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Skipness Castle

Overview

If you are passing through Claonaig on the way to / from Arran then it is worth taking this short detour north from the ferry terminal. The single track road to Skipness has quite a few pot holes, but it only takes ~10 mins to drive up to Skipness village from Claonaig ferry terminal.

Skipness Castle is impressive as it has managed to survive for more than seven centuries in a surprisingly intact state. The building has gone through 3 distinct phases of constructio. The first was during the 1200's when this part of Scotland was under the rule of Norway and Clan MacSween were the family to be reckoned with. After the Battle of Largs (1263), when the Norwegians took a pasting from the Scots, Skipness Castle fell under the control of the MacDonalds who were builing their empire and notoriety as the "Lord of the Isles". The MacDonalds built up the fortifications of Skipness Castle and it was during their rule that the impressive outer wall was established.

The Lord of the Isles then got a bit too powerful for their own good and started to have disputes with the King of Scotland who set about bringing them down a peg or two. This resulted in Skipness Castle coming under the control of the MacDonalds main rivals, the Campbells. Thanks to the Campbells, we now have the most interesting part of the castle and that is the tower house which was extended upwards by them in 1500's. Interestingly, the tower house remained in use as servants' accommodation up until the 1800's when the Campbell family moved into their more comfortable country house next door.

The tower house has been partially restored with floors and a wooden staircase that takes you up through the several interior levels to a spiral staircase that leads out onto the parapet of the tower. From here you get great views over the Kilbrannan Sound towards the mountains of Arran and you can distinguish Lochranza village on Arran where the MacSweens built another castle to ensure their control of movements through the Kilbrannan Sound.

If you are interested in ghosts, Skipness has a legend of a helpful ghost who takes the form of a small child dressed in green. In Scottish mythology, the correct term for such a spirit is a "Graugach" and they are a type of fairy that likes to help doing chores. Traditionally, gifts of food would be left aside for the resident gruagach to ensure that cows would keep milking and hens would lay eggs. 

Just a few hundred metres from the castle heading towards the shore, is the Chapel of St Brendan (also known as Kilbrannan Chapel) which the MacDonalds built to replace the chapel of St Columba that was originally within the castle walls. The chapel displays some very fine stone masonry, but years of weathering have dulled the detail. It is quite amazing that some of the stone arch windows still stand as the gaps in the  masonry have been opened up by the effects of centuries of erosion.

Address:

Skipness, Argyll, PA29 6UX

Operated by:

Historic Environment Scotland

Opening Hours:

Unattended and always open to public, but the tower section of the castle is only open during April to September (9:30am - 5:30pm, last entry 5pm)

Admission:

Free

Parking:

Yes

Languages:

Information boards in English

Accessibility:

A tarmac road leads up to the castle, but the arae around the castle is all grass so not really suitable for wheelchair users, but the ground is relatively flat. Access to the tower house is by several flights of stairs.

Toilets:

No

Shop:

No

Cafe/Restaurant:

No, but the Seafood Cabin Snack Bar is just next door.

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