Isle of Albion
A remote ruin in a breathtaking setting.
Photographed: Thursday 2nd October 2014
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Castle Tioram dates back to the 13th or 14th Century, and is situated on Eilean Tioram ("the dry island") in the tidal inlet of Loch Moidart. Eilean Tioram is a tidal island, meaning that it's approachable on foot during periods of low tide.

In the early 14th Century, Castle Tioram was inherited by Christina MacRuari. Christina passed the island to her half brother Ruari, and was in turn inherited by his daughter, Amy MacRuari, later wife of John of Islay. It is likely that Amy carried out improvements at this time, replacing some wooden structures with stone. John of Islay granted to Tioram to Ranald, who was his son by Amy. Ranald became the first chief of Clanranald.

Castle Tioram seems to have avoided any significant military action until 1554AD, when a dispute arose between the Lords of the Isles and the Scottish crown. Mary of Guise, the Scottish regent, despatched land and sea forces to attack Castle Tioram. The Earl of Argyll led the assault by sea, and proceeded to bombard the castle with cannon. The land army found themselves unable to penetrate deep into the heartlands of the MacDonald's, and without their support, the sea forces eventually withdrew and the castle held.

Tioram was last used as a residence in 1685AD by Allan Macdonald, clan chief of Clanranald. It was garrisoned by Jacobite troops in 1692AD, but seems to have fallen into disrepair in the years that followed. In 1715AD, the governor of Fort William recorded "not only the windows bot even the roof and flours are ruined". During this year, Allan returned to Tioram, took control of its garrison of 14 men, and put the castle to the torch. It's possible that what remained of the castle was used intermittently to house troops over the years that followed, and there is also a tradition that Lady Grange was held here for a brief period during her kidnapping, but by 1748AD Castle Tioram was described as an abandoned ruin.

Over the following years, the castle changed hands a number of times, before being purchased in 1997AD by Anta Estates, with the intention of turning the ruin into a private residence. At the time of writing, these plans have not come to fruition, having been blocked by Historic Scotland.

While Anta Estates have been unable to proceed with their plans to develop the castle, Historic Scotland are also unable to act to preserve it. Tioram remains stuck in limbo, falling further into decay. On the one hand, this situation is obviously far from desirable. On the other hand, it does mean that Castle Tioram is largely unaffected by tourism. Its location is best described as remote, and it takes a certain dedication to visit. The nearest town of any size is Fort William, which lies 90 minutes away by car. The roads that approach the castle are barely more than single-track lanes, surrounded by extremely sparsely populated terrain.

The poor repair of the castle means that visitors are discouraged from entering the ruins. The doorway has periodically been blocked according to other reports, but this wasn't the case when I was there. Having said that, entering the castle is not something I could recommend, since its condition is very definitely unsafe.

Castle Tioram is surprisingly spacious if you're foolhardy enough to venture inside. Two ranges of buildings nestled against the curtain wall flank a heavily overgrown courtyard. The condition of the buildings themselves is perilous in places, and I can only reiterate that entering them would seem decidedly unwise. The flip-side to this, of course, is that it's impossible not to experience a sense of exploration, adventure and risk that's distinctly at odds with the curated experience to be had at most historic sites.

The setting within which Castle Tioram sits can only be described as breathtaking. It's certainly one of the most evocative places I've visited. The scenery is dramatic, beautiful and wild. The hand of civilisation can barely be seen on the surrounding landscape, and it's very easy to experience a sense of being transported back in time. If you're looking to escape the modern world, it really doesn't get any better than this.