Sunday, 13 July 2014

Castles Home and Away: Part Three

The ruins of Kilchurn Castle (dating from the early 15th century) on the banks of Loch Awe is one of the iconic images of Scotland. It turned out that Kilchurn was on our route to Castle Stalker, so I was able to see one of my favourite castles in the flesh for the first time. Kilchurn in reality is impressive and far larger than the photos suggest, but it is no longer one of my favourite castles for rather complex reasons that I'll conclude on!

Andrew and I failed to find Kilchurn initially, but bumped into some American tourists at St. Conan's Chapel who had already been and were able to give us directions. No wonder we missed it, it is not sign-posted at all and is only visible from the road in fleeting glimpses if you know what you are looking for. Historic Scotland should do better than this: it is an international tourist attraction and a worthy one at that.

The approach is a rather long walk on a single path crossing marsh-land. The defensive advantage is clear. I was determined not to take photos as the building is incredibly photogenic, and others have taken pictures a million times better than my smart phone snaps would ever be. However, I did take some panoramas and angles, just to fix the building and landscape in my memory. The castle in its landscape seems to suit the panorama, and I was delighted by the moody effects achieved with little effort and cheap technology. The broken ruined skyline of Kilchurn is so beautiful,  it was the only castle I thought should not be restored. 

Now having visited, I feel I was wrong. Accommodation inside the building should be restored, there are vast internal spaces which could be brought back to life at the lower levels without disturbing the skyline. On the day I visited, the upper part of the keep's interior was closed off due to health and safety, so we missed the views from the castle and the majority of the keep's accommodation. This is typical of the disappointment on visiting most Scottish castles - there are ruined walls a plenty, but few interior spaces, and those that do exist are not floored or furnished. So the typical tourist gets an impoverished feel for the building as it was. Reusing parts of the building would make it a much more positive experience, and in no way destroy the romance of a ruin. Kilchurn is not the small quaint building I thought it was, it is a vast palace of sufficient scale that it does not suit the ruination in the same way that a smaller scale castle could.

Loch Awe: looking east

Loch Awe: looking west

Andrew: looking down

me: looking down

west elevation

north elevation

east elevation - leaving the castle behind us

the building is bigger than you might think!

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