Achnacarry Castle

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Achnacarry Castle


Achnacarry Castle—Scotland.jpg
Achnacarry Castle, as rebuilt in 1802
Grid reference: NN175880
Location: 56°56’51"N, 5°0’5"W
Village: Achnacarry
Built 1655
Owned by: Chiefs of Clan Cameron,
(The Lochiels)

Achnacarry Castle is the ancestral home of the Chiefs of Clan Cameron, located at Achnacarry, Inverness-shire, about 15 miles north-east of Fort William near the foot of Loch Arkaig. The original castle was built around 1655 and destroyed after the Battle of Culloden in 1746; a new house in Scottish baronial style was built nearby in 1802.

Original castle

Ewen "Eoghainn MacAilein" Cameron, XIII Chief of Clan Cameron, built the highly disputed Tor Castle (said to have been on Clan Mackintosh lands) in the early 16th century. Tor Castle would remain the seat of the Camerons of Lochiel until demolished by his great-great-great grandson, Sir Ewen "Dubh" Cameron, XVII Chief.

Sir Ewen Cameron wanted a "more convenient" house, which was further removed from the Clan Mackintosh, Clan Campbell and Oliver Cromwell's garrison at Inverlochy Castle. He built Achnacarry Castle in around 1655 in a strategic position on the isthmus between Loch Lochy and Loch Arkaig. One of the few remaining descriptions relate that Lochiel's seat was "a large house, all built of fir-planks, the handsomest of that kind in Britain." Sir Ewen's bard described the home somewhere around 1663 in song as "The generous house of feasting...Pillared hall of princes...Where wine goes round freely in gleaming glasses...Music resounding under its rafters." Others portrayed "old" Achnacarry as a "man's home," with the feel and look of a grand hunting lodge amidst the West Highlands.

With Sir Ewen's death in the early 18th century his son John Cameron became Clan Chief, soon after which his son, Donald would assume Achnacarry when Lord Lochiel (as his father was known) fled into exile in Flanders after the first Jacobite Uprising.

From Donald Cameron ("The Gentle Lochiel") XIX Chief we find the best description of the grounds of Achnacarry. In his marriage contract a requirement was placed in which Lochiel had to build his wife "a the value of 100 pounds sterling at least, with gardens, office houses [privies], lands, other conveniencys." Donald was planting a long line of beech trees near the banks of the River Arkaig when word of "Bonnie Prince Charlie's" landing arrived in 1745... it would be the last landscaping done at Achnacarry Castle for years to come.

With the Jacobite army's defeat at the Battle of Culloden in April 1746 the clans retreated into the Highlands, with Donald taking the lead in re-grouping them. After this last attempt at resistance failed, he and his men took to the mountains. On May 28, 1746, Donald watched as men from Bligh's Regiment under the command of Lt-Col Edward Cornwallis and an Independent Company of Munros, commanded by George Munro, 1st of Culcairn, burned Achnacarry to the ground. Many valued relics and personal possessions were relocated beforehand, but the great fir-planked "Old" Achnacarry was left in ashes.

New Achnacarry

In 1802 Achnacarry, which had spent the last fifty or so years in ruin, was rebuilt under Donald Cameron, XXII Chief of Clan Cameron as a Scottish baronial style home, although this "New Achnacarry" is still referred to as a castle. His wife Anne née Abercromby engaged James Gillespie as architect.[1]

Second World War

Commando Memorial

The current building and the surrounding estate gained fame as the Commando Training Depot for the Allied Forces from March 1942 to 1945.[2] British Commandos, United States Army Rangers and commandos from France, the Netherlands, Norway, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Belgium trained there. Each training course culminated in an "opposed landing" exercise around the area of nearby Bunarkaig on Loch Lochy. As live ammunition was used, there were some casualties whilst training at Achnacarry. According to the Daily Telegraph, some 25,000 commandos completed training at the centre during the four years it was in use.[3]

The castle also suffered some damage due to fire. Several military associations [4][5] still sponsor a Commando march either annually or from time to time. Generally it is a timed seven mile march, in full battle gear, backpack and combat boots, from Spean Bridge (site of the striking Commando Memorial) to Achnacarry.
  1. MacKenzie, Alexander (1883), "The History of the Camerons", The Celtic Magazine (BiblioBazaar 2008 reprint) IX (XCVII): 470, ISBN 978-0-559-79382-0, 
  2. "The Commando Basic Training Centre at Achnacarry". 2015. Retrieved 20 August 2015. 
  3. "Major James Dunning - obituary". 18 August 2015. Retrieved 20 August 2015.