May 5, 2024

A Day for Abbeys and Castles

This was a most amazing day! After our frustrating journey to Tarbert and a good night’s sleep we made our way to Campbelltown and then started up the coast to Saddell Abbey,  a ruined Cistercian monastery located in western Scotland not far from Campbelltown. The abbey was established in 1160 by Somerled, who founded the dynasty that was to become the Lords the Isles.  He was Lord of Kintyre, and was killed in 1164. The abbey was completed by his son, Ragnall, a few years later.  It is a most beautiful and peaceful setting in the woods with a tiny village surrounding it.  Again, walking in the footsteps of the Lords of the Isles we could feel their presence.  There is an excellent collection of medieval grave slabs at Saddell that are kept out of the elements by a modern structure open on all sides.  

From Saddell Abbey we headed up to Skipness Castle, a major stronghold for the MacDonalds, Lords of the Isles. Skipness Castle was begun in the early 1200s, probably by the MacSween family. It was acquired by the Stewart earls of Mentieth in 1262. It passed into the hands of the MacDonalds in 1325 and was held by the Lords of the Isles until the late 1400’s.  Skipness Castle stands on the east side of the Kintyre peninsula in Scotland, near the village of Skipness.

Our next stop was Castle Sween and what a grand adventure it was trying to find it!  It was a rainy and very foggy day which made navigation a bit challenging – even more so when the GPS could no longer find us!  Castle Sween is thought to be the oldest castle on the Scottish mainland that we can date with any certainty. Architectural details show it was built in the 1100s and occupied for about 500 years. Driving along a very narrow, single track road we wound our way down the peninsula, making an unplanned detour through a tiny hamlet because we missed the small, faded sign pointing to the road we should have taken.  After what seemed like forever we came to the castle entrance but had to park and walk about 3/4 of a mile to the castle.  Much to our surprise, the castle grounds are a huge holiday park with probably 50 trailers.  It kind of ruined the atmosphere of the castle but there it was sitting on a small ridge on the eastern shore of Loch Sween in Knapdale.   Although in near ruin it is an impressive structure and in the fog had a shrouded mystery about it. To its west is a small islet cleared to act as a boat landing, showing the vital importance of the sea as a major transport link. In the late 1300s, the castle passed to the MacDonald Lords of the Isles, and several families served as keepers. In 1481 James III of Scotland, fearful of the MacDonalds’ treachery, entrusted the castle to the Campbell earls of Argyll. The castle was destroyed by Sir Alexander MacDonald in 1647. (Historic Environment Scotland)