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    Places of interest in Kintyre: Saddell Abbey & Castle

    In Norse, Saddell means “sandy valley” and the ruins of Saddell Abbey are situated in this  lovely and quiet glen  where the Saddell Water flows into the Kilbrannan Sound on the east coast of Kintyre. The beauty of the landscape around, the ruined abbey echoing times long past and the remarkable collection of medieval slabs and effigies sheltered in a special-built building make the site a place not to be missed and it is one of our favourite ones in Kintyre.

    Saddell Kintyre Scotiana modified Michelin map

    Saddell Kintyre Scotiana modified Michelin map

    On the above map you can situate Saddell, on the Kilbrannan Sound which is the western arm of the Firth of Clyde and separates the Kintyre Peninsula from the island of Arran.

    Carradale Beach Kintyre eastern coast © 2004 Scotiana

    Carradale Beach Kintyre eastern coast © 2004 Scotiana

    In 2004, we pitched our tent in the quiet and beautiful Carradale Bay Caravan Park, north of Saddell and not far from the beach…

    Saddell Abbey environment © 2015 Scotiana

    Saddell Abbey environment © 2015 Scotiana

    We had visited the ruins of Saddell Abbey in May 2004 and we returned there in June 2015 because we wanted to share with Janice our love of this very ancient and atmospheric place together with the little building which shelters a number of medieval grave slabs and effigies dating back to the 1300s or 1400s….

    Saddell ruined abbey in Kintyre Scotland © 2015 Scotiana

    Saddell ruined abbey in Kintyre Scotland © 2015 Scotiana

    Things have not changed much in ten years though the ivy covered ruins and mossy graves have weathered a little more with time…

    Saddell Abbey Kintryre © 2015 Scotiana

    Saddell Abbey Kintryre © 2015 Scotiana

    “A good imagination is necessary to evoke a picture of this C12 Cistercian house. The only clues are a few stands of rubble walling and some turf-covered mounds; enough, however, to confirm if not immediately reveal the lines of an aisleless nave and presbytery with transepts N and S and monastic buildings around a cloister court to the s.”

    (Frank Arneil Walker Argyll and Bute  – Argyll: The Mainland)

    To get a good sense of this quiet and peaceful place, one must add to the above picture the murmur of the nearby stream and of the wind in the big trees, the songs of many birds, the resounding croak of a passing crow…

    Saddell Abbey drawing from a local information panel © 2004 Scotiana

    Saddell Abbey drawing from a local information panel © 2004 Scotiana


    Not much remains, indeed, of the old Cistercian abbey so it’s quite interesting to discover, on the reconstructed image of the abbey, what it looked like in its heyday of this important religious center when the monks lived there, in an environment quite appropriate for contemplation and meditation.


    Saddell Abbey interior choir © 2004 Scotiana

    Saddell Abbey interior choir © 2004 Scotiana

    As I was searching the Internet to know more about the history of the place I fell upon Argyll – The Making of a Spiritual Landscape, a very interesting book written by Reverend Ian Bradley and published in 2015. I’ve also bought Argyll and Bute by Frank Arneil Walker. Not only this book does interest me but also all the volumes belonging to “The Buildings of Scotland” series published by Penguin Books in association with The Buildings of Scotland Trust. I will buy them one at a time for, though these big volumes are full of precious information for people who love Scotland, these  books are not cheap. In a next selection of books for Scotiana I will describe these books more fully for they are worth it and their authors as well.

    Argyll The Making of a Spiritual Landscape Ian Bradley St Andrew Press 2015

    Argyll The Making of a Spiritual Landscape Ian Bradley St Andrew Press 2015


    It was the Cistercians who provided Argyll with the earliest of its medieval monastic communities, Saddell Abbey. The story goes that Malachy, Bishop of Armagh, came to Kintyre in the middle of the twelfth century seeking a site for a monastery and found the perfect place in a quiet glen on the east side of the Kintyre peninsula about eight miles north east of Campbeltown.

    Land was granted by either Somerled or his son, Reginald, and monks came over from Mellifont in County Louth, the first Cistercian monastery in Ireland, which Malachy had founded in 1142. Building began at Saddell around 1160 on a slightly raised promontory immediately above the confluence of Saddell Water and a stream subsequently known as Allt nam Manach, or Water of the Monks.

    Three main ranges of conventual buildings were grouped around a cloister on the south side of a cruciform church. There is a tradition that Somerled’s body was brought for burial at the newly founded monastery after he had been killed at Renfrew in 1164. Some versions of the story say that his heart was buried at Saddell and the rest of his corpse in St Oran’s Chapel on Iona.

    Saddell had a relatively peaceful and uneventful existence for the next three hundred or more years with the Cistercian monks keeping largely to themselves. The end of the community came in the late fifteenth century and coincided with the collapse of the power of its MacDonald protectors and patrons.

