With the Burn of Care on one side and the Burn of Sorrow on the other, Castle Campbell, originally called Castle Gloom, sounds like something out of a horror movie. Yet this is a beautiful place and the castle is an awe-inspiring sight as it first comes into view along the approach road from the lower car park.
Castle Campbell is located at the head of Dollar Glen, immediately to the north of Dollar. There is a 16 space car park at the end of the public road, across the valley from the castle. Another, larger, car park can be found a few hundred yards back down the Glen towards Dollar.
Sitting in lofty isolation and overlooked by the Ochil Hills, Castle Campbell became the chief lowland stronghold of the Campbell clan, upon whose members the successive titles of Earl, Marquis and Duke of Argyll were bestowed.
The castle itself was designed to serve three main purposes. Firstly to provide adequate defence, though the castle would never have been able to survive artillery attack. The entrance gateway was strengthened sufficiently to ward off a lightly armed raid but no more. Secondly, the castle was a statement of the lord's wealth and power, and as such should be an imposing sight. Castle Campbell certainly fulfils this function, even today.
Thirdly, it was a place of residence for an extensive household of a member of the senior nobility who also had to provide hospitality to guests and their entourages. These included royalty and other noblemen. Mary Queen of Scots stayed here in January 1563 and John Knox, advocate of Protestantism, in 1556.
The buildings within Castle Campbell include a tower house, hall and chamber range and an east range. To the south are terraced gardens.
The tower house has four main floors and is typical of late 1400s style. The ground floor contains a vaulted storage cellar with service access. An upper entrance, once reached by an outside staircase, leads into the hall, the principal reception room. An original narrow spiral staircase was replaced in 1600 by a much more substantial one at the same time as the east range was also remodelled.
The second and third floors of the tower house were most likely used as private chambers. Of particular interest on the third floor is the stone vaulting to the ceiling and a pair of grotesque green man masks from whose mouths lights would have been suspended.
It is likely that the hall and chamber range superseded the tower house as residence for the Earls of Argyll. The reception room and the accommodation at its east end was certainly on a much grander scale. Sadly this part of Castle Campbell now lies in ruins.
The east range dates from about 1600 and its facade shows that it was a very sophisticated piece of design. Remodelling of the stairs gave improved access to the tower house as well as interlinking the chambers and floors of the east range.
It is likely that the gardens of Castle Campbell were formally laid out and maintained for the exclusive use of the lord, his family and guests. At the south-west corner of the terracing a rocky knoll is referred locally as John Knox's Pulpit. To the west of the castle there would have been a kitchen garden.
The estate that was to become Castle Campbell was acquired by the family in the second half of the 1400s Century. James IV, by Act of Parliament in 1489-90, approved the change of name from Castle Gloom. The clan rose to be undisputed leaders of the Western Highlands but by the 1600s their days at Castle Campbell were numbered. When, in 1650, Oliver Cromwell defeated the Scots at the Battle of Dunbar there began a decade of turmoil. In 1654 the castle was sacked by Scots in retaliation for Argyll's support for Cromwell.
The Campbells abandoned their old castle, but continued to own the lands. When the earldom was restored in 1661 the family chose to occupy property in Stirling and settled in the town house that was to become known as Argyll's Lodging.