690-98, much of the castle was remodelled and enlarged by the construction of cylindrical angle-towers and of two range of four-storeyed barrack-blocks situated on the NW side of the courtyard.

The castle appears to have been abandoned about the mid-18th century and was unroofed in about 1770, after which the fabric deteriorated rapidly. The building appears to have been extensively patched and consolidated some time after MacGibbon and Ross made their survey (about 1887). This has led to the obliteration or alteration of a number of original features.

RCAHMS 1975, visited 1969; D MacGibbon and T Ross 1887

Kilchurn Castle is generally as described.

Visited by OS (WDJ) 4 May 1970

The domestic offices of Kilchurn Castle stood at NN 132 276. Documentary evidence shows that it had contained a stable, a peathouse, a barn, a byre and both lime and corn kilns. The site was abandoned about 1680 after partial emparkment. The remains of several buildings and a small harbour are visible.

P Hill 1976

A short programme of trial excavation was completed within the castle, in advance of new drainage within the basements of the two late 17th century barrack blocks. The causes of the present flooding were due initially to the 1690's ranges having been built outside, and consequently with basements below, the natural rocky outcrop which previously defined the fortified circuit. The measures put in places to collect and conduct storm water from the courtyard - a system of downpipes and probably a subfloor drainage channel - are now blocked and broken.

An apparently deliberate gap was left between bedrock and the basement passage wall, in order to trap water seeping beneath the courtyard facing of the barrack block. It is likely that this was linked in some way with the main drain outflow point in the basement beneath the latrines.

Some structural evidence was found of a building lying towards the NW of the 15th-century Towerhouse and which was demolished in advance of the 1690's building programme. It is possible that the section of much robbed walling referred to as the'North Chalmeris'.

Some indication of pre-15th century occupation of the site was found in terms of a mass of fire-reddened and vitrified masonry, some of it recycled as levelling material within the basement. It is therefore possible that some form of drystone rampart existed on the site which has been absorbed by the late 17th-century extensions to the castle on its N and W sides.

Sponsor: HS.

G Ewart 1993.

Architecture Notes

Argyll, Kilchurn Castle.

This site has only been partially upgraded for SCRAN. For full details, please consult the Architecture Catalogues for Argyll and Bute District.

February 1998


The South side was built at the beginning of the 16th century, and the North side, the largest and most elegant portion, was erected in 1615 by the First Earl of Breadalbane. The entire pile forms an oblong quadrangle with one corner truncated and each of the other towers flanked by round hanging turrets; it is now a roofless ruin.


The National Library of Scotland:

Vol 1, no.27, of Watercolour Sketches by Thomas Brown, Advocate, is a view of Kilchurn.

Reference 'Adv. MSS 34.8.1-3'

See under 'Water Colour Sketches, Series of, by Thomas Brown, Advocate'.


Scottish Records Office:

Repair of the Castle 'inwardlie and outwardlie' by Sir Duncan Campbell.


Late 16th c. GD 112/22/4

Repair of the Castle.

Andrews Scott of Perth, wright, reroofed the great tower and angle-turrets and repaired the Laich Hall. Receipts.

1643 GD 112/20/5

*Reconstruction of the Castle. Payments made to Andrew Chrystie, mason and to Thomas Williamson, slater. Glenorchy Rental for 1693.

1697 GD 112/9/3

*(Begun 1690 and involved alterations ot the Tower House and the South-East range. Probably the 'North Chalmeris' was removed at this time to allow reconstruction of barracks RCAHMS).

Condition of Castle Kilchurn.

Note by the Earl of Breadalbane's Commissioners that both house and furniture 'are going to decay'. The Officer of Glenorchy is instructed to make out a report on the state of the house.

1726 GD 112/9/41/ page 199

Reconstruction of the Castle.

Payment made to Andrew Chrystie, mason. Charge and discharge cropt 1694.

1695 GD 112/9/5

Reconstruction of the Castle.

Payments made to Andrew Chrystie, mason. Glenorchy Rental for 1697.

1698 GD 112/9/3

Ironwork supplied to strengthen the fabric of the Castle in the case of attack.

Windows of the lower storey were fitted with 'cross stenchers' and some of the next storey had cross barsor gratings. The Chapel and The Old Tower had already been fitted with stenchers and two irongates supplied.

1733 GD 112/40/9

Alterations to the Castle.

Payment of Andrew Chrystie, mason, for his work at the castle during 1692. Letter concerning this from Sir John Campbell of G;enorchy to Alexander Campbell of Balcardine, his chamberlain.

1693 GD 170/629/38

Alterations to the Castle.

The work of the castle is to be continued. Andrew Christie, mason, is to stay there during the winter but Sir John grudges him his food.

