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Dunoon Castle

Castle (Medieval)

Site Name Dunoon Castle

Classification Castle (Medieval)

Canmore ID 40729

Site Number NS17NE 1

NGR NS 17509 76383

NGR Description Centred on NS 17509 76383

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


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

  • Council Argyll And Bute
  • Parish Dunoon And Kilmun
  • Former Region Strathclyde
  • Former District Argyll And Bute
  • Former County Argyll

Archaeology Notes

NS17NE 1 Centred on NS 17509 76383

(NS 1751 7637) Dunoon Castle (NR) (Remains of).

OS 6" map (1946)

Dunoon Castle, extant in the 12th century and allegedly so in the 6th, stood on a cone-shaped hill more than 80 feet high. It was a royal residence in the 14th century, and in the 17th century it fell into ruins.

It apparently consisted of three strong circular towers arranged in a triangle but only the foundations (14/15th century) of some of the pillars which supported the roof remain.

W Inglis 1895

Dunoon castle stands on a partly artificial motte.

E S Armitage 1912

The remains of Dunoon Castle are scant. The best preserved portion remaining is to the SW where there is a passageway 1.7m wide. The outer wall of this passage is 8.8m long and 1.6m thick, while the inner wall has a height of c.4.0m. The flat-topped mound on which the castle stood contains footings of wartime structures, and a modern geographical indicator.

Visited by OS (EGC) 14 March 1963

No change.

Visited by OS (IA) 8 March 1973


External Reference (28 August 1980)

14th Century Mediaeval fortress, now in ruins. Once it had 3

towers; now some of the foundations and fragments of a spiral

stair are all that remain. Rubble.

Groome's Gazetteer O.S.A. N.S.A. T.S.A. J. Jamieson "Royal

Palaces of Scotland" 1840 (engraving)

Built as a royal castle. Gifts to Earl of Argyll in 1471.

Fallen into decay c.

Scheduled Ancient Monument.

Information from Historic Scotland, 28 August 1980

Field Visit (September 1988)

The ruins of this castle occupy the summit of a rocky mound some 27m in height, at the seaward (SE) end of a low promontory commanding the narrowest part of the Firth of Clyde. From at least as early as the 17th century the ferry situated in East Bay, about 350m to the N, was one of the principal means of access to Argyll from the Lowlands, while a small boat-landing, formerly known as Castle Port, lay to the SE of Castle Hill. Although the SE base of the mound comes to within 40m of the present shore, however, it is separated from it by a road whose precursor was described in 1540 as the 'hey (high) gait betwix the castell and the sey'. At that date there were a few houses to the SW of the castle, between the 'gret wall' and the 'constable's acre', but later sources indicate that the early village of Dunoon lay around and N of the parish church (No. 30), on higher ground 250mto the NNW (en.1*).

The mound upon which the castle stands, although natural in origin, appears to have been artificially scarped in places to improve its defensive qualities, and there are some indications on the NW side of what may have been a ditch separating the Castle Hill from the adjacent area of raised ground, now occupied by Castle House (No. 157) and Castle Gardens, which may originally have formed a bailey. The visible remains, which are fragmentary, comprise portions of a curtain-wall revetting and enclosing a roughly oblong summit-area measuring about 26m from NW to SE by 18m. Close to the Wand lower most angle of the enclosure there is an entrance-gateway from which a passage appears to have led SE for about 8m before returning NE and ascending to the summit.

Much of the curtain-wall has been rebuilt or refaced in modern times, but it appears originally to have had an average width of about 1.3m, and where best preserved rises to a height of 2.5m. The masonry adjacent to the entrance gateway incorporates a number of dressings of coarse-grained purple-brown sandstone, of local origin. The gateway itself, which has a width of 1.8m, may formerly have been surmounted by the roll-moulded lintel of 16th-century character that now serves as a threshold. The summit of the mound incorporates the brick and concrete foundations of several comparatively recent buildings, as well as a modern flag-pole and direction-indicator, and the only visible remains that seem likely to be of early date are· two small areas of stone footing near the N angle. Access is by a series of modern paths and flights of steps which use the original entrance-passage at the Wand modern gaps in the curtain wall to the E and N. The castle well, indicated on a plan of 1824, lay about 60m NW of the mound, immediately beside the roadway that formerly led to the village.

