As a member of the Scottish Castles Association I am sometimes asked: “How do you know where the castles are?” or “How do you get to them?” Well, the answer to the first is join the Scottish Castles Association! As for the second, I have just completed a trip to Lismore – you might wish follow in my footsteps with a view to retracing them yourself one day?
Lismore (Great Garden) is small Inner Hebridean island accessed by boat from Oban or by foot ferry from Appin. It hosts a multitude of ancient sites together with an abundance of wildlife – a truly magical place.
The Scottish Castles Association had staged their 2016 autumn trip in the town of Oban, Argyll. Oban is a fishing port and the departure point for the Scottish islands via the ubiquitous CalMac ferries. At the end of the trip my wife and I decided to extend our stay to take in the island of Lismore.
Monday dawned and with it strong winds and rain – not a good sign. We drove to the ferry and, yes, it had been cancelled! However, five hours later it sailed but we had lost a day’s sightseeing. We disembarked at Auchnacroish and drove through driving rain to our stay for the night – not the best of starts.
Tuesday arrived and with it came the sun – a glorious day of blue sky and mild sea breezes.
No time to waste. We put on our walking gear and set off across the fields in search of Castle Coeffin. It was hard to find and the path was muddy from the previous day’s rain.
Then, there it was – high on its crag above the sea – a more beautiful location would be hard to find.
There is a tale about Coeffin – a Norse princess called Beothail had lived there but her bones could find no rest until they were washed and taken home to Norway.
Prosaically, Castle Coeffin is a ruined 13th century hall-house and courtyard probably built by the MacDougalls of Lorn.
Hall-houses are a feature of the western seaboard. Long and narrow they rise no more than two storeys to a wall walk containing within a pitched roof. Here the steps to the parapet are clearly visible as are the entrance doorways one of which served to haul in goods from the seaward side – Coeffin would always have been reached by sea.
An interesting feature is the fish trap below the castle which would have provided a ready supply of food for the occupants.
Back across the fields this time to Lismore Church dedicated to the Celtic St Moluag (the clear and brilliant sun of Lismore) which incorporates parts of the medieval cathedral destroyed at the Reformation.
A rocky path from the church led to Castle Tirefour high on its tor overlooking the sea affording spectacular views in every direction. It is not a castle but a Broch dating from the Iron Age. These are peculiar to Scotland and coincide with the Roman occupation. Mainly confined to the north and west, Tirefour is one of the best in the country.
We returned to the church but there remained time to take the ferry to Appin and view Castle Stalker before returning to Lismore as darkness fell.
Next morning we sailed back to Oban on the ‘Loch Striven’ accompanied by gannets diving on either side – it had been a revitalising couple of days thanks to the Scottish Castles Association – and my own intrepid nature!
Article by SCA member Brian McGarrigle.