Tarbert Castle, Kintyre
History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS: Late 15th century Tower House, built by James IV
There was almost certainly a fortification on the hill in the 8th century, for the Annals of Ulster tell of a fort burned by King Selbach in AD 712 and again by his son Dungal the Violent in AD 731.
Edward I of England seized the castle when he claimed the Scottish crown. In 1292 he granted the castle to John Balliol. When Robert Bruce seized the crown - and dealt with Edward and his son, Edward II - he took the castle for his own.
Bruce's Exchequer Rolls dealing with the work at Tarbert Castle is one of the oldest and most important historical documents in Scotland. The records, written in Latin, show that the castle was more than just a single structure; it had workshops, a chapel, brewhouse, dwelling houses, and a hall. Outside the castle walls were still more buildings, including a mill. Bruce obviously intended the castle to be self-sufficient, and spent a lot of time and money on its construction. He also built a pele tower at West Tarbert, with a road linking the tower to the castle.
Despite its strong connections to the Scottish crown, the castle was allowed to fall into decay in the 17th century. By the early years of the 18th century it was recorded as a ruin. That did not deter the McAlister family of Tarbert, who took up a lease from the Campbells in 1705. By 1760 the castle had been allowed to decay again, and much of the stone was robbed for local building projects.
The castle is now owned and operated by the Tarbert and Skipness Community Trust. The trust uses a herd of Hebridean black sheep to keep the castle grounds from getting overgrown. Of course sheep do leave droppings, so sensible footwear is a good idea. The Trust is also creating a community woodland behind the castle, planting rowan, birch, willow, hazel, and alder, along with wildflowers.
VisitingTarbert Castle is only accessible by a signed trail from the harbour. The trail is signposted off Harbour Road, on the south side of the quay. The path ascends a series of steps and climbs up the castle hill. The going is fairly steep, but a reasonably fit person should have no trouble at all reaching the castle. The are picnic areas near the castle ruins, and signposted walks up the hill. The castle also lies on the Kintyre Way long distance trail.
I must mention the views; the castle hill provides a superb vantage point for looking down on the harbour below. It is one of the prettiest sights in Kintyre, and worth the climb on its own.
UpdateSince I visited Tarbert Castle much has changed. A local charity group has stepped in and undertaken a major restoration of the tower house and added information boards to help improve the visitor experience. No longer is the tower house crumbling and covered with foliage. It has undergone a remarkable transformation and is now more accessible and it is easier to understand the history of the site. We'll be revisiting the castle and updating our photos as soon as we can.
About Tarbert Castle
Address: Tarbert, Argyll and Bute, Scotland
Attraction Type: Castle
Location: Accessed via a footpath from Harbour Road, on the south side of the quay. Open access site.
Website: Tarbert Castle
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
NEARBY HISTORIC ATTRACTIONS
Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low to exceptional) on historic interest
Avinagillan Standing Stone - 1.9 miles (Prehistoric Site)
Skipness Castle - 7.3 miles (Castle)
St Columba's Cave - 8.8 miles (Historic Building)
Loch Fyne - 8.9 miles (Countryside)
Clachan Church Grave Slabs - 10.1 miles (Historic Church)
Kilberry Sculptured Stones - 10.2 miles (Museum)
Kilmory Knap Chapel - 11 miles (Historic Church)
Castle Sween - 11.5 miles (Castle)
Nearest Accommodation to Tarbert Castle:
Nearby accommodation is calculated 'as the crow flies' from Tarbert Castle. 'Nearest' may involve a long drive up and down glens or, if you are near the coast, may include a ferry ride! Please check the property map to make sure the location is right for you.