Own an old Campbell castle for the cost of London semi

Kilberry Castle.

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An Argyll castle owned by the same Campbell family for almost 500 years is on sale for £650,000.

Kilberry Castle in South Knapdale has belonged to the Campbells of Kilberry since 1550 when the land was forfeited by the MacDonald Lords of the Isles, and was recently the home of the late archaeologist and historian Marion Campbell, who died in 2000.

The price, the equivalent of a two-bedroom terraced house in London, will buy the historic, B-listed, four-storey 15th-century tower house with 14 bedrooms, five reception rooms, four bathrooms, billiard room, orangery, a three-bedroom holiday cottage, walled garden, and 21 acres of land near a beautiful white sandy beach, with stunning coastal views to Islay, Jura, Gigha and the Mull of Kintyre.

If you need more space, a short distance away within a spinney of woodland, there is planning consent to construct a four-bedroom house.

Paul Nicoll of Argyll land managers The Estates Office, which brought the castle to market with estate agent Knight Frank, said: ‘Obviously, at that price, we are expecting considerable interest, however the castle does need significant repair and renovation, although in many ways this is an advantage, as all of the features of the castle are still within the property, and it provides the opportunity for an individual to renovate, subject to the necessary consents, in their own image.

‘Whilst the castle has fallen into a state of disrepair it has many historic features throughout its four floors. The fireplaces in the library and the drawing room are made of Italian marble. They were custom made for John Campbell the 10th of Kilberry and his new wife during their honeymoon tour of Italy in 1871. Two of the bathrooms are located within the turrets.’

The sale is the latest chapter in Kilberry Castle’s long history dating back more than 1,000 years. The name Kilberry means ‘cella (cell or chapel) of Berach’. St Berach reputedly never visited Kilberry but was named after him in honour by a pupil. Most place names containing the element ‘Kil’ were formed by the 9th century, and there was almost certainly a church at Kilberry by then, probably where the ruins of the medieval church lie buried between the castle and the Campbell mausoleum.

Local tradition claims a monastery also – perhaps a small Celtic Christian community. There is no hard evidence for a medieval monastery, despite tales of a ‘stone room where the monks ate’ and rumours of treasure buried on the hill to escape raiders. Perhaps the castle began as a defensive work to guard the church and its people from the Viking raids that swept the coasts from 800 AD.

In 1493 the Lord of the Isles forfeited his Knapdale lands to the crown, and James IV ordered the Earl of Argyll, his chancellor, to install reliable tenants – junior family members of the Campbell clan. The Campbells of Kilberry took up the ‘middle management’ of its lands in about 1550 and it has been in the family ever since.

Captain Proby, an English pirate, attacked and burned the castle in 1513 – an event recorded above the front door. During the civil war 1643-45 the castle was besieged by a royalist contingent from the islands. The Campbell mausoleum was built by Dugald Campbell of Kilberry, a privateer, in 1733. Through surviving family letters there are all sorts of tantalising glimpses of mysteries. He started off with a privateer’s commission and reputedly somehow got into a fortune and lived in Florence as a captain – thanks no doubt to that old naval toast ‘a long war and a sickly season’ ensuring promotion.

Captain Dugald Campbell later had command of the ‘Walpole’ in the Mediterranean and had been captured and held in a Turkish prison from which he escaped with the aid of a beautiful Turkish lady he wanted to bring home and marry – but while he was in prison the British consul in Genoa, a Mr Crowe, embezzled all his prize money so he couldn’t rescue his ‘fair Turk’. His career at sea was closely aligned with his cousin ‘Great Daniel of Shawfield and Islay’ who became one of the richest and most influential Scots of the 18th century.

The castle burned down in 1773 during the time of Colin Campbell of Kilberry. He was controversially involved in a duel/murder on the island of Martinique with ensign McHarg. He fought in the battle of Culloden with the Argyll militia. He was lampooned in later life in Kays book of Edinburgh worthies. He assumed the title of Lord Berners of which he had some justification.

The castle then lay semi-derelict until 1843 when John Campbell 9th of Kilberry restored the ruins and added the tower and northern extension. The last total renovation was undertaken in 1873 by John Campbell 10th Kilberry using his wife’s dowry. The heyday of the estate lasted until his death in 1908. He kept a daily diary of life on a West Highland estate.

In 1885, a young Archie Campbell contracted scarlet fever and was confined to his bedroom for several months with his nurse. To keep him entertained, she papered the walls with pages from illustrated news, mostly political cartoons, and one wall remains virtually intact.

A poignant piece of family history remains on the top floor of the castle. In 1885 a young Archie Campbell contracted scarlet fever and was confined to his room for several months. To keep him entertained he and his nurse papered the walls with pages from the London Illustrated News, mostly political cartoons. One wall remains virtually intact today. His unfortunate sister did not survive the outbreak and is buried in the mausoleum.

After retiring as an Indian High Court judge, he became one of the giants of 20th century piping and his famous Kilberry book of Ceol Mor, although the subject of some controversy when it was first published, has since gone on to be the biggest selling piobraireachd book of all times.

The original 16th century Kilberry estate stretched from Loch Stornoway in the south, all the way north to Achahoish and included the present Ormsary estate. It consisted of 20-30,000 acres. Over the years family sub-divisions and sales reduced the estate to approximately 10,000 acres in the middle of the 19th century.

Finally, in the 1950s Marion Campbell sold off the remaining five farms and all that remained was the castle and its immediate policies. Marion Campbell, the Argyllshire author and archaeologist, lived at Kilberry Castle all her life. She was a landowner, farmer, politician, district councillor and historian. She helped to set up the local antiquarian society and she was a leading figure in the formation of the Kilmartin museum and the Auchendrain township. The present owner inherited Kilberry Castle from her.