Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Kenmure Castle, New Galloway

Kenmure Castle
New Galloway
Dumfries and Galloway

Kenmure castle is hidden away on the Western shores of Loch Ken, right at the Northern tip of the long loch, and about a mile and a half South of New Galloway. From the A713, as it follows the Eastern shores of the loch, the castle can be glimpsed above the tree line just before you reach the road that takes you across the top of the loch and West towards New Galloway. The South bound A762 then leads you back down the Western shores of the loch. The castle is hidden on your right, about a mile and a half outside New Galloway. The reason, I assume, that there are no signs or information boards for this castle, is that the site isn't owned by Historic Scotland….which is a shame really, as this castle is a pretty huge building, and is set amongst what would once have been fantastic gardens.

Above. View of the castle looking South East into the old courtyard.

The castle is freely accessible, and can be safely viewed from the outside. From the outside only though, as it’s in a pretty poor state of repair. It is without its roof, and many internal floors and walls have either collapsed, or look as if they are about to. The path to the castle is on the left hand side of the road as you drive out of New Galloway, and climbing the stile takes you up what would once presumably have been the main driveway to the castle, with an avenue of trees still surviving. An open grassy area to the right looks as if it may once have been a lawned area, with the ruins of a building protruding from a earth bank to the right, possibly the remains of an ice house. The castle can be seen through the trees that line the bottom of the 100 foot hill that it sits on. The main driveway winds up the outside of, what to all intents and purposes, is a huge motte. Once at the top, the full extent of the building can be seen. In essence the castle is an L shaped building, incorporating masonry from a 16th century tower house. Most of the masonry is from a 17th century rebuild (at the earliest) with a large amount of additions dating from the 1800’s and 1900’s. The poor state of the castle can be seen by simply glancing in through the windows. The interior floors are piled high with roof rubble, timbers, plaster, brick work and general rubbish. The building has been abandoned since the late 1950’s or 60’s, and the lack of maintenance since then is obvious. It is believed that the 19th century re-modelling of the castle, essentially removed or masked much of the 16th century building.

Above. View of the West end of the castle.

The ornate doorway, with the Gordon coats of arms over the top, probably dates from the 1630's, at a time when the 6th Laird, John, was created Viscount Kenmure.

Above. View of the doorway in the courtyard.

The courtyard is possibly the most interesting area to examine. From here, you can see spiral staircases through the windows, vaulted ground floor rooms, and two Gordon coats of arms mounted above external doors, and still recognisable to this day, despite some weather wear.

The castle occupies the top of the flat rocky outcrop, and overlooks the loch to the East. Legend has it that the ancient Lords of Galloway had a fortress here, but no traces of any earlier structures have been found. Legend also has it that John Balliol was born here in 1249. The castle belonged to the Gordons from the late 1290’s, and was amongst huge swathes of land in the area that were under their control. The castle was twice attacked and seriously damaged.

Above. View of the castle looking North.

The first time in 1568, after the defeat of Mary Queen of Scots. The Gordons supported Mary’s causes, and suffered at the hands of her enemies when she was defeated.

Above. View of the 16th century (?) tower looking North.

The above photo probably shows an original tower (the left hand part of the building), dating from somewhere between 1570 and 1600, with three outer walls surviving. The missing, internal wall, was knocked through when the building was extended.

The walls in this tower are just under one and a half feet thick, and it's thought that the small bartizan is original from this period.

At the South West corner of the building, another late 16th century structure still exists, a corner stair tower, with decorative string courses surrounding the door and windows.

Above. View of the stair entrance in the courtyard.

To the rear of this stair tower, there are three original (late 16th century) rooms, each with their original vaulted ceilings. A fourth room has a 19th century external wall, with original late 16th century internal walls and the vaulted ceiling.

The second time Kenmure was attacked, was by Oliver Cromwell’s troops in 1650. The Gordon’s backed Charles I and again suffered when he was finally defeated. The castle was beseiged, captured and wrecked by Parliamentarian troops.The castle was renovated and turned into a palatial mansion, possibly in the early 1890’s and was again renovated and somewhat rebuilt as a hotel.

Follow the links below for images on other web sites.

Above. Pencil sketch of the courtyard (From The Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland - out of copyright) 

Above. Floor plan of the ground floor of Kenmure Castle.

 Above. Pencil sketch of the surviving portion of 16th century building (From The Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland - out of copyright)

Above. View of Kenmure as it looked when inhabited (postcard from personal collection)

Above. Kenmure and Loch Ken (postcard from personal collection) 

Above. Kenmure and Loch Ken (postcard from personal collection)

Above. The Gardener's cottage in the grounds of Kenmure Castle, as it appears today.

