As you walk or drive along the south-east coast of Islay, passing a succession of whitewashed distillery buildings and skirting some secluded rocky inlets, you’d be forgiven for missing the ruins of Dunyvaig Castle, perched high on a promontory overlooking Lagavulin Bay.
Very little remains of this ancient stronghold, which was built on the top of an Iron-age ‘dun’ or hill fort, and the crumbling walls seem to have melded themselves back into the rock on which they stand.
According to several sources, Dunyvaig Castle was possessed by the MacDonalds, Lords of the Isles, who found a safe anchorage for their fleet in the sheltered harbour. This would have been from the 11th century onwards, but little remains of this early structure. According to Canmore, the RCAHMS database, “the masonry of most of the castle is of early West Highland type 13th century.”
Dunyvaig was added to by successive generations, and changed hands a few times between the MacDonalds and the Campbells until 1677, when it was finally allowed to fall into disrepair.
Although the castle would at one time have been quite a high and imposing structure, only a fragment of the main building still stands. Experts have identified the remnants of an inner court and an outer court within a curtain wall, and some rectangular buildings; there is also the suggestion of a barbican or fortified entrance, and a 17-foot-wide sea gate.
Despite the ravages of nature and aggressive clan chiefs, Dunyvaig is still an imposing and romantic sight. You can walk to the castle and climb around the ruins, but it’s not the safest place in icy or wet weather as the rocks are slippery and there are no barriers between you and the waves below!
Across the sea to the south-east is the long coastline of Kintyre, and on the southern horizon, on a very clear day, you might glimpse the coast of Antrim in Northern Ireland. The minor road which threads its way around the shore passes through some beautiful old woodland where red and roe deer feed in the shadows, before coming to an end at Claggan Bay, a wide sweep of sand and shingle.
All images copyright © Colin & Jo Woolf