The Romantic Ruins of Castle Kennedy

by Keith Savage · 2 comments

Castle Kennedy, Dumfries & Galloway

Deep in the southwest corner of Scotland, just before one reaches Stranraer and the Rhinns of Galloway, stands the cute little village of Castle Kennedy. With a hearty breakfast from Glenholme Country House powering me, I reached this westernmost point of my day’s travels on the recommendation of my gracious hosts at Alton Albany Farm B&B, Alasdair and Andrea, who implored me not to miss the gardens there. Never one to ignore local advice, I slotted a visit to Castle Kennedy into my time in Kirkcudbright and thanked heavens, once again, that I build free time into my itineraries.

The village of Castle Kennedy takes its name from – you guessed it – a castle by the same name. Castle Kennedy was built in 1607 for John Kennedy, the Earl of Cassilis. Little over one hundred years later, in 1716, the castle was ruined by a fire. The ruins were left to molder on the estate (could they have known future generations would look on them with wonder?), though the 75 acres surrounding the castle were converted into sculpted gardens by the 2nd Earl of Stair in the 1730s when the grounds were opened to the public. The Stair Estate, as it is called these days, is home to another castle, Lochinch Castle, which was built in 1864 as a replacement for the burnt-out shell of Castle Kennedy. Lochinch Castle, wedged between the Black Loch and the White Loch, is still home to Lord and Lady Stair.

I paid the modest £5 entrance fee and unfolded a helpful map listing the gardens’ interesting features, things like viewing points, avenues, and sculptured landforms, and a series of walks of varying lengths. The gardens are arranged on a spit of land between the two lochs with the far side leading to the newer Lochinch Castle. The day was overcast with a wind so cold off the Irish Sea that I seriously doubted the Gulf Stream had ever reached this part of Scotland. I chose the purple walk – the shortest one – as it took me past the ruins of Castle Kennedy toward Lochinch Castle. As much as I would have liked to spend the day tromping over all 75 acres, I knew I’d made the right choice when the icy rain began falling.

The ruin of Castle Kennedy is near the packed-earth parking lot, and it’s a beauty. There are few castles in Scotland with a more romantic facade. Much of the structure is still visible, with angled roof supports and reaching towers clearly visible through the moss and vines, which only serve to send the imagination on more intense flights of wonder. The area around the castle is a smooth green sward bordered by dark woods through which the various avenues run. You couldn’t ask for a better frame for Castle Kennedy.

I bowed my head beneath the scattered spring showers that passed through on my visit, noticing (with the help of my trusty pamphlet) a host of exotic and rare plants in the gardens. Rhododendrons, azaleas, embothriums, and a host of others. The avenues through the gardens are lined with evergreen oaks and pockets of pinetum. At the center of the isthmus between the lochs stands a two-acre circular pond filled with rare Victorian water lilies. The presence of palm trees was like a slap in the face – the Gulf Stream did blow through here. But not this day. Not this day.

The Castle Kennedy gardens are extensive, and I’d had a good, long walk before I finally laid eyes on Lochinch Castle. Absent fortifications, Lochinch is more of an opulent Victorian mansion though it does possess the semblance of a tower house built into its face. Those looking for a castle stay on their trip to Scotland would be wise to consider Lochinch Castle. The Chauffeur’s Apartment is a luxury 3-bedroom self-catering apartment located on the grounds, while the Balker’s Lodge is a smaller gatehouse lodge.

Castle Kennedy is well worth a stop in southwest Dumfries & Galloway, especially if you’re a castle hound or in love with immaculate gardens full of rare and wonderful flora. Give yourself enough time to stroll through the gardens, too. Even a person as uncultured in gardens as me found them quite impressive. And if you happen to bump into Lord or Lady Stair on your jaunt please tell them I said hello!

RachelNo Gravatar August 13, 2014 at 3:07 AM

Anyone would be so thrilled to stay in a castle this gorgeous and lovely even just for a night.. the breakfast would absolutely be glamorous!

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