    Saddell was the biggest ecclesiastical building in Kintyre prior to the Reformation and in its heyday had extensive lands stretching into mid-Argyll. It is difficult to sense its prestige and importance now when it seems a small, quiet backwater, tucked away and surrounded by yew trees and rhododendrons. Most of the stones were removed from the buildings during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries for use on the Saddell estate.

    (Argyll The Making of a Spiritual Landscape Ian Bradley St Andrew Press 2015)

    Ian Campbell Bradley (born 28 May 1950) is a British academic, author, theologian, Church of Scotland minister, journalist and broadcaster. At the University of St Andrews, he is Reader in Practical Theology and Church History, Principal of St Mary’s College, and a University chaplain. He also served as the associate minister of Holy Trinity Church, St Andrews.

    He has researched and written widely on religious matters, from Celtic Christianity to the future of spirituality in Britain. In addition, he has published works on the subjects of hymnody, monarchy, the Victorian era, Gilbert and Sullivan and musical theatre. (Wikipedia)

    Saddell Abbey the little girl's grave © 2015 Scotiana

    Saddell Abbey the little girl’s grave © 2015 Scotiana

    “As so often in Argyll, it is a landscape of the dead. The abbey ruins were used as a graveyard in post-Reformation times and the area is full of tombstones.”

    (Ian Bradley – Argyll – The Making of a Spiritual Landscape)

    I always pay a silent respect to the people who rest in a graveyard, looking at the moving In Memoriam objects offered to the beloved ones… trying to decipher the mysterious inscriptions and symbols engraved on the older and  more cryptic monuments.

     Colonel Donald Campbell of Glensaddell monument in Saddell burial ground © 2015 Scotiana

    Colonel Donald Campbell of Glensaddell monument in Saddell burial ground © 2015 Scotiana

    “Standing guard over the whole site at its highest and most westerly point, although somewhat osbsured by dense shrubs and trees, is an imposing inscribed marble panel flanked by Doric pilasters commemoratin Colonel Donald Campbell of Glensaddell who died in 1784.”

    (Ian Bradley – Argyll – The Making of a Spiritual Landscape)

    This impressive monument had puzzled for a long time until I found information in Ian Bradley’s book and in Frank Arneil Walker’s big volume : Argyll and Bute (Pevsner Architectural Guides: Buildings of Scotland)

    Frank Arneil Walker's book Argyll and Bute

    Frank Arneil Walker’s book Argyll and Bute

    “At the west end of the graveyard, in an enclosure surrounded by a low wall with cast-iron railings and urns, is a mural monument commemorating Colonel Donald Campbell of Glensaddell who died in 1784; marble inscription framed on ashlar wall between Roman Doric pilasters which support full entablature and pediment.” (Argyll and Bute)


    Saddell Abbey 'shrine' © 2015 Scotiana

    Saddell Abbey ‘shrine’ © 2015 Scotiana

    This old churchyard at Saddell Abbey is full of  mysterious objects and symbols, like most Scottish churchyards indeed. Is this a shrine ? I don’t know exactly… it is very ancient anyway since it dates back to 1164… the year of the foundation of the abbey. Maybe this red sandstone kind of coffre-fort contains or did contain Somerled’s relics since the famous MacDonalds’s ancestor whose name means “summer traveller” in Gaelic was killed at Renfrew in 1164.

    Saddell old grave with a thistle © 2015 Scotiana

    Saddell old grave with a thistle © 2015 Scotiana

    A thistle here…

    Saddell Abbey medieval stones centre © 2004 Scotiana P1080572

    Saddell Abbey medieval stones centre © 2004 Scotiana P1080572

    Most interesting is a specially-built shelter containing a remarkable collection of medieval effigies and grave slabs. Seen from the outside the little building is not impressive but it is well-worth the visit and we stayed a long time taking pictures and reading the very informative panels.

    The Saddell Stones in Kintyre © 2004 Scotiana

    The Saddell Stones in Kintyre © 2004 Scotiana

    On his arrival at Saddell Abbey, the visitor is welcomed by a number of information panels describing and illustrating the history of the place. The above one is particularly interesting because it gives an overall view of medieval art and sculpture in the Lordship of the Isles, replacing the Saddell Stones in their geographic, historic and artistic context. It reads


    Art and Sculpture in the Lordship of the Isles

    Late medieval West Highland art is represented today almost exclusively by the carved stone monuments which are found throughout the Lordship of the Isles. These great stone sculptures provide us with a unique insight into the richness of Gaelic society at that time.

    More than six hundred of these monuments have survived, and the original total must have been considerably greater. The largest single group is on Iona, and there are eight collections on Kintyre including Saddell Abbey.

