Scottish Castles Association

Preserving the Past for the Future


Cambuskenneth - a Bell Tower which became a Tower House

Cambuskenneth Abbey stands within a loop of the River Forth a short distance from the formidable Stirling Castle, and was founded by King David I in the 12th century for Augustinian monks from Arrouaise in France.

Cambuskenneth Hes
Cambuskenneth Abbey and Bell Tower in 1558*

An important event occurred in 1314 after the Battle of Bannockburn. The Scottish Parliament assembled at Cambuskenneth and declared that all those who had fought on the English side at that battle and who had not come into the 'faith and peace' of King Robert were fortified.

The abbey survived until 1559 when it was 'ruined and cast down' and the stones carted off to construct buildings in Stirling. Well, not completely, for the Bell Tower was spared as it provided a ready-made tower house which continued in occupation until the 19th century.

Cambuskenneth today
TOP: Cambuskenneth Bell Tower in 1788, note pitched roof, chimney and Stirling Castle in the background
BOTTOM: Cambuskenneth Bell Tower today

Detached bell towers (or campanile) are more commonly associated with Italy, notably Pisa, but are rare in Scotland, the only other known example being at Lindores Abbey in Fife. Being detached, however, secured Cambuskenneth's Bell Tower's survival.

Here the windows were walled in, flues and chimneys installed and a new pitched roof added. If old drawings are to be believed there was at least one gun loop inserted in the vaulted basement.

So it remained until the 1860s when it was decided the Bell Tower should be restored. All material 'not relating to the original' was stripped out and the tower secured. It is now under the guardianship of Historic Environment Scotland and is open to visitors.


Article by Scottish Castles Association member Brian McGarrigle.

* photo courtesy of Historic Environment Scotland information board



Added: 26 Feb 2019 Updated: 19 Jun 2019
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