A fairytale castle
Rowallan has the appearance of a fairytale castle. Set in rolling Ayrshire parkland, it is a captivating sight from across the Carmel Burn. This charming building has two pretty round towers topped by pyramidal roofs, flanking an entrance reached up a flight of stone steps. The interiors add to the charm.
This hidden architectural gem was the home of the Mures of Rowallan for upwards of 400 years, from the 1300s to the 1700s. However, the site has recently been shown to hold evidence from much earlier times.
An ancient place
Archaeologists excavating in the 1990s made a dramatic discovery. Beneath the tower house on the hillock at the heart of the medieval castle they found a 4,000-year-old burial pit. Inside was an urn filled with cremated bone.
This shows that the site was an important place for the local Bronze Age farmers. Their cremation cemetery was subsequently covered by successive timber buildings, dating from the Iron Age, over 2,000 years ago.
The Mures of Rowallan
Fast forward to the later 1200s, and we find Rowallan in the possession of the Mure family. Their standing in society was given a substantial boost when, in 1336, Elizabeth Mure married Robert Stewart, son of Robert Bruce’s sister Marjorie.
Robert Stewart became King Robert II in 1371. The oldest surviving part of the castle, a stone tower house, was probably built around that time. The builder may have been Sir Adam Mure of Rowallan, kinsman of the future King Robert III.
Subsequent Mures extended and embellished Sir Adam’s tower. The hall range along the west side of the courtyard seems to have been begun by John Mure, who died alongside his king, James IV, on the battlefield of Flodden (1513).
John’s son Mungo followed in his father’s footsteps, both in completing the hall range and in dying in battle for his king – at the Battle of Pinkie
The enchanting entrance front was the handiwork of Mungo’s son, Sir John Mure, who helpfully inscribed his work with the date 1562. Following further alterations in the 1600s, including substantial internal improvements, the lordly use of the castle finally came to an end around 1700.
This followed the marriage of the Mure heiress to another Ayrshire magnate, Campbell of Loudon.
One of Rowallan’s delights is the presence of precious internal fixtures and fittings. Whereas many Scottish medieval castles are roofless and ruined, Rowallan has remained roofed and largely intact.
Among the features of interest are its intriguing kitchen, complete with hidden well, and a bedchamber complete with intact bed-press. Another attraction is the family dining room, which still retains its timber entrance screen and fragments of panelling, dating from the 1600s.
Standing in the long gallery, gazing out upon the Ayrshire countryside, one can almost hear the haunting sound of The Gypsies’ Lilt, arranged by William Mure in the 1620s. In Mure’s words, these tunes were ‘for kissing, for clapping, for loving’.
This conjures up a time of refinement and peace, far removed from the battlefield deaths of the Mure lairds just a century earlier.
- The castle’s situation – set amid a designed landscape, Rowallan has one of the most attractive settings enjoyed by any castle in Scotland.
- The main façade – a bewitching entrance front; a palace in miniature.
- The interiors – these still retain some of their timber panelling and other fixtures.
- The lute music – listen to recordings from the now-famous Rowallan Lute Books as you gaze out over the Ayrshire countryside.