    There are three types of carved stone monuments: effigies and grave-slabs laid over burials, and free-standing crosses. All were made by drawing the design onto the slabs of stone and then cutting away the background to leave the pattern in low relief.

    The Kintyre School

    There appears to have been a number of ‘schools’ of carving operating in the Lordship between the 14th and the 16th centuries. The most productive was based on Iona, but there were also craftsment working in Kintyre, Oronsay, Loch Awe and Loch Sween.

    The Kintyre ‘school’ probably operated throughout much of the 15th century. Sculptures from the workshop can be found in almost all of the graveyards in Kintyre and Knapdale that contain late medieval carved stones. It appears almost certain that the school was located here at Saddell Abbey.

    Common images used by the Kintyre craftsmen include swords and galleys, also scenes of otters chasing salmon or stags being hunted by hounds.

    The Stones at Saddell Abbey

    There are twelve late medieval stones at Saddell – one cross, six grave-slabs and five effigies. The cross, four grave-slabs and one effigy have been identified as being the product of the Kintyre School, but the four largest effigies were made on Iona.

    Saddell Abbey knight effigies © 2004 Scotiana

    Saddell Abbey knight effigies © 2004 Scotiana

    On the above and below pictures you can see the twelve Saddell stones mentioned on the panel at the entrance of the site.  They are displayed back-to-back in the building.

    On the above photo five carved figures are displayed. The two first ones are generally described as priests (one is headless). I have noticed  on an old drawing of them that these figures carry swords though this feature may not have been displaced in the Middle Ages!  The last three figures represent knights in full armour, probably carved on Iona. These beautiful and well-preserved medieval effigies reminded us of the magnificent ones we had seen at Iona Abbey in the Abbey Infirmary Museum.

    Though less impressive and more difficult to decipher, the five grave slabs which can be seen on the photo below are very interesting. The second grave slab which is the most beautiful was probably carved in Kintyre with representations of west highland galleys and the long swords associated with knights.

    Elsewhere in the building there one also can find part of a beautifully decorated standing cross and a red sandstone grave slab found recently in the undercroft beneath the refectory of the abbey.

    Saddell Abbey medieval grave slabs © 2004 Scotiana

    Saddell Abbey medieval grave slabs © 2004 Scotiana

    But there is much more to discover at Saddell Abbey…


    Churchyard gate in Saddell Abbey Kintyre © 2015 Scotiana

    Churchyard gate in Saddell Abbey Kintyre © 2015 Scotiana

    An old wrought-iron door creeks open on to the unknown… we can hear the murmur of a river… no time to explore the place…

    A bull’s head with a rope and two keys ornate the churchyard gate : maybe a Macleod heraldic symbol…

    It’s always frustrating to be limited in time when you travel because you miss so many things. We visited Saddell twice but each time we were in a hurry because driving around the Kintyre proves to be longer than we had planned: we stop very often on the road to take pictures  and we always have to arrived not too late at the B&Bs we had booked in advance. We often pitched our tent at very late hours, trying not to disturb people

    Saddell Castle Kintyre Wikipedia

    Saddell Castle Kintyre Wikipedia

    So, we have much more to discover

    Enjoy !

    Again and again… and why not anticipate and plan a trip there 😉 There is a great choice of accommodation and also a very goos campsite not far and near a lovely beach, where we pitched our little tent in 2004.

    A bientôt… for sharing more about Scotland.

    Next time I will write a page about For My Sins,  Alex Nye’s new book, a fascinating historical novel, this time for adults and featuring Mary Queen of Scotland, this great and very popular figure of Scotland history who also happened to be…  Queen of France for a short time !


    For My Sins Alex Nye Fledging Press Ltd 2017

    For My Sins Alex Nye Fledging Press Ltd 2017

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    Walking down to the Mull of Kintyre’s Lighthouse


    The Mull of Kintyre is a beautiful peninsula on the West Coast of Scotland and you can admire stunning views as you get closer to the Kintyre lighthouse, which is one of the two oldest lighthouse of Scotland, the other being the Bell Rock Lighthouse, off the coast of Angus.

    scotland mull of kintyre map

    As mentioned by Mairiuna in a previous post about the Mull of Kintyre, ‘ (…) to reach this mythical point you’ll have to follow a narrow and dangerous single track road for miles, up to a signpost which reads “end of the public road”.’

    And believe me, it’s truly one of the most tortuous road in Scotland!

    Mull of Kintyre

    Mull of Kintyre end of public road © 2015 Scotiana8

    Beyond that signpost, on the other side of the gate, starts the walk down on a tarmac private road to reach the point where, was it not that you could see Ireland across, you’d say you’ve reached the end of the world.

    I’ll never forget this moment of life in contemplation of the sheer beauty of the area and also for its steep climb back up.


