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Kenmure Castle

Castle (Medieval), Moat (Medieval)(Possible), Sundial (17th Century) (1623)

Site Name Kenmure Castle

Classification Castle (Medieval), Moat (Medieval)(Possible), Sundial (17th Century) (1623)

Alternative Name(s) Kenmore Castle

Canmore ID 64213

Site Number NX67NW 4

NGR NX 63535 76391

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


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

  • Council Dumfries And Galloway
  • Parish Kells
  • Former Region Dumfries And Galloway
  • Former District Stewartry
  • Former County Kirkcudbrightshire

Archaeology Notes

NX67NW 4 63535 76391.

(NX 6353 7640) Kenmure Castle (NR).

OS 6" map (1968)

Still a fine mansion in 1935, Kenmure Castle has been a roofless shell since at least 1960. The castle was originally of the 'courtyard' plan consisting of west and south ranges, three storeys and an attic in height, with a high enclosing wall on the north and east and an arched gateway in the north wall. There were towers at the NW and NE angles. The latter with the harled west and south ranges remain to gable height. Though the castle was in ruins by 1790 (F Grose 1790), it was completely remodelled in the 19th century much of its archaic character being destroyed. The NE tower and the courtyard walls were demolished as were most of the outer defences which Grose's view shows to have consisted of a wide moat with three internal ramparts on the north. Traces of the moat are still visible on the west.

The castle occupies the flat summit of an artificial-looking knoll on which, however, rock is exposed on the south. The site is said to have been occupied by a fortress of the Lords of Galloway and John Balliol is said to have been born here in 1249. The property belonged to the Gordons from 1297 and a heraldic panel bearing their arms surmounts the south door. While it is possible that a portion of the present building may be 16th century,the greater part is 17th century. Part of an incised cross-slab lay beside the door in 1911; and a font was preserved in the garden in 1887. A large slate sundial made in 1623, which originally stood in the gardens was donated to Dumfries Museum c1967.

D MacGibbon and T Ross 1892; RCAHMS 1914, visited 1911; M Harper 1908; J R Walker 1887; N Tranter 1965; MoW 1960; J Williams 1967

The roofless ruin of Kenmure Castle (name verified by J Chalmers of New Galloway) is completely gutted and in a state of decay. The external detail has been obscured by harling but internally much of the pre-19th century stonework, including four vaulted cellars, can be identified. There have been additions to both the NW corner and the south face since the plan of 1892 but there is no evidence of any other earlier structures. The knoll has been extensively landscaped, the large part of which was presumably carried-out during the 19th century remodelling. The only evidence of Grose's "wide moat" is a rectangular basin, 65.0m N to S by 55.0m, on the west. This however seems more likely to be a landscape feature than a defensive moat. The remainder of the hill is surrounded by marshy flood-plain that was almost certainly under water at one time.

A large slate sundial from Kenmure Castle and bearing the date 1623 is in Dumfries Museum.

Surveyed at 1:2500.

Visited by OS (BS) 27 May 1977.

Architecture Notes

NX67NW 4 63535 76391

NX67NW 9 6339 7644 Icehouse

NMRS REFERENCE Medium size. Seventeenth Century (extended). Traditional style (Scottish). Derelict.



1 engraving: Earnock Manuscripts, II, 7.


Photographic Survey (November 1959)

Photographic survey by the Scottish National Buildings Record in November 1959.

Note (5 July 2022)

The site of the Castle is traditionally said to have been occupied by the Lord of Galloway from as early as the 12th century. However, although it is a naturally strong site with the steep sides of the rocky knoll having been surrounded by marsh, there is no evidence to support that view. A castle was first firmly recorded on the site in 1517 although there may have been a residence here from the mid-15th century, when Kenmure appears to have become the principal residence of the Gordons of Lochinvar.

In 1568 the castle was besieged and apparently completely destroyed by the forces of the Regent Moray because of Sir John Gordon of Lochinvar's support of Mary, Queen of Scots. The castle was then rebuilt by Sir John, but was again damaged by Cromwellian forces in 1650. The appearance of the castle was recorded by Francis Grose in 1790, and it was also painted by Alexander Nasmyth; these are of great value for showing the castle before the extensive modifications at several dates in the course of the 19th century. After a period as a hotel in the late 1940s, in the early 1950s the roof was removed and the interior gutted.

Kenmure Castle occupies the flat summit of a recontoured knoll near the head of Loch Ken; it was the seat of the Gordons of Lochinvar, later the Viscounts of Kenmure.

The castle was initially built around a courtyard, with a principal range of three storeys and a garret extending along the west side, and with a high enclosing wall on the other sides. The main gateway was in the north wall. There were towers at the north-west and north-east angles. In the 17th century the west range was remodelled and a new south range was possibly built, which may have incorporated earlier work. In about 1740 there were plans for completely rebuilding the castle to the designs of William Adam. But it was as a result of at least three phases of remodelling in the 19th century that the castle's architectural character was greatly modified. In the course of these works, the north-west tower and the courtyard walls were demolished and the underlying knoll was landscaped, sweeping away terracing and creating a new driveway up to the castle. Amongst the architects responsible for these changes were William McCandlish, in the 1840s, and Hugh Maclure in the 1860s.

The west and south ranges survive to full height. However, a great deal of the external detail has been obscured by the later harled finish, and it is only internally that much of the pre-19th century fabric, including four vaulted cellars, can be identified. The prominent detailing of the west range includes rope-moulded stringcourses that become hood mouldings as they extend around the windows. Within the south range is a great deal of 19th century work, albeit with extensive re-use of earlier stonework.

J Gifford 1996; A M T Maxwell-Irving 2000; D MacGibbon and T Ross 1887

Information from the HES Castle Conservation Register, 5 July 2022


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