Friday, January 1, 2021

Cumbrae Castle

I have only been to Little Cumbrae once, and that was way back in 2008. One highlight, among many, was climbing to the top of Little Cumbrae Castle. The castle is not actually on Little Cumbrae itself, but an adjacent tidal islet marked on the map as Castle Island. Next to this island the map shows a reef named Trail Island, an odd name for a small island with no trails. A bit of research showed the name to be a corruption of Eilean Turrail, a shortening of Eilean Tur-uasail, the island of the nobleman's tower. So the perhaps with a lower sea-level centuries ago the reef was once part of Castle Island.


The castle is a square keep that dates to the fifteenth century. Crowned by a parapet, it stands three storeys tall. Cut into the walls are several arrow slits, and splayed gun loops in the basement walls allowed canon fire to be directed towards the sea. A modern wooden stairway gave access to the first floor, where I found the hall and kitchen, each with its own fireplace. From there a restored circular stairway led to the second floor, which had two rooms, each with fireplace and garderobe. I followed the stairway up to the top, and emerged from the caphouse to stand atop the open roof.

The view was expansive. A kingly view in fact, for in 1375 Robert II dwelt for a time in an earlier fortification that stood here. The Earl of Eglinton had this castle built a hundred years later, and in the seventeenth century it was in the hands of the sixth Earl. He did not get along with Cromwell, and in 1653 Cromwell’s troops came a-calling, leaving the castle in ruins. 

Returning to Little Cumbrae is high on my list of must-dos. During the visit in 2008 I was unable to find the chapel of St Bey, which had been the main reason I'd gone to the island. In the years since I've learned the exact location of the chapel, and made plans to return in 2020. But Covid raised its ugly head and those plans are on hold.

What follows are a few photos from a visit to Little Cumbrae Castle in 2008. Note that in the first photo of the castle tower you can also see the massive Hunterston nuclear power plant a mile away on the mainland; two towers of power separated by 500 years of history.