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A Fortified Castle – Kenmure Castle

Kenmure Castle is a ruined fortified house/castle based in the Glenkens roughly 1 mile south of the town of New Galloway in Kirkcudbrightshire, Galloway, south-west Scotland. This site has been occupied since the Middle Ages and has been rebuilt and renovated many times over the years. Now a scheduled monument, this ruined yet impressive castle is a favourite of many.

The history of Kenmure Castle

The castle has sat in a derelict state since the mid 20th century. For a long while, it was the seat of the Gordon family of Lochinvar, later raised to the peerage as Viscounts of Kenmure. Though ruined, this castle remains just as impressive as it would have been in its prime.

With stories of ghosts, hauntings, and beheadings, this castle seems to have seen many things throughout its time.

The early history

The current castle we see today stands quaintly on a partly natural mound which is thought to have been modified specifically for defence in the early Middle Ages. It is also suspected that the Lords of Galloway, rulers of a semi-independent kingdom in southwest Scotland until the 13th century, may have had a fortress on the site.

Throughout time, it is suggested that Kenmure was the birthplace of John Balliol born in 1249, later named as King of Scotland. Later on, Kenmure belonged to the Douglas and Maxwell families.

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The castle is now in a ruined state. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The Gordon family

In 1297, Kenmure became the property of the Gordon family after they arrived from Berwickshire. They quickly went forth and built a castle on an island in Lochinvar around 6 miles to the north. In March of 1508, James IV of Scotland came to Kenmure following a pilgrimage to Whithorn.

When staying, the king played a form of backgammon, known as “tables” and gave money to the laird’s servants.

Kenmure Castle is destroyed

The very first castle at Kenmure, date of building unknown, belonged to Sir John Gordon of Lochinvar. Unfortunately, it was destroyed or damaged by opponents of Mary, Queen of Scots who marched throughout the southwest in June of 1568 after they had defeated Mary’s supporters at the Battle of Langside. While Regent Moray was at Kenmure, he met an English envoy by the name of Henry Middlemore.

Later, John Gordon of Lochinvar wrote to Mary, Queen of Scots and states that he would not accept Regent Moray’s terms and join his side. After he passed in 1604, an inventory was subsequently made of all the furnishings within Kenmure Castle.

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Drawing of Kenmure Castle in 1790. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Tumultuous times

In 1626, Sir Robert Gordon of Lochinvar was created a baronet. Then, later in 1633, his son Sir John Gordon was created Viscount of Kenmure by Charles I. The current castle was largely built throughout the 17th century. However, it is thought that earlier building work is still present.

During the Jacobite Rising of 1715, the 6th Viscount took part and was then beheaded. After this, his estates were forfeited. Some say that to this day, his ghost haunts the castle as he was travelled back and buried there. By 1790, Kenmure Castle was described as a ruin.

Restoring and remodelling

In 1824, the viscountcy was restored to Captain John Gordon who then died in 1840. It then passed to his nephew who died soon after in 1847. Afterwards, the castle laid dormant for a long while. The castle was then extensively modernised and remodelled during the 19th century when the courtyard wall, as well as the northeast tower, were removed with the use of gunpowder.

In 1840, the south range was rebuilt.

Main door way to Kenmure Castle
The main doorway to the castle in the present day. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The architects

The two architects mainly responsible for the changes were William McCandlish and Hugh Maclure. However, in 1879, the Sheffield-based architect Matthew Ellison Hadfield was also employed to remodel the west range. In 1908, further extensions were made by the famous architect Christian Elliot.

Kenmure Estate is sold

In 1923, the estate was sold. However, the castle itself was let to and later purchased by Brigadier-General Maurice Lilburn MacEwen CB, late 16th The Queen’s Lancers. He was also the battalion commander of the Stewartry Home Guard. From around 1940 to 1957, the castle operated as a hotel run by Stanley Dobson and his business partner Hugh Ormond Sparks.

Unfortunately, in 1958, the building’s interior, as well as the roof, were stripped and removed. Then, in 1962, the ruins were purchased by Graeme Gordon. The site was made a scheduled monument in 1998. To this day, the castle is haunted by “The Headless Piper of Kenmure”.

The present day

Nowadays, the castle is in a heavily ruined condition. While it can be visited, extreme caution must be exercised. The walls are crumbling and continuously falling down. Make sure you don’t wander inside as large chunks of rocks are falling within the castle.


At this point, no plans have been made to rebuild the castle.

You may enjoy reading about other Scottish castles such as Duntrune Castle and Drum Castle.

Kenmure Castle Timeline

  • 1249-John Balliol is born at Kenmure
  • 1297- Kenmure becomes the property of the Gordon family after they arrive from Berwickshire
  • 1508- James IV of Scotland comes to Kenmure following a pilgrimage to Whithorn
  • 1568- The castle is destroyed or damaged by opponents of Mary, Queen of Scots who march throughout the southwest after they defeat Mary’s supporters at the Battle of Langside
  • 1604- An inventory is subsequently made of all the furnishings within Kenmure Castle
  • 1626- Sir Robert Gordon of Lochinvar is created a baronet
  • 1633- Sir Robert Gordon’s son, Sir John Gordon is created Viscount of Kenmure by Charles I
  • 1715- The 6th Viscount takes part in the Jacobite Risings and is then beheaded
  • 1790- Kenmure Castle is described as a ruin
  • 1824-The viscountcy is restored to Captain John Gordon
  •  1840-Captain John Gordon passes away
  • 1847- The Kenmure Castle lays dormant
  •  1840- The south range is rebuilt
  • 1879- The Sheffield-based architect Matthew Ellison Hadfield is employed to remodel the west range
  • 1908- Further extensions are made by the famous architect Christian Elliot
  • 1923- The estate is sold
  • 1940 to 1957- The castle operates as a hotel run by Stanley Dobson and his business partner Hugh Ormond Sparks
  • 1958- The building’s interior, as well as the roof, are stripped and removed
  • 1962- The ruins are purchased by Graeme Gordon
  • 1998- The site is made a scheduled monument

Kenmure Castle facts

  • Kenmure Castle is haunted by the ghost of a beheaded man named ‘The Headless Piper’ whose body is buried at the castle
  • A sundial bearing the date 1623 from Kenmure is now in Dumfries Museum
  • The castle has been derelict since the mid-20th century
  • Kenmure Castle was long held by the Gordon family
  • The castle is prominently marked on Blaeu’s map of the middle part of Galloway as ‘Cast Kenmoir’

Tourism

Once, Kenmure Castle was an absolutely stunning piece of architecture. While still impressive, it is only a shell of what it once was. Today, you can still visit the castle. However, you must be very wary when entering as it is in an extremely ruinous condition.

Make sure you do not enter the castle as many walls are crumbling which poses a large hazard. Nearby, you can visit New Galloway, Balmaclellan, The Standing Stone of Dalarran, and Dalry Parish Church.

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