Great Houses Of Cowal

Item Posted: Tuesday 27th October, 2009


Ardkinglas House was completed in 1907 after an amazingly short construction period of eighteen months, but the speed of construction did not result in any loss of quality. Ardkinglas is generally considered to be architect Sir Robert Lorimer’s masterpiece, much influenced by Art Nouveau and the Scottish Arts and Crafts movement. The quality of the materials is matched by the skill and creativity of the craftsmen. Alongside these traditional strengths the design incorporated a wealth of new technology – cavity walls, concrete floors, electrical lighting and power, a goods lift, central heating and the latest sanitary fittings, an extensive telephone system, three safes, top quality ironmongery, a fully equipped vast kitchen and a scullery with numerous larders! The original achievement is still evident as the house remains largely unaltered, and is still primarily a family home. For most of the year reception rooms are available for hire for conferences, weddings and the house is often used as a film location.
Soon after building Ardkinglas, Lorimer was also involved in another big project in Cowal – the restoration of Dunderave Castle. Originally built in 1598, the castle became the chief seat of the MacNachten clan. It was reportedly neither battle nor politics that lost the MacNachtens their ancient seat -it was the demon drink. John, the last MacNaughtan laird, intended to wed the younger daughter of Sir James Campbell of nearby Ardkinglas, but next day he woke up in bed with, and married to, the wrong daughter. They say Campbell pressed MacNaughtan to an over enjoyment of his Loch Fyne whisky. Anyway, John fled to Ireland with his love, the younger daughter. Dunderave passed bloodlessly to the Campbells and the MacNaughton clan chief still lives in Northern Ireland.
Ballimore House was built in the early nineteenth century and was owned by the Campbell’s of Otter. Around 1832 Mungo Nutter Campbell commissioned David Hamilton to design the elegant house. In 1899 the MacRaes bought the property and engaged Leiper to enlarge the house in the Scottish Baronial style, and a year later Mawson to lay out a formal Italian water and woodland garden. Mawson’s Ballimore gardens are considered one of his greatest, if least known, achievements.
If gardens are your thing, Benmore House and gardens should be on your ‘must-visit’ list. In Glen Massan Arboretum there are some of the tallest trees in Scotland including a massive Douglas fir over 55 metres tall. Providing a showcase for some of the Garden's established conifers, the historic Formal Garden, includes the distinctive Puck's Hut. The first conifers in the Woodland Gardens were planted in 1820 and there is still some original Scots pine there, and plants from Chile, New Zealand, Africa, Spain, Portugal, China, Japan and the Himalayas are on display. The house itself was once the home of wealthy sugar refiner and art collector James Duncan, then the Younger family. Benmore is now an outdoor centre for the City of Edinburgh.
If you prefer ghosts to gardens, try the tour of the Kilfinan Hotel. You are more likely to enjoy their coffee and shortbread than meet the resident Lamont ghost – but who knows? There is certainly plenty of history on this tour. The hotel has welcomed travellers for over 300 years, and is adjacent to the 13th century Kilfinan Church. There, in the vault, you can see the well-preserved Kilfinan Stones dating from the 9th Century. Your guide will tell you the history of the area and the stories of Ascog Castle and McEwan’s Castle.
Another historic hotel where you will find an up to date warm welcome is the Royal Marine Hotel. In 1828 Robert Hunter of Hafton Estate built a stone quay locally to encourage residential and leisure development; other wealthy merchants followed and built summer homes in the area, with Hunter’s Quay becoming central to their passion for sailing. Built in 1888 by T L Watson for his boat-building brother, the building then became headquarters for the Royal Northern (later Royal Clyde) Yacht Club.
Tours of the Castles and Great Houses of Cowal have been arranged on various dates between the 12th and 16th October. For more details, and for the full Cowalfest Walking and Arts programme (which runs from 9th to 18th October) go to www.cowalfest.org









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