    To tell you the truth, at one point, I doubted I could get back by my own self to the parking lot….

    It has been one of my toughest physical threat experience of all travels. Mind you, I’m no athlete. :-) Fortunately, one step at a time, breathing in, breathing out, with the help of my dear traveling friends, Mairiuna and Jean-Claude, finally reached the parking lot . . Ouf!

    Just so you could get a ‘wee’ sense of it all, check out this video shared by James Croucher, Cheshire, United Kingdom on Trip Advisor, last August 2016.


    The Mull of Kintyre in Scotland is an absolutely fascinating place, with stunning views and a steep climb to the old lighthouse. It is a truly one of a kind place.

    The drive to the car park can be a bit of a challenge, considering that the road is quite thin and passing places are infrequent. But since not many people use the road this is generally not much of an issue. The car park, located at the top of the Mull, holds about 6 to 7 cars at most. I would not recommend the road to the car park with caravans or long/heavy loads (also note that there are not public toilets at this attraction). Once you get out of your car the first thing that you will notice is the wind. It is always extremely windy on the climb down and at the bottom, and I would seriously not recommend attempting the Mull when it is raining. It is likely to be very unrewarding in the rain as the views are very limited.

    The climb up and down the Mull is a mile of extremely steep road. You do not need walking boots to attempt this as it is concrete road all the way down. I would not recommend the entire climb to disabled or unfit people and try not to take too much luggage as lots will make the climb even harder. When we visited it was very windy, and we had odd splashes of rain that quickly died away, and since we are of average fitness the climb was not too difficult.

    Once you reach the bottom of the Mull, there is not a lot to do. We took a picnic down and ate it in the shelter of the locked up lighthouse down there (make sure you bring a picnic rug as there is very little seating), but there is not much else to do other than admire the views. The climb is definitely worth the views that cover the area and the rocks down on the bay below are absolutely stunning.

    But the views! The views were incredible. In the distance we could see Northern Ireland as it was a fairly clear day. You can see all up and down the coast and eating a picnic whilst watching the views is absolutely a one-in-a-lifetime experience. Much of the bay is visible on a clear day, and even on the windiest of days the crashing if the sea below can be heard and it is absolutely incredible. Highly recommended but not to the unfit or disabled.
    Visited August 2016 ~ James_Croucher, Cheshire, United Kingdom on Trip Advisor

    I lived at the lighthouse for 3 and a half years in the 70s its a hell of a road, and I was silly enough to drive down it worse for wear after a night out in Southend. My wife learnt to drive on the road as well… things you do when you are young eh. Three years was enough, time to return to civilisation. ~ Bill Brown (6 years ago)

    Its a bad road isnt it, especialy on foot! I walk down there every time that im home vivisting in Campbeltown its great. Thanks for the video. ~ Dougall McTav ish ( 6 years ago)

    Have spent the last week going up and down this road – but a lot more slowly! Interesting when foggy and blowing a gale.~ Christopher Anton ( 5 years ago)

    After I watched this long drive down to the lighthouse I think it was a good idea by myself not to walk down but to turn in he middle of the way…~ The Ukelele Safari. ( 5 years ago)

    I’ve been twice and I walked it both times – the first time on my own and then I went again because I wanted to share it with my husband. I had to visit because we see the light flashing from our house on the south end of Islay. Thanks for the video. ~ Mallis Gulliver ( 1 year ago)

    You can’t drive down this road any more…you can only walk it.~ Paul Cole ( 6 months ago)

    Me and my young family set off to walk it. Alright going down – those views – but coming back? Seriously knackered. … The house seen at 04.50 is worth a ganders. Looking in there it seems someone just upped and left in the 70s. Very curious. (Should say this was a few years ago, may well have changed now). ~ Chris A ( 4 weeks ago)


    A fantastic glimpse of Kintyre circa 1955. Includes one of the simplest and best descriptions of Kintyre;

    “It is 40 miles long and every mile is beautiful” :-)


    The film takes a trip along the Kintyre Peninsula, Argyll, Scotland and includes footage at Machrihanish, Carradale, Campbeltown, The Argyll Colliery, The Harbour at Campbeltown, Campbeltown Creamery, Tarbert, Bellochantuy and the Mull of Kintyre to name a few.

    Wonderful to see the beach at Machrihanish as I remember it, busy with families enjoying themselves.

    Film by Iain Dunnachie, narration by Hugh McPhee.
    The film was originally entered in the ‘On Scotland’ category at the Scottish Amateur Film Festival in 1956.


    The Mull of Kintyre has one of the most beautiful scenery of the world and as you may have caught glimpse of it above, it is a challenging countryside for walkers and hikers.

    Nevertheless, I’ll be back soon.



    PS: The area seems to have had more then it’s share of aircraft crashes but that subject will be adress in another post. Stay tuned!

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