Exploring Kintyres Heritage
Skipness Castle Glenbarr Abbey Saddell Castle
Skipness Castle Glenbarr Abbey Saddell Castle

Heritage Centres, Castles, Abbeys, Chapels, Medieval Grave Slabs, Iron Age Forts, Galleried Duns and even St Columba's Footprints! Here are but a few of the cornerstones of Kintyre's rich and varied heritage.

Skipness Castle, one of the most magnificent buildings in Argyll, dates back to the 13th century when it was built in the style of a courtyard surrounding a keep. Skipness Castle guards the northern entrance to Kilbrannan Sound, the seaway between Kintyre and Arran and its most impressive feature is probably the 2 storey gatehouse with portcullis chamber. The Castle was abandoned late in the 17th century and became used as farm buildings. Today it is owned by Historic Scotland and is well worth a visit. Unfortunately there is no car parking at the castle so visitors are faced with a ten minute stroll along what is effectively the entrance drive to Skipness House, a private residence. The Seafood Cabin, part of the Sea Food Trail is located close to the Castle as is a good opportunity to sample local delicacies.

Tarbert Royal Castle, the imposing ruins on the hill above the harbour, was a 13th century stronghold which was greatly extended by Robert the Bruce in the 14th century. At one time ranking in importance with Scotland's best-known strongholds, today only the grass covered outlines of the perimeter wall built by Robert the Bruce can be seen, while the two ivy covered walls of the keep built by James IV still stand to their original height. The ruins are publicly accessible via a footpath and offer superb views across Loch Fyne to the Cowal Peninsula.

Saddell Castle was built for the Bishop of Argyll in 1512 and is located just a short walk from Saddell village just over the main road. Saddell Castle came into the possession of the Campbell's, lairds of Glensaddell, who quarried stone from Saddell Abbey to build farm steadings around the base of the Castle. Part of the enclosing wall of the original Castle can be seen in the wall of one of these farm buildings. In 1774 the Campbell's built themselves a new home, Saddell House, nearby and the Castle gradually fell into disrepair. Both Saddell Castle and Saddell House are now owned by the Landmark Trust who restored the buildings as holiday accommodation and are therefore not open to the public. However, pedestrian access to the beach at Saddell Bay (which featured in the 'Mull of Kintyre' video by Wings) is allowed but cars must be left at the car park beside the gateway to the Saddell estate.

Kilbrannan Chapel located close to Skipness Castle is equally impressive and thought to date from the late 13th or early 14th century. The Chapel was dedicated to St Brendan after whom Kilbrannan Sound is named.

Saddell Abbey is said to be the burial place of Somerled, who liberated Argyll and Kintyre from Viking control, and is widely considered to be the first king of Scotland. He founded the Cistercian Abbey at Saddell but was killed in 1164 before it was finished, a task completed by his son soon after 1200. Probably the most impressive collection of late medieval grave slabs carved between 1300 and 1560 depicting armoured warriors, priests and war galleys can be found at the Abbey.

Glenbarr Abbey, the Gothic-style home of the Macalister Chieftain, dates from 1700 and contains the Clan Macalister Centre which houses a museum of Macalister family memorabilia.

Saddell Iron Age Hill Fort which dates back to before 500BC lies at the summit of Pluck Wood at the eastern side of Saddell Bay behind the holiday cottage of Port na Gael. The remains of the Fort are best visited between October and April when the vegetation is short.

Kildonan Galleried Dun is an impressive Iron Age fort located about 3 miles south of Saddell on the Campbeltown road which dates from around 200AD and is an intermediate between simple duns (fortified homesteads) and the more complex broch towers. Kildonan Dun was excavated between 1936 and 1939 and produced a wealth of finds, some of which are displayed in Campbeltown Museum. Cars can be parked at the Forestry Commission's car park at Ballochgair.

St Columba's Footprints, set in a rock close to the ruined Chapel and carved slabs at the ancient churchyard of Keil near Dunaverty, is said to mark the spot where St Columba first preached. The two footprints carved in the rock are claimed to mark his first steps ashore when he made the short crossing from Ireland, bringing Christianity to Scotland.

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Below: Skipness Castle with Kilbrannan Chapel in the background

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