As you drive down the Craignish Peninsula beyond the village of Ardfern, the road hugs the shore of Loch Craignish for a little over two miles as far as an attractive pebble bay. Overlooking the south end of the bay and accessible from the road as it starts to cross the peninsula is Craignish Old Parish Church, also known as Kirkton Chapel, Kilmory Chapel or St Maelrubha's Chapel.
The church itself is an oblong grey stone shell with an original gable still surviving at the east end. It measures 55ft long by 25ft wide (or 16.5m by 7.5m) and the massive walls are nearly a metre thick. The doorway is in the south wall and is topped off by an arch carved from a single piece of stone. There are five small windows in the church, two in the east end, one on the north side and two in the south wall.
The church is thought to date back to the early 1200s and it stands on top of a small knoll which offers magnificent views over Loch Craignish. Nearby are the still visible remains of the abandoned township of Kirkton. The church was originally dedicated to St Maelrubha of Applecross, which explains one of the confusingly large number of names it is known by. It seems likely that the church stands on the site of an even older religious centre, though no trace of it has ever been found.
The church was abandoned in 1692 in favour of a "preaching house" built on the site of the more recent Parish Church in Ardfern. The reasons for its abandonment are unknown, though theories range from a (rather delayed) post-Reformation desire to move out of a building with associations with the old religion to a change of focus in settlement on the peninsula, with Ardfern developing at the expense of Kirkton. Whatever the reason, the old church was left to decay until repaired in the 1800s, and again in 1926, when what was left was heavily consolidated and repointed.
But the main attraction here is less the church itself than what you find inside it. In 1974 around 20 grave slabs were moved for protection from their locations in the surrounding graveyard to a new home under a transparent roof erected at the west end of the church.
Most of the grave slabs are thought to date back to the 1400s or 1500s, though one is probably considerably older. The quality and range of carvings on the stones is superb. A number carry figures of knights or warriors, surrounded by intricate patterns. Others carry carvings of swords, while some have abstract interwoven patterns.
Also under the shelter of the roof is a stone base in which a stone cross would once have stood. Lying beside the north and south walls of the interior of the church are four stone tomb chests dating back to the 1500s. Traces of the ornate decoration that once covered them can still be seen in places. The names of those buried in the tombs and those commemorated by the grave slabs in the shelter are unknown.
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Grid Ref: NM 779 015