Toward Castle, Argyll
South of Dunoon
Nr PA23 7UG
Toward Castle is without doubt one of the most interesting castles we have explored in this part of Argyll. The ruins are still quite substantial, including courtyard with the foundations of buildings, a tower and most interesting of all, the vaulted basement hidden beneath.
Access to the castle from the road is from an impressive entrance of what looks like a grand estate. Here you can park your car and take a short pleasant walk to the ruins of the castle.
~ History ~
Clan Lamont is said to have descended from Irish monarchy, and as a result of this lineage, they were one of the oldest and most powerful families in Scotland, with their seat in the town of Dunoon.
1371 ~ King Robert II of Scotland, upon his accession to the throne, appoints Sir Colin Campbell the Hereditary Keeper of Dunoon Castle, displacing the Lamonts. This marks the beginning of an increasingly bitter feud between the two clans, as the Lamonts, along with many other Highland Clans, try to resist the Campbells’ growing influence in Argyll.
1400 ~ Whilst the King is staying at nearby Rothesay Castle, a few of his courtiers cross into Lamont territory on a hunting trip one spring afternoon. There they encounter three damsels in the countryside. The Lamont women, alone and unprotected, are attacked and raped by the king’s men and sent running home to report the appalling incident.
Furious at the news, the Lamonts catch up with the king’s men and kill them before they are able to reach the safety of Rothesay castle. But once the King discovers what has happened, he is furious with the Lamonts for daring to touch his courtiers, and gives orders that eight square miles of Lamont territory is handed over to their enemy and neighbours, the Campbells, as punishment
1472 ~ Sir James Lamont is knighted by King Charles I and is given the land around the Cowal Peninsula in Western Scotland. Here they erect Toward Castle.
1535 ~ The Lamont's purchase further lands from King James V.
1544 ~ The feuding clans are forced to join forces to defend Dunoon Castle against the invading English.
They lose the battle and are forced to flee the battlefield, angry and frustrated with each other.
1563 ~ Significant improvements to the castle are made in time for Mary, Queen of Scots visit.
1639 ~ The Wars of the Three Kingdoms breaks out between England, Ireland and Scotland. This once again forces the Lamonts to fight alongside their bitter enemy, the Campbells. Although they join and fight against their common enemy the English, their hatred continues.
Upon the war ending, the Lamont Chief seizes the opportunity to make trouble for the Campbell clan by siding with their bitter enemy and arch rivals, the MacDonalds. The clan muster at Toward Castle along with some hired Irish mecanaries and descend on Campbell lands, laying waste to Dunoon. 33 Campbell prisoners are taken and cruelly put to death, including women and children. Grain houses are destroyed, cattle and horses driven off.
The Campbells spend the following months and years plotting their own revenge.
1646 ~ While the Lamonts are at home in their castles Toward and Ascog, they are besieged by Campbell forces. The Campbells begin to shell the Lamont strongholds with cannon fire. Realising they have no response to artillery, the Lamont chief negotiates the terms of surrender for his clan and gives up his beloved castles.
Even though the two chiefs have agreed to a peaceful surrender, the bloodlust is too great for the Campbell men who immediately relinquish on the pact. The helpless disarmed Lamonts are put on boats and taken to Dunoon. Once in the churchyard at Dunoon, the remaining 100 members of the Lamont family are brutally executed.
The Lamont strongholds are then looted and burned to the ground while the Lamont chief himself is thrown into a dungeon where he is forced to sign away all his lands to the Campbells and mourn for his family in misery.
In all some 200 Lamont men, women and children are executed, with the bodies slaughtered at Toward castle thrown into the well to poison the water supply. One tree alone carries thirty five bodies from its branches.
Thirty six men are buried alive in an attempt to hide the slaughter.
1661 ~ The ringleader of the Campbell clan, the Earl of Argyll, is finally held accountable for his treasonous behavior against the King and heinous massacre of the Lamont clan. He is beheaded and his head is placed on a spike for all to see until it is buried with his body in the Cowal Peninsula.
The Lamont’s ancestral home, Toward Castle, is left in ruin.
~ Legend ~
The ancient laws of hospitality in the Highlands and Islands were of great cultural significance. It was the custom that any stranger passing should not only be given food, shelter and a bed, but would be under the protection of the host during his stay.
Two Lamonts from Castle Toward were out hunting in the Forest of Etive, one of them being the son of the Lamont chief, who had not long come of age. They were heading towards Inverlochy when they met up with the son of MacGregor of Glenstrae and a couple of his friends also out hunting. As neither party had much luck in their hunting they decided to join forces. Following a fruitless day hunting the five of them ended up at Kinghouse Inn in Glencoe. After several drinks the two parties ended up coming to blows, culminating in young MacGregor laying dead on the floor from a blow by Lamont's dirk. At once Lamont took to his heels iand ran off into the hills.
He travelled through the mountains in the hours of darkness, sure that the MacGregor's companions would be hot on his heels. He eventually came across a house to seek shelter and protection.
'Aye, I will give you hospitality and you will remain under my protection till morning, come what may'.
So Lamont is taken in to the house and given food and shelter.
It was not until the chasing MacGregor's finally caught up with him did he realise that the house he had sought protection in was indeed the chief of the MacGregor's and father to the son he had just murdered!
Despite demands from the furious MacGregor's to have him handed over, 'Let no one hurt a hair on the lad's head, for MacGregor has given him his word. He shall be safe while he remains under my roof'.
His son's body was brough back and a great funeral was held, and all the while Lamont was inside the chief's house. And so it was that one day soon after the chief set out with Lamont to escort him safely from MacGregor lands to Dunderave point on Loch Fyne. As Lamont got into the boat MacGregor finally broke his silence'
'I have fullfilled my vow. Once you are on the other side you are beyond my protection, Flee for thy life and may God forgive you for what you have done'. The broken hearted MacGregor turned and took the road home.
Never again did Lamont stray far from Castle Toward and his clan lands of Cowell.
Years later the MacGregor's found themselves being driven from their ancestral land by order of the King.
He and his kin were scattered to the winds, and MacGregor found himself in the wild country of Cowel, alone and friendless. So it happend that old MacGregor arrived at the door of Castle Toward.
When Lamont, now chief of his clan, asked who was asking to see him he was told, 'One who knows the laws of hospitality'. Realising who his visitor must be, he ran down to the gate of the castle and brought the white-haired old man in to his home. It was here that MacGregor of Glenstrae spent his last days under the protection of the one he himself had saved, and when he passed on was buried in the kirkyard of Cowel, far, far away from the lands of MacGregor's forbears in Glentrae.