Eilean Dearg Castle

Eilean Dearg is a small island in Loch Riddon.   Till a few years ago, the outstanding feature of the island was a large, solitary ash tree in its south-eastern quadrant, round which the gulls clustered thickly in the nesting season and rose in a cloud as one approached, screaming shrilly in disapproval.   From this sole ash tree (which blew over some years ago during a storm) the island gots it local name of “One-Tree Island”.    Its real name Eilean Dearg is Gaelic for Red Island, no doubt a reference to the reddish tinge imparted by the seaweed which clings all round the rocky skirts at low tide.  Another explanation of its derivation is more picturesque.   At the head of Loch Riddon lies Glendaruel which was the site of a battle, fought in the late 11th century, between the Norse and the Scots; it was said to have been so fierce and sanguinary that the river ran red with blood, hence the name Glendaruel — “ The Glen of the Red River”.   An older name for Loch Riddon was Loch Ruel — “ The Loch of the Red River”,  so we have Eilean Dearg — “ The Red Island”,  but the toned—down red of dearg, rather than the bright red of ruadh. A bloody battle indeed!

Charter evidence indicates that this castle was a property of the Stewarts at the end of the 13th century.   However, local folklore knows it as the place where the Campbells of Loch Awe built a castle and chapel in the 14th century.   Three hundred years later, the 9th Duke of Argyll made Eilean Dearg his headquarters during the uprising of 1685 and in its aftermath, Eilean Dearg Castle was destroyed by naval action.

Motorists travelling along the road between Ormidale and Tighnabruaich, in the Kyles of Bute, may have noticed, far below them, a little island near the east shore of LochRiddon.   On a bright, sunny day the island appears so close that one has the illusion of being able to reach it with a stone from the rocky shelf of the road, cut into the mountainside.    It is a lonely little island, seldom visited.  Yachtsmen throng the Kyles in season, but only an odd one lands on the island, no doubt curious as to the “site of Castle” marked on their charts and the larger scale Ordnance maps.

Such visitors find there is disappointingly little to see.   The isle is barely half an acre in extent, clothed in a rich growth of coarse grasses, nettles and thorns, with a few sea-pinks clinging to its rocky perimeter.   There is a tiny tidal appendage to the south.   There are only two possible landing places for a dinghy, both little creeks or breaches in the surrounding rock, one to the south-west, the other to the north ; neither is easy of access, especially in a wind or when the waves are running higher than normal.    The only obvious evidence of the castle, takes the form of a few feet of ruined wall on the north side, together with other fragments of moss-covered masonry here and there about the place.   But as one moves about, stone rubble can be felt everywhere underfoot, and many worked masonry blocks are visible at low tide amongst the seaweed round the shores. 

If one approaches in a dinghy, in a flat calm, and looks down through the clear water, masses of tumbled stonework can be seen around the perimeter, even where the rocks  shelve steeply.