The above photo (copyright Pamela Graham 2009) shows the gardener's cottage as it appears today. Pamela kindly sent me these words "when my husband lived there the roof was slate tiles with the two top front windows being gabled with their own small slated roofs. At the back there were three windows at the top floor level and two at the bottom (both barred windows).  Front two windows (one now bricked up)  the one door (at the front - no backdoor) which upon entering there was a landing before stair case going up to top floor where there were two bedrooms with fireplace in both.  Bottom floor consisted of on left upon entering (three steps up) a lounge with fireplace & on right of front entrance also three steps up the kitchen with large open fireplace.  Also in the kitchen a door to pantry/storeroom which was under the stairwell cavity.  In my husband's time there there was no electricity - paraffin lamps for light!, no running water - a water pump outside on right of building for water from nearby stream - which nearly flooded the house a few times!, only two of the fireplaces were usable due to jackdaws having plugged up the fireplaces with nests over many years!!  He says even though it did not have many of the comforts we have today the cottage was warm enough due to it being amongst high trees and in a hollow so the wind blew over the top.  No one ever lived in the cottage after my husband's family left to live elsewhere in New Galloway (abt.1952). I daresay it is a 'renovators delight' waiting to happen but it would have to be a 'millionaire'!!.  My husband had slept in the castle itself to keep the old lady who lived there alone company (he thinks a Mrs./Ms Smith)- very elaborate inside with wood panelling but said it was extremely cold.  Was used as a hotel in the 50's but fell into ruin when no one wanted to maintain it anymore - I guess due to this would have been very expensive." 

My thanks to Pamela for kindly sending me the photo and taking the time provide these memories.

Artists Footsteps
This painting is by James Faed, and is housed at Broughton House gallery in Kirkcudbright.


J_Gordon said...

My name is John Gordon and I firdt learned of Kenmure castle on the House Of Gordon website a few years ago. I have fallen in love with this place since. I agree somebody should be taking care of the castle. I would love to be that person, but unfortunatly I live in the USA. I don't have the means to restore and maintain Kenmure Castle. Thanks for the great photos.

A Gordon said...

Have just seen this fabulous building for the first time at the weekend and totally fell in love with it, although I had no idea it existed and knew nothing about it. Now I know the reason for the strange attraction, my surname is Gordon!

external doors said...

It is a most beautiful place to visit.

Jennifer Kosak said...

I was brought up less then half a mile from this castle. It's a wonderful place and belonged to the Gordons until recent. I was playing inside this castle when I was little, it was a ruin even then but I loved this place and I have a very strong connection with this Kenmure area.Lots of strange happenings here too,very creepy area. I still go back but its sad that it has fallen futher into ruin. This place was until the mid 50's a hotel but fire destoyed the place.

Anonymous said...

My great-great-great-great-grandfather was a gardener here in the mid-1700s. It is indeed sad to see the beautiful place in ruins.

Anonymous said...

My great great grandmother inherited Kenmure Castle and lived in the US at the time. Evidently she didn't want to pay the back taxes and own it as she was not returning to Scotland. Accordingly, it was said that it was turned over to the state. What a shame, we are still learning about the castle as my mom has the blue prints and other items from the lawyer.

Anonymous said...

My great, great, grandmother also inherited this castle and turned it down. If you are the person named, "anoymous" who wrote about your great, great grandmother, please email me at and we can compare notes.

Anonymous said...

Like Jennifer I grew up playing in the grounds of the castle after it fell into disuse in the early 60s.My aunt actually worked there when it was inhabited as a castle! Can anyone tell me where the interior trimmings went prior to the roof being removed? It wassupposedly sold to an American buyer.

Anonymous said...

i have today for the first time visited this castle and also fell in love with it but i did norices something rather strange about it, allthe downs stairs windows have bars on them and no doorways are evident on the whole once side of the building i was wondering if it had ever been used as a sanitarium?

Henry Hughes said...

Back in the 1950,s I spent every summer holiday in the area and sometimes fished on the lough with my cousin who was a shepherd off the Newtown Stewart Road. No ,it was never a sanitarium but a hotel at the time and inside the entrance to the building was ,so I am told a case displaying a PIKE which was supposed to have been the biggest pike either caught in the lough,or may have been the biggest caught in the world. My cousin said that the owner , a South African demolished the roof so that he would not have to pay whatever bills were owing. Such a crime .Also I remember my cousin and his teenage friends saying that there was an underground tunnel from the castle to ,where I am not sure.We were friendly with a guy with the surname Mackintosh whose fmily worked at the castle . What a shame to look at it in its present state.
Henry Hughes

Unknown said...

I don't want to make anyone jealous but I have this castle in my back garden :-) we live in the steadings and can see the castle from our kitchen and bedrooms windows..

