Gylen Castle on Kerrera Island
Gylen Castle aboard Kerrera Island
Where only ravens and pigeons now live
Soon after Zoonie’s lines were secured we wandered up to register our arrival delighted to find that that the reception was in the bar; what a brilliant idea. Our essential details were shared and discussed over a pint of local best and a delicious cake from the serve-yourself coffee corner. Straightaway I liked this place and the cake with the beer reminded me of Pete’s Café Sport on Horta Azores. We chatted with Annie and her chef hubby Keith and met Robert with whom I had made the arrangements for Zoonie’s winter berth and started feeling at home immediately.
The views from the marina look straight across the Sound of Kerrera to Oban, nestling just a short ferry ride away, and we looked forward to crossing some day soon to explore. But first things first, we needed to do lots of cleaning and odd jobs on Zoonie so we wouldn’t feel we were skiving off!
Also, our friends Jane, John and Pip were due to arrive soon and we would be spending time with them, which I was looking forward to immensely. John and I were driving instructor colleagues when we lived in Oakham and they are now in the process of moving to Scotland, so not only would we see them this year, but next year too.
We met them off the tiny, single vehicle, max 12-person ferry (it has to be one of Scotland’s nationally owned and financially chaotic, Caledonian MacBrayne’s tiniest) and did a short walk to the other side of the island before they came aboard for lunch and a celebration of their successful move north.
A couple of days later Jane did the honours, cooking a fine lunch in their mobile caravan home parked in a camp site overlooking the Sound.
Then on the 19th September we watched on the TV in the marina lounge as our Queen made her last journey to St George’s Chapel, Windsor and we decided the next day to do a long walk of discovery to lift our spirits.
There are just two farms on Kerrera and the owners of the marina, Tim and Jill (and their ‘two feral wild boys’, their words not mine) also live on and run Balliemore Farm, to the south of the island, a quad bike ride away and where Jill grew up.
There are numerous paths all over the island, some efficiently maintained by the tubby highland cattle as they wander unshod across the trails; but a very popular walk takes one for ten spectacularly beautiful miles around the south, from the ferry terminal, encompassing Balliemore Farm, a tea garden on the Gylen peninsula, and the ruined castle of the same name.
So off we set, soon joined for a short while by a mini wild cat look alike, past Balliemore farm with its well stocked shop selling locally made foods, following the signs for the castle and the encouraging notices drawing us towards the Kerrera Tea Garden, bolstered by its reputation that preceded it.
By the time we got there we were quite ready for the refreshments that awaited us, lemon drizzle and chocolate fudge cake, and cups of tea, overlooking the ocean to the south.
Then we took the track off to the castle, past the confused sheep, and spent the next hour imagining what it must have been like to live in the castle from its completion in 1582 until the resident Royalist troops, who had been imprisoned and under siege of the Covenanting Troops in 1647, surrendered. Just 65 years of occupation in this stunning location.
Otherwise known as Duncan’s Fort and the Castle of Fountains, Gylen was built in the Scottish Baronial style to the highest standards of the time (many discovered and researched in the recent restorations) by Duncan MacDougall, 16th Chief of the Clan.
Today, as always, the main entrance is through the originally arched doorway enclosed with a heavy wooden door and an inner grille held in place by a draw bar. Passing along a passage way takes us to a small rear courtyard and a vaulted storeroom on the right. The main stairway leads up to three further floors with one room on each and then a separate staircase goes up to the cap house, where Rob and I would have had our bedroom!
Each room had a big fireplace and windows on all walls, which were originally wooden framed with horizontal metal bars and upper leaded lights. In this castle the solar was on the second floor and is where I would have spent most of my time, with the children, providing some education, plus playing games and making the arrangements required to run the castle and maintain our status and position within the clan. Who am I kidding, I’d just as likely have been peeling neaps and tatties for supper down in the kitchen.
We could have been forgiven for thinking we were safe from the political and religious turmoil of the 17th century, the to-ing and fro-ing of power between the Royalist Scots, the Presbyterian politicians and their Covenanting supporters and the English Government, well documented via Google; so that if a battle was to be fought it would not reach within the confines of the castle walls, but despite the fortification of the residence there was one commodity that needed to be supplemented outside the castle, that led to its eventual downfall and that was, water or the lack of it. The name ‘castle of fountains’ must refer to springs without as well as within the walls since the lack of sufficient water indoors brought about the surrender of the clan who were then all massacred by the Covenanting Troops, all bar one, the child John MacDougall, 19th Chief of the clan. His home was then set alight, the mighty timbers of the floors and roof caved in. It has been a ruin ever since. What a tragedy.
Today the castle is protected from further decay and visited by thousands of walkers each year, but only the ravens and pigeons live there, along with passing sheep, seeking shelter in the storeroom.
Fortified by our sugary snack the rest of the walk was covered in comfort and took in views to the west, up the Sound of Mull and northwards towards Fort William and Ben Nevis, delights in store for us next year.