A Travel Guide:
A lovely short drive over from Stirling and Stirling Castle will net you a wonderful castle experience. Castle Campbell is a lesser known landmark but it is a castle well worth visiting. My original intent was to spend the day heading to St. Andrews and Dumfernline Abbey, but it was a Sunday and planning a church that day was just not a great idea. So I found this little hidden gem on my way over to Perth and decided to stop in for a look-see. It was a great opportunity to stretch my legs, see some great Scottish countryside and enjoy a castle that served as an Earl's residence, rather than a home for a king.
Getting To Castle Campbell
Location: Dollar FK14 7PP, UK
I highly recommend taking the A91 between Stirling and Milnathort (home of Burleigh Castle). This is a nice rural drive with the beginning of the Highlands to the north and the Lowlands to the south. It is about a 30 minute drive from Stirling. Once you get to the town of Dollar, it becomes a little more tricky. If you're not a big fan of single track roads, you're going to have to deal with it here as you make you way up East Burnside to High Street and finally Castle Road. It's not a long drive, but do watch for traffic because you have stone walls and buildings on either side and a blind curve or two.
On your way up the hill, you'll see a sign that says parking to the right and it looks like the road might be a walking path straight ahead, so I stopped. However, the walk up the hill from here is a bit aggressive if you're not in shape and it is a road you can drive on. The path affords a lovely view of the castle from a distance, so I'd recommend it, but prepare for a 12-15% grade walk uphill for a little less than a mile. There is another parking area at the top of the hill. Then you'll walk back down to the castle from there.
You'll find a couple of nice burns (streams) that feed the castle and a walking path that goes up into the hills as well. This is the Clackmannanshire Castle Tower Trail that will lead you to 5 castles total. Stop and say hello to the sheep as they are all around and ready for photos.
The Castle Campbell Experience
I really enjoyed the relaxed nature of this castle experience. Surprising this was once known as Castle Gloom! There are not a lot of tourists here and it is a beautiful serene walk down to the castle and into the Dollar Glen. When you wind down the hill to the castle, you'll need to pay your admission of 6£ or hopefully you've gotten your Historic Scotland Explorer Pass for free admission.
There is plenty of signage around and you can explore on your own. I had a nice 15 minute conversation with Andrew, who was welcoming and a great ambassador for the castle. Interestingly enough, the newer section was destroyed, with the bed chamber's all exposed completely to the elements. The cobblestones were also added in the 1970's, but the tower still remains in tact and you can walk up the clockwise spiral staircase for a sweeping view of Dollar Glen. Unlike most stairwells of that time, this one is wide and there is no obvious intruder step (a step made higher to someone sneaking up the stairs would trip and alert everyone).
History of Castle Campbell
Built in the early 1400's, it was originally called Castle Gloom (possibly after "glom" a Gaelic word meaning chasm), but was renamed by King James IV. The Clan Campbell acquired the castle in 1459 to be used as a residence. There is no well in the castle, which is unusual. But there are two burns that run water down the sides of the castle. A well was necessary in case of attack, so you had drinking water available, but no attacks were considered due to this castle's intended use. But oddly, there also wasn't a kitchen - at least not one that could be discerned.
The Tower House was the main residence, housing a basement, a hall, two chambers, and the roof walk. This is the oldest part of the castle and dates to it's beginnings. It is also the only part of the castle still completely in tact.
The castle was held for a couple of centuries by the Clan and hosted Mary Queen of Scots and other royalty, but was abandoned after it was destroyed following the time of Oliver Cromwell and left as a ruin. In 1859, 400 years after the Clan Campbell took over the castle, Sir Andrew Orr, an ex-lord provost of Glasgow, rebuilt the east range and the parapet and the cap house at the top of the tower. The building was opened on and off to visitors in late Victorian-era. By the 1940's the state took it over and refurbished the castle to protect it.
An interesting fact I found out here. Sometimes you'll see stone with what look like dates on them. Those are dates. When restoration work is done, the stones are dated so you can tell what is new and what is original. Also, we think of castles as gray, masonry colored buildings. However, Andrew mentioned that while refurbishing castles, they find they were painted with a whitewash and plastered. In the case of Castle Campbell, the south range would have been plastered and whitewashed.
A Story From Castle Campbell
Today people gamble on sporting events and cards. But throughout history, you had to hedge your bets against more life altering circumstances. In the case of Archibald Campbell (the 8th Earl of Argyll) he was faced with a decision when Oliver Cromwell's troops arrived at Castle Campbell in 1652.
Would Archibald give aid and comfort to the enemy of the crown?
Cromwell was preaching republicanism in a time when the movement seemed to be the future. Even though Archibald supported Charles II and had been the one to place the crown on the king's head, he did not support the kings notion to invade England. So he sided with Oliver Cromwell and gave him a resting spot.
This ended up being a grave misjudgment. The royalists were not pleased and in July 1654 they burned the castle. For Archibald, things became even worse. When Cromwell's short reign came to an end and Charles II was returned from exile Archibald's move was interpreted as treasonous and Archibald Campbell (8th Earl of Argyll) was beheaded in 1661. The Campbell's were still living in the tower but then they moved to Stirling in 1663. Archibald Campbell (the 9th Earl of Argyll) made his peace with the king.
Planning Your Visit
It might be worth stopping off in Dollar to fuel up on some nice French baked goods and coffee at the Cafe des Fleurs. There is even some nice outdoor seating if it isn't acting like rainy Scotland at the time. Or, you could make the short drive out from Stirling and add this on to your viewing of the National Wallace Monument. Have your walking shoes and make sure to bring your Historic Scotland Explorer Pass.