Scottish Castles Association

Preserving the Past for the Future

Loch Awe's castle secrets unlocked

Loch Awe in Argyll is 25 miles long and the third largest freshwater loch in Scotland. Many isles dot its surface but are little known so, on a lovely spring day, Scottish Castles Association member Brian McGarrigle set out by boat to discover some of their secrets.

Innis Chonnell Castle

This imposing castle stands on a rocky island close to the shore at the south end of the loch. The main structure dates from the early 13th century.

Innis Chonnell Castle seen from Loch Awe

In 1308 it was held by John of Lorn on behalf of Edward II until he was forced to flee to England following his defeat at ‘The Pass of Brander’ by Robert the Bruce.

LEFT: Innis Chonnell main entrance
RIGHT: Innis Chonnell entrance to pit prison

In later years, under the Campbells, the castle served as a prison whose unfortunate inmates were lodged in a pit reached by a trapdoor. There was no ventilation, no light and no toilet.

The castle was abandoned around 1800 but remains in good condition.

Fraoch Eilean Castle

This castle lies at the north end of the loch near the Pass of Brander.

LEFT: Fraoch Eilean exterior
RIGHT: Fraoch Eilean interior

In 1267 Alexander III, King of Scotland, granted a charter to Gillechrist MacNachdan: build the castle of Fraoch Eilean at our expense and to keep it safely for our use.

What he built however, was not a castle, but a Hall House – a rectangular building consisting of an undercroft with a residential hall above. There was no vaulting, as the hall had a wooden floor supported by a central row of timber pillars. It had an open fire whose smoke exited via a louvre in the open timber roof. Above was a wall walk whose corbelled-out garderobe satisfied the needs of those on patrol. The whole would have been rendered and lime washed presenting a most attractive appearance.

Fraoch Eilean – undercroft with hall above

A hall house was primary residential but later times necessitated the addition of a strong enclosing wall. A boat house completed the picture. By 1769 Fraoch Eilean castle was abandoned to the elements.

LEFT: Fraoch Eilean – Brian's boat moored safely
RIGHT: Innishail – an early Christian Cross at the church

Innishail Church

A short distance from Fraoch Eilean, on an island of exceptional beauty, lies the 13th century Innishail Chapel which served both as the castle chapel and as the local parish church.

Innishail – looking towards the ruined church

Article by Scottish Castles Association member Brian McGarrigle.

Added: 03 Sep 2021 Updated: 16 Oct 2023
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