Two castles for the price of one
On a narrow tongue of land projecting into Loch Ranza stands lonely Lochranza Castle. It is an unexpectedly fascinating building.
Outwardly, it looks like a typical, late-medieval tower house, with room piled upon room in a style familiar from many other parts of Scotland. On closer inspection, we find that the tower house has been ingeniously contrived out of a much earlier, more modestly sized medieval structure known as a hall house.
Hall houses are rare – though it is possible that many more of them were built than now survive. Many may simply have been demolished. A few seem to have been incorporated into later constructions. They include those at Lochranza and Skipness
, across the Kilbrannon Sound in Knapdale.
Castle one: the hall house
The hall house was two storeys high beneath battlements. The lord’s lodging was on the upper floor, above a ground-floor storage area. There were two entrances.
The one at ground level in the south wall was the ‘tradesmen’s entrance’. It was protected by two doors with a ‘murder hole’ directly above. The second, the ‘front door’, was at a higher level in the east wall. It was probably originally reached by a ladder that could be hauled up when trouble threatened. It led into the single stair that rose through the building. Three more barriers up that stair show how much the lord valued security.
So who was the lord? He was probably the same man who built the hall house at Skipness. In 1261, Skipness was the property of Dougall MacSween, lord of Knapdale and son of Suibhne (Sven) ‘the Red’. Dougall’s main seat was awesome Castle Sween
It is tempting to see Lochranza and Skipness providing secure bases for him on either side of the Kilbrannan Sound at a time of growing tension between Scotland and Norway over control of Argyll and the Isles.
Castle two: the tower house
The conversion from hall house to tower house was a single, conscious act some time in the later 1500s. It resulted in the building effectively being ‘turned around’. Whereas the MacSweens had entered from the seaward side, the new lord had his entrance facing the land. He also planted it firmly at ground level.
Who was this new lord? It was probably one of the Montgomeries, earls of Eglinton, who held this part of Arran throughout the 1500s. The Montgomeries were thoroughly Scottish, with roots firmly across the Firth of Clyde on the mainland.
- The location – on Arran’s north coast with views across Kilbrannan Sound to Argyll.
- The hall house – have fun working out what features belong to the original castle.
- The ‘pit’ – stoop low into the gloom of a typical Scottish castle prison.