Dunoon Castle existed in the second quarter of the 13th century when John, 'constabularius de Dunnon', witnessed a charter in association with Waiter Stewart. It is not certain whether the castle belonged to the crown or the Stewart family before the latter succeeded to the crown in 1371 (en.2). The plan of the curtain-wall suggests that the building may belong to the group of early stone castles termed 'simple rectangular castles of enclosure', several of which are of 13th century date (en.3*), but without archaeological excavation this must remain a hypothesis. The castle was surrendered to Edward Balliol in 1334, but recaptured for David II in the same year by Sir Colin Campbell and Robert Stewart, who besieged it with their 'engines of war'.4 Thereafter there are no significant references to it until 1446, after which annual payments equal to the rents of the adjacent crown lands were allowed from the royal exchequer, 'for custody of the tower', to successive constables including William Turnbull, Bishop of Glasgow, from 1451 to 1454, and George Lauder, Bishop of Argyll, from 1455 to 1460. Lauder held the crown rents for life, by an indenture which stipulated that he should garrison the castle and keep it in repair, and Colin, 1st Earl of Argyll, received a similar grant in 1460 or 1461, while in 1469 James III gave an undertaking to reimburse him for any expenses incurred in repairing the castle. In 1473 the earl received a royal charter granting the hereditary custody of the castle, with power to appoint constables, janitors, jailers, guards and watchmen, for a rent of one red rose (en.5). The grant included the twenty seven merklands of 'Bordland', defined in a charter of 1571 as including the 'Castell aiker' and the town of Dunoon, with the widely-dispersed townships of Innellan, 'Garrarif’, Kilbride, Auchmoir, Dunioskin, Ardnadam and Finbracken (en.6*).

Thereafter the royal grant was confirmed to successive earls of Argyll, and charter dates indicate that they made regular use of the castle, while a sheriff court was held 'on the hill of the castle of Dunoon' in 1540. In 1544 a garrison commanded by the 4th Earl fired upon an English fleet led by the Earl of Lennox, but was unable to prevent an attack in which the town was burned. In 1563 Queen Mary spent two nights at Dunoon after her visit to Inveraray (en.7*). The keepership of the castle, with the lands of Bordland and others, had been granted in 1550 by Archibald, master of Argyll, to Colin Campbell of Ardkinglas for the service of two boats, Archibald undertaking to maintain the building. In 1571 as 5th earl, for the service of a ten-oared boat, he granted a feu-charter of the 'castell aiker' with the office of baillie of the lands of Bordland to Archibald Campbell, 'captain of the castle of Dunoon', a cadet of the Ardkinglas family and founder of the Campbell family of Innellan and Dunoon (en.8).

The castle was depicted on Pont's map of about 1590 as a conventional tower, and an early 17th-century description referred to its former importance as a royal residence (en.9), but it does not appear to have been used after about 1650, when the captains of Dunoon built their house at Innellan (No. 164).The building was evidently plundered for building-stone, and little appears to have been visible before James Ewing, owner of Castle House, exposed some of the walls in the 1820s. His attempt to enclose the Castle Hill, and encroachment on adjacent common ground, however, were fiercely resisted by local residents, and the excavations were abandoned (en.10). The 8th Duke of Argyll in 1896 recognised that the Campbells of Dunoon 'have become the practical owners of the castle', and in 1924 their heirs feued it to Dunoon Burgh Council, which incorporated the site in the adjacent Castle Gardens (en.11). A bronze statue of Mary Camp bell (Burns's 'Highland Mary') was erected on the E slope of the mound in 1896, and a memorial commemorating the nearby Lamont massacre of1646 was built a short distance to the W in 1906.

RCAHMS 1992, visited September 1988


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