“Walk where your ancestors walked.”

Grey clouds hung heavily in the skies as my travel buddy and I slowly made our approach to Castle Tioram. Excitement began to build in my chest as I steadily stepped out of our hire car onto the muddy ground below. We’d finally arrived after navigating some pretty dodgy roads not usually fit for sports cars to get to our destination.

This was it, my family’s castle I’d waited so long to visit!

It’s safe to say Castle Tioram has endured her fair share of battles over the centuries. But even today a battle still surrounds her, just not in the way you may think.

My ancestor’s castle – well, what’s left of it

Tracing Ancestry

Do you know if your ancestors owned a castle? On finding out in recent years that my ancestors did, I made a promise to myself that I’d go and visit it in person someday. That day came a little while ago and it was one of the most special travel experiences I’ve ever had.

If you ever visit this spellbinding fortress of Scotland, you’ll feel as though you’re being teleported back in time like you’re on an episode of “Outlander.” Well, that’s how it felt for me (minus Jack Randall, thankfully). Even though I live on the other side of the world, I had an overwhelming feeling of being at home, right there next to this castle ruin overlooking Loch Moidart.

Who would have thought?

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Making my way through the thick shrubs to reach the castle

It’s really hard for me to articulate but when I was there I felt a strong sense of belonging. I’m a direct descendant of these people who fought against the Crown many times over this castle and for what they believed in.

This is where my clan resided; where my ancestors walked. It was such a special moment for me… One I’ll never forget.

Early History of Castle Tioram

Castle Tioram (pronounced “Cheerum” in Gaelic) dates back to the 14th century and was the traditional seat of my ancestor’s clan, the Macdonalds of Clanranald. Highland clans each owned a region of land and wore a customised tartan and clan crest to identify themselves from other clans.

You can find a map of the different Highland clans here. Perhaps you’ll be surprised to see your surname!

Archaeological evidence suggests that Vikings were once present at this strategic location where Loch Moidart and River Shiel meet. Artefacts have been found in the area that date back to the Bronze Age, around the 7th century.

Maybe I have Viking in my blood…

This castle was important for the region as it would have controlled the busy shipping routes from the South Hebridean islands and Skye. It is connected to the mainland by a sandbar and becomes an island at high tide.

Seeing the ruined castle up close was mesmarizing for me

Troubled Times 

Today, the castle is a ruin. During my visit a small handful of people momentarily paused from the nearby walking track and admired the castle before continuing on their way. I wondered if I was somehow related to any of them as I didn’t expect people would visit Castle Tioram unless they knew to look for it.

With no public access to the castle’s inside due to dangers of falling rocks, this was a little disappointing to me but I to had to accept it. However, Undiscovered Scotland managed to gain access in 2012. You can view photos of their discoveries here.

I made my way through the thick shrubs surrounding the castle to look out across Loch Moidart from different vantage points. I sat on one of the large rocks nearby and contemplated the events that occurred here over the centuries. That I exist today because of a successful line of people who controlled and fought for this area.

There was something very humbling about that.

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View from the foot of Castle Tioram

So why is this Castle Tioram a spellbinding ruin today?

For centuries, this castle has been the site of many battles. Even today a battle is still raging, although not in the traditional sense with swords and bloodshed.

Allan, 14th Chief of Clanranald, followed the tradition of torching the castle in 1715 so it could not fall into the hands of his enemies after he elected to live elsewhere. During the 19th century the castle changed hands a number of times until 1997, which leads us to the current situation – arguably one of Scotland’s most shameful disputes.

After successfully purchasing the castle at auction in 1997, the owner wished to carry out restoration works and convert the castle into a private residence and clan museum. The request was denied by Historic Scotland as Castle Tioram is listed as a Scheduled Monument, therefore the board favours stabilising the castle as a ruin. Despite approval from Highland Council to proceed with restoration work and a public inquiry, the stand-off continues to this day while the castle is slowly crumbling into the loch its previous owners throughout history fought so hard to protect.

For the sake of my ancestors, I truly hope a solution can be reached soon before the castle completely falls into disrepair and this treasure of Scottish cultural significance is lost forever.

Planning Your Visit

Getting to Castle Tioram

Castle Tioram is about 80kms west of Fort William on the A830 and A861 and is accessible by car. Although, be warned from Dorlinn the last few miles of road are a bit sketchy as it’s a private road. It’s a good idea to check the tide information here before your visit to see whether the ruin will be accessible on land or whether it will become an island during your visit. Either way, it will be a marvellous sight to see 😍

Keep in Mind

The grass surrounding the castle can be quite marshy so you really need to watch where you step to avoid getting soggy shoes!

Where to Stay

Fort William is the nearest large town and has many accommodation options. You can find a list of hotels and B&B’s for the traditional Scottish experience here.

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Interesting Facts

  • If you’re a fan of the CW TV series “Reign” based on the life of Mary, Queen of Scots, you may be surprised to learn that Queen Regent of Scotland Mary de Guise ordered a storming of Castle Tioram in 1544 to bring it under control of the Scottish Crown.
  • During the 1745 Jacobite Uprising, Castle Tioram was used as storage for artillery intended for Bonnie Prince Charlie’s army. Unfortunately the young Clanranalds were stretched thin and exhausted which meant they couldn’t deliver the weapons to the Stuart army in time.
  • In 1855 during some clearing and restoration work, the owners discovered a collection of Spanish coins and silver dollars hidden beneath the burnt debris. These were given to the Clanranald family.
  • The castle remained in the Clanranald family until the early 20th century, almost 600 years!

Have you ever been so far away from home, but felt like you were actually right at home? Where has this been for you? I’d love to hear your story! And remember, if you’d like to become part of our Invisible Tourist family you can join us on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest 📌

Until next time,

The Invisible Tourist


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Castle Tioram: Spellbinding Fortress of the Scottish Highlands | The Invisible Tourist

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The Invisible Tourist
Author

Alyse has spent 9 years travelling "The Invisible Tourist Way" and hopes to encourage fellow travellers to do so, too. A professional language hoarder, she can usually be found burying herself in travel books and Wikipedia articles sipping a good hot chocolate. Her dreams? Always about the next destination and how to make the most of the experience.

4 Comments

  1. Yes, I know exactly what you mean! I visited Donegal in Ireland a few years ago, which is where my Dad’s family hail from. I’ve never felt more at home anywhere in the world. It’s what you suggested – that sense of belonging. I do hope Historic Scotland see some sense and the castle gets saved. How frustrating for the new owner as well.

    • The Invisible Tourist
      The Invisible Tourist Reply

      How wonderful for you to visit! It is quite a surreal feeling, that sense of belonging – I’m glad you felt the same about Donegal. Ireland is such a beautiful part of the world! Yes, I really hope so too. It would be a shame for so much history to be lost forever, time waits for no one unfortunately.

  2. Anne Currie-O'Brien Reply

    I am a descendant of the MacDonalds of Clanranald too. I hope to see my ancestral home one of these days. Thank you for the article. Let’s hope that smarter heads prevail and work can begin soon to preserve Castle Tioram.

    • The Invisible Tourist
      The Invisible Tourist Reply

      Thanks for your comment, Anne! Perhaps we are distant relatives 🙂 I hope you get to see it too, it’s a really wonderful feeling to visit. I agree – let’s hope something can be done sooner rather than later!

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