The landscape of Old Castle Lachlan tells an interesting story of how life and culture have developed in the West of Scotland. Its history, biodiversity, ecology, climate and situation in a remote rural area make it a special place valued by today's local community and visitors alike.
The landscape was largely created around 200 years ago. The old castle had been abandoned following the Jacobite defeat at Culloden in 1746 and was falling into ruin. When life eventually settled down again, a new castle was built which is still home to the Maclachlan clan chiefs.
The setting was a specially designed landscape created to enhance the positioning and romance of the old, ruined, castle and the 'new' Castle Lachlan.
Picturesque, peaceful and romantic
The course of the River Lachlan was changed to run in a straight line on the east side of the glen and earthworks were erected to reclaim ground from the tidal estuarial marshes. Many specimen trees, in particular avenues of limes, were planted to frame the view. A village was dismantled leaving only Kilmorie Chapel where the clan chiefs are buried.
The chapel is one of the few remaining medieval church structures in the west of Scotland. It came close to collapse early in the 21st century but we successfully conserved it after raising £100,000 in grants and donations from individuals. The work won a Green Apple award.
The scene of the two castles from the public road at Lachlan Bay is stunning. The landscape design followed the picturesque style of the early 19th century. Growing wealth and the end of centuries of conflict in Scotland led to a break with the medieval past and new approaches to land use combined with the creation of romantic views. In England, landscape designers such as Lancelot 'Capability' Brown, and Humphry Repton were pioneers of this style. In Scotland, the writer Sir Walter Scott led the way towards creating beautiful landscapes from unimproved farmland and moorland at his house at Abbotsford on the river Tweed in the Borders.
In the Victorian period, Old Castle Lachlan was popularised through a photograph (see below) by the famous early photographer George Washington Wilson taken across Lachlan Bay in 1890.
The view of both castles and their setting is dramatic and romantic. Carefully planted specimen trees frame the buildings in a wider landscape of hills, sea loch and forest. An avenue of lime trees was planted along the road leading to Lachlan Bay. Beech trees were planted along the river bank. And alongside the Old Castle itself a small grove of lime trees was planted that now, in their maturity, echo the structure of the castle when seen from the roadside at Inver Restaurant. The field in front of the new castle is now used to graze sheep and a breach in the 19th century earthworks means the sea is slowly reclaiming some of the land, returning it to wetlands for wildlife.
There is a new path from the road to a new bridge that leads to the Old Castle but to a great extent the landscape has the feeling of being unspoilt, remote and peaceful, benefiting greatly from its relationship to the loch and the ebbing and flowing of the tides. Coastal paths lead beyond the Old Castle to another much older settlement, Kilbride, and the ruin of another chapel below the Baranlongair range of hills that give spectacular views far down Loch Fyne.
Historic Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage maintain an Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland. The landscape of Castle Lachlan does not appear in this but the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland holds archive material on the early 19th century design for Old Castle Lachlan's site.