CASTLES. Scotland is hoaching with them. There are thousands. Big ones, small ones, falling-down ones, castles on islands, castles in the middle of housing estates (hello Menstrie Castle), country homes masquerading as castles, and castles that are movie stars (Eilean Donan, such a show-off).

Castle Campbell, sitting high in Dollar Glen, is neither the showiest nor the most storied, but it offers enough of both to make the journey there worthwhile.

Indeed, the journey to it is at least half the fun. The steep walk up to the castle from Dollar (sensible footwear definitely required) will either take you up through woods if you keep left, or, if you go right, will squeeze you between rocks and waterfalls, an imposing prospect that can leave you feeling like you’ve just stepped into an episode of Game of Thrones. There are no dragons on hand, but you might spot green woodpeckers, dippers or nuthatches if you are lucky.

The castle itself sits on a rocky outcrop carved by the Burns of Care and Sorrow (George RR Martin would be proud of such nomenclature). It dates from the early 1400s, when it was known as Castle Glume. Ownership passed to Colin Campbell, 1st Earl of Argyll, through marriage, and he chose to change the name to Castle Campbell via an Act of Parliament in 1489.

John Knox and Mary Queen of Scots were both said to have visited the castle in the 16th century. Knox reputedly gave a sermon while he was there. A century later, it was occupied by Oliver Cromwell’s forces during the Civil War. But after the execution of the eighth Earl of Argyll in 1661 for his initial support of the parliamentarians (he had also crowned Charles II in Scotland a decade earlier, but that wasn’t enough to save him), the castle began to fall into disrepair.

By the Victorian era, it was a picturesque ruin attracting the attention of passing artists including Horatio McCulloch who painted the castle twice, in 1838 and again in 1853. In 1834, the great Victorian artist Joseph Mallord William Turner made two sketches of the castle that were to become part of the Turner Bequest to the nation in 1856. Sir Walter Scott also visited a couple of times in the 1820s, but, for once, he had nothing much to say about it in his writings.

It wasn’t until 1948 that the castle passed into the control of the National Trust for Scotland and it is now administered by Historic Environment Scotland. What remains is an imposing tower house some 20 metres high (65ft), a courtyard and gardens amidst a setting that has the Ochils as a backdrop and the Forth Valley spread out below.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the castle is currently closed to visitors, but it remains a marker in the landscape, a marker of Scottish history and our ability to find romance in stone and setting. Who needs dragons anyway?

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