Letter from Sir John Campbell of Glenorchy to Alexander CAmpbell of Balcardine.

1692 GD 170/629/37

Major alterations to the Castle.

Agreements, accounts and discharges.

Master mason: Andrew Christy.

Slater: Thomas Williamson

Plasterer: John Kelly

1690-98 GD 170/203/6

Glazier work at the Castle.

Duncan Fisher writes to say that a glazier is available but first he wishes to know how much work there is to doand how many feet of glass will be needed.

Letter to Balcardine or to Andrew Christie.

1699 GD 170/661/4

Alterations to the Castle.

Wright and plasterer work.

John, Lord Glenorchy, asks Andrew Campbell of Balcardine to keep the Wrights and plasterers busy.


1699 GD 170/630/12

Repair of the Castle.

Proposed agreement with the Laird of Luss for the supply of timber.

Letter from Sir John Campbell of Glenorchy to Alexander Campbell of Balcardine, his chamberlain.

1689 GD 170/629/17A

Building work at the Castle.

Letter to Andrew Christie, mason. The Earl of Breadalbane writes that he has instructed barcaldine to dispence with the workmen except those required for burrning lime, furnishing timber and working the sawmill.

1695 GD 170/705

GD112/15 Vouchers of Factors Accounts 1643-1997

50/44 Windows with full 'diamons' 1690

57/33 Work by master mason to the Earl of Breadalbane 1694

58/6 Work by master mason to the Earl of Breadalbane 1695

63/21 Work by master mason to the Earl of Breadalbane 1696

64/12 Working at harling the walls 1696

82/6 Glasswork 1701

295/6 'make up several conveniences for the use of the garrison' 1746


Views: View by J. C. Ibbetson/x Soc Antiquities 1814. Sold Sotheby 16 & 17 Nov 1981. Print in NMRS.


NMRS Printroom/RIAS Nelson Collection

Engraved Views of Kilchurn Castle, Argyllshire. Insc: 'T. Allom. T. Barber. Kilchurn Castle. Loch Awe. -Earl of Breadalbane at Kelchorn-Castle, in Lochou, Argylshire.'


n.d. c.1838

(220 x 206)

Acc. No: 1993/89


Aerial Photography (1971)

Oblique aerial photographs of Kilchurn Castle, Argyll, taken by John Dewar in 1971.

Publication Account (1985)

At the north-eastern end of Loch Awe the impressive ruin of Kilchurn Castle is situated on a small rocky outcrop almost surrounded by the waters of the loch. Loch Awe was clearly an important route in historical times, as probably in the prehistoric period, and there are several castles along it including Fincharn (NM 898043) and Innis Chonnell (NM 976119), but the strategic importance ofKilchurn to the Campbells of Glenorchy with estates both in Loch Awe and Perthshire was considerable. The surviving remains belong to two distinct schemes of construction: a tower-house built in the middle of the 15th century by Sir Colin Campbell of Glenorchy; and the addition of ranges of barracks within a defensive scheme that had corner towers built by John, 1st Earl of Breadalbane in the last decade of the 17th century.

The tower-house, now an empty shell, has five storeys, the lowest of which is a vaulted cellar, with what was doubtless a prison on its south-east side. The main apartment was the first-floor hall, probably entered from a doorway into the courtyard by means of a wooden stair; there is also a narrow stair from the cellar. The separate staircases to the upper floors are within the angles of the walls.

One of the most dramatic features of the castle as it survives today are the dominant circular angle towers on the north and south flanks; these are the main architectural embellishments of the late 17th century barrack ranges. The barracks played their part intermittently in the military politics of the next sixty years, but the castle was struck by lightning in the 1760s and was not subsequently refurbished. The energies of the Earl of Breadalbane were devoted to his castle and estates at Taymouth in Perthshire.

Information from ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: Argyll and the Western Isles’, (1985).

Watching Brief (1 October 2008)

NN 1329 2760 A watching brief was maintained on 1 October 2008 in the basement of the tower house of the castle during the removal of soft deposits from the floor, ahead of the laying of a concrete skim. There was evidence suggesting that the N door was a later insertion and that the basement was originally accessed via another door, perhaps the SW doorway to the courtyard. Examination of the main build of the exterior NE wall of the tower provided further evidence for the later insertion of the N doorway. There was a clear cut around the inserted doorway and the masonry within it consisted of sub-rounded sandstone blocks spaced with

slivers of schist, which is comparable to the build of the late 17th-century barracks abutting the tower to the NW.

Archive: RCAHMS (intended)

Funder: Historic Scotland

Paul Fox – Kirkdale Archaeology

Information from OASIS ID: kirkdale1-249683


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