At Castle Tioram, the Mystique of Moidart

by Keith Savage · 6 comments

Castle Tioram, Moidart, Lochaber, Scotland

The Scottish highlands west of Loch Linnhe are something of a black box. The loch, an enormous arm of sea water, thrusts into the highlands all the way up to Fort William, clefting Lochaber in twain. If you look at a map, this severed land seems to hang down into the sea, barely holding onto the Scottish mainland at Arisaig and Glenfinnan. There are three access points to the lands of Moidart, Morvern, and Ardnamurchan, none of which are particularly convenient: The car ferry at Corran, the A861 south of Lochailort, and the ferry to Kilchoan from Tobermory on Mull.

Hard to reach, out-of-the-way places? My kind of places.

A visit to this far-flung area of the west highlands was always on my to-do list during my week at the Ecopods. Sarah, Michael, Katherine, and I set out one day and took the Corran ferry to this vast and unpopulated landscape. I like these parts of Scotland because there’s so little written about them compared to the more popular destinations – guidebooks often have just a paragraph or two – and that means the door swings wide for serendipity.

And serendipity led us to Castle Tioram.

Castle Tioram (pronounced Chee-rum) stands on a tidal island in Loch Moidart deep in the windswept, barren wilds of Moidart. A narrow, winding road in ill condition eventually peters out at a small parking lot across from the castle. We arrived by luck at low tide and were able to wander across the sandy flats after a pleasant walk with the castle, powerful and looming, in the near distance.

Castle Tioram has that feel of the undiscovered. There are no ticket booths or informational placards. We were free to clamber up the grassy rocks to the walls where the only sign was a warning to watch for falling masonry. A half-dozen hardhats hung on a stake inside the walls. When I didn’t look at those, my tethers to the modern age were cast off. It could have been any year, any age.

Castle Tioram’s interior was heavily overgrown and muddy. There was no mention of its history at the castle, but I later learned that it has sat in ruin, abandoned, since the Jacobite uprisings of the 18th century. The castle is generally believed to hail from the 13th and 14th centuries with large-scale remodeling in the 16th and 17th centuries, though there is evidence of earlier Iron Age and Bronze Age settlements. History attributes the stronghold to Clan MacDonald of Clan Ranald, a branch of Clan Donald. Local traditions state that the castle was built by Amie McRuari, wife of the first Lord of the Isles, in 1350.

Castle Tioram is a curtain-wall castle with impressive wall defenses, a landward entrance that could be tactically defended, and a seaward orientation. Though it was hard to discern exploring the site, the castle is in the shape of a rough pentagon, probably built to suit the site. Most of the buildings within the curtain walls were built between the 14th and 17th centuries.

In the keep I looked up to find a tree growing out of a bricked up window. Wan light fell upon its green leaves and illuminated the pinkish stones, stones that have stood there for many centuries. This sight is perhaps my favorite among all my travels across Scotland. The visual metaphors are many.

Castle Tioram is a special place. Much like the feeling I get in Orkney, there is a subconscious vibrance about the whole area. The journey here, the finding of this place slipping from human memory, down rough roads and over rocky heath contributes to the awe-inspiring view of the castle atop a rock that the sea can’t quite swallow.

Barb HiseyNo Gravatar August 27, 2015 at 9:34 PM

I am a friend of Liz Meraw – she has forwarded your scottish posts to me and I as well enjoy travelling through Scotland with them. My favorite castles are in the Aberdeen area – possibly because that is where my forbearers came from and some still are there. I’m sure your posts bring much pleasure to many! Thank you

Keith SavageNo Gravatar August 27, 2015 at 10:39 PM

Hi Barb – nice of Liz to send you this way and I’m happy to hear you’re enjoying the posts. Any particular favorites in the Aberdeen area? I really like Dunnottar, Fyvie, Drum, and Craigievar castles.

LizNo Gravatar August 27, 2015 at 6:52 AM

I love travelling through Scotland with your posts.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar August 27, 2015 at 8:27 AM

Thank you for reading!

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