Anonymous said...

My late partner was a kenmure Gordon we visited the castle many times and I have photos. and information about it.

Unknown said...

Iam a History Teacher who grew up in Dalry and used to roam the countryside on my bike or on foot looking for old places and ruins. I had then , and still have today, romantic notions of times long gone and always kind of 'felt' the past whenever I was near buildings/places of historic interest. I am not sure if I ever visited Kenmure castle itself as a child but recently a friend of mine and her family did and since then, the castle has caught my imagination and interest so I have been trying to find out as much as I can about the castle. i simply cannot believe that this is not under Historic Scotland protection. We have to fight this. A place with such a rich history and connections with Burns, Cromwell, Mary Queen of Scots and John Balliol should be restored or at best, made into a visitors centre such as that of Dundrennan Abbey and other castles. I live in Kirkcudbright and often visit the Maclellan's town house and the site of the old castle on the High Hills- now all gone- and try to envisage what they were like. I soo wish I had the money to restore Kenmure. These beautiful homes, steeped in our heritage and past, should be maintained looked after. I would transform it - such as like Dumfries House and other homes- into somewhere that would spark the imaginations of young and old alike. Somebody, please help and if there is anyone out there who can send me anymore stories or information I would be much obliged.

Pauline said...

Just back from a visit to the castle. A very foreboding building gave me the shivers felt it was very creepy. On returning home and looking through our pics some were really weird. One looked as if at one of the windows at the back of the building there was numerous faces in a window with bars infront.Ive seen it now but dont think id return felt quite sad when i left didnt feel it was a happy place. I'd be really interested to find out more of it's history though.

The House of Gordon said...

It is fascinating to read this comments about Kenmure, somewhere I have known of for years, but never had the chance to visit. My own family lived in the area near Huntly in Aberdeenshire.

I hope it's not inappropriate if I mention the existence of the House of Gordon clan society, which may be of interest to those with Gordon family links. We have a facebook page at where we post regularly on Gordon family history and news, and we recently featured Kenmure.

We also host a 'clan tent' at the Aboyne Highland Games, which is always held on the first Saturday of August, and is presided over by the Chief (a distant cousin of course of the Viscounts Kenmure).

Anonymous said...

My mum was Thelma Coid, born and raised in New Galloway.
My sisters and I were 7,6, and 5 when we lived at the steading - the building nearest Kenmure - for a year,
in 1963. We played all around the place, but what I remember the most was the carpet of daffodils through the woods in the springtime. A magical place for kids!!

Unknown said...

Terry Gordon, was Lord of Lochinvar, his son John Gordon would have taken that title. This was the true owners until his brother sold the castle to an American. They removed the roof so that they did not pay Tax.

Terry did try and pay it back but had no luck, his ashes was placed back in the grounds after his death

Anonymous said...

When a child of about 4 or 5 years old, I stayed in Kenmure Castle which was at that time a private hotel or Guest house. This would have been around 1955 or 56. The manager I believe was a Mrs Smith and I think she was the owner. It wasn't long after our stay that the place closed up. I can remember walking in through the front door into the hallway and seeing her sitting at her desk in an office beside the kitchen. The driveway spiralled up and around the castle. My Dad was changing a tyre on our car which was parked in front of the castle and my sister and I played with the spare when it came out of the boot. Apparently, we rolled it off the parking area and it bounced down across the driveway and into the woods towards the loch! I went back to visit the place in 1994 and it was much as I remembered but obviously quite dilapidated.

Michael Kenmuir said...

A Samuel Kenmuir, at 18 years of age, sailed from Belfast and stepped off a R.N. Dreadnought in 1858 and settled in South Africa. He went on to marry and have 13 children, the youngest of whom, a daughter, was in her nineties when I was a child. My father put us in contact and she described their life as pioneers and the successes of her father as a horse doctor and a magistrate. She had never been back to Scotland. She showed me pictures of Kenmure Castle back in the Auld Country and gave me one of the family coat of arms. She told me that our ancestor was Viscount William Kenmure, who was taken prisoner at Preston, removed to the Tower of London with Lord Maxwell, offered the chance to recant and swear allegiance to the English king- which they both refused - and executed in public. His wife and sons fled to Northern Ireland. When I reached Scotland and travelled to Kenmure Castle, I stopped and stared at the family crests carved in limestone over the doorways: they were exactly like the picture I still held. I was unable to establish how or why, as the seat of the Gordons, it became Kenmure Castle, or how the history of the Kenmure (later spelled Kenmuir) family evolved alongside the Gordons.

Unknown said...

Hi does anyone know who owns the castle now? Xx

Am Braghadanach said...

Major-General James Gordon