It’s hard to plan things to do when you know it’s going to be raining and probably windy… even tougher when that has been the weather in Scotland for most of the last few weeks.
One of the castles that I’ve really wanted to visit was Castle Campbell – AKA Castle Gloom; the pictures that show up in the guide books and calendars are so phenomenal and really peaked my interest. And since those who wait for perfect weather never go anywhere I decided to make the trip this past Saturday.
The castle overlooks the village of Dollar in Clackmannanshire – about half way between Stirling and St Andrews. It’s a very rural county and Dollar is a very small village (not near the motorway) so I had to first go to Stirling by train and then catch a bus.
I had read that the castle was about a forty minute walk from the town and was located in a large Glen – this location is why it is considered one of the most scenic in Scotland. But I found out that this was one castle that you really had to work for. In reality, the castle is barely visible from Dollar. The thick covering of trees that make up the Glen means you can only see the very top of it and only if your view is not otherwise obstructed, which was rare.
In a situation that is not unique in a country with so many castles (and such a love of golf), the castle provides a stunning backdrop for the local golf course. This was pretty easy to see from the trail that I was following up the hill.
They say it’s supposed to be more about the journey than the destination, and this trip was a great example of that. I easily enjoyed the Glen and the network of trails surrounding the castle more than the castle itself.
The path up the hill was steep, narrow, and winding – any open clearings were covered in bluebells. Every castle needs a nearby source of fresh water and the stream that winds through the glen had dozens of spectacular waterfalls. The thick covering of trees also kept me mostly sheltered from the rain and wind that was pretty constant through most of the hike. I stopped for a few a photos so it took about 45 minutes to walk all the way up to the castle.
Clan Campbell is one of the biggest and probably the most famous Scottish clan. Their power came from their powerful fleet and ability to choose the winning side to almost any conflict. However, they were traditionally based around Argyll and a few of the islands. The castle was built in the 15th century originally by the Stewart’s but would provide an eastern power base for the Campbell’s when it passed to them by marriage. The powerful families of those days all wanted to have property within a short journey of the capital – so they could plot, scheme, and asskiss their way to more power and land. This would be part of the reason the clan was not so popular. However, they were not unique in Europe as every kingdom had families who would come into wealth this way. They also supported Robert the Bruce before it was popular, so that has to count for something too.
When I arrived at the castle, the first thing I noticed was the scaffolding. I seem to have pretty bad luck when it comes to visiting castles under restoration, but this time there were only a few areas where I could not go. One of my next thoughts was about how difficult it would have been to build a castle here back then. It’s a steep walk, and there would have been no road to get all of those heavy stones up to this remote spot.
The view from the garden was amazing. You could see Dollar, the Glen, and the two larger hills on either side of the castle. This castle really did feel remote. Besides the sheep farm on the slope, there is nothing behind it but more hills.
The castle has not been occupied in a very long while. After the civil war, and when the king had been brought back, the Earl of Argyll was killed for betraying the king and choosing Cromwell while the castle was burned by the Ogilvy’s and the McLean’s.
It’s a spectacular ruin and very well looked after, but I only stumbled around the keep and a few of the rooms for a short while before heading back out to try some more trails.
The little boy in me just loves running around the woods by myself. You can run up a hill, jump over a log or around a tree without feeling even a little self conscious. Because of the weather, the thick woods and winding trail, you would not even notice another person until they are almost on top of you. There is no one around to see you or pass judgement. It’s the most innocent kind of play time.
I had a great time and the only drawback from the trip was how wet it was.