Kerelaw Castle is an outstanding ruin situated on the rugged coast of North Ayrshire, Scotland. Known for its ivy, this castle in the town of Stevenston is now completely ruined. However, it still remains a favourite for many people due to its huge ivy-covered walls.
The history of Kerelaw Castle
Referred to by locals as a massively overgrown ruin, Kerelaw Castle has retained most of its romantic charm. Now, it is owned by the surviving male descendant of the Hamilton family, Logan Neely. Though it is now a simply overgrown ruin, it holds a fulfilling and dramatic history.
The early history
Kerelaw Castle has known many names throughout its life. It is often referred to as Kerelaw, Kerila, or even Turnlaw for various reasons. According to Timothy Pont, it had likely been held by the Lockharts from Richard de Morville, Constable of Scotland, as far back as 1191. This was after Stephen Lockhart or Loccard obtained a grant of land in Ayrshire.
This land would later be named Stevenstoune (later Stevenston) after himself, and their manor-place of the barony of Stevenston named Kerelaw. Later on, the castle and barony were passed to the Campbells of Loudon and afterwards to the Cunninghame’s, also spelt Cunningham’s/Cuninghames, of Kilmaurs.
In 1488, Kerelaw Castle was in the hands of the Cunninghame’s when it was sacked and burned by the 2nd Lord Montgomerie, during the well-documented and long-term feud between these two prominent Ayrshire families. The Cunninghame’s, led by the Earl of Glencairn, went forth and burned Eglinton Castle to the ground as an act of revenge in 1528.
Rebuilding Kerelaw Castle
It is thought that Kerelaw was rebuilt again sometime after 1488. It is reported that it contained a large number of the carved coat of arms of the Scottish nobility. These are thought to have been taken from Kilwinning Abbey.
In 1545, nine fishermen from Saltcoats were granted leases in return for carrying all of the Earl’s furniture. It was also arranged that a half barrel of herrings was to be furnished yearly to the Earl.
Local tradition states that the Kerelaw Castle had been the residence of the Abbot of Kilwinning. This may have arisen from the fact that the third son of Alexander Cunningham, 1st Earl of Glencairn, became the Commendator of the abbey after the reformation and may have also lived at Kerelaw.
In 1609, Kerelaw Castle was purchased by Sir Thomas Boyd. However, soon after, it was sold again to Sir William Cunninghame of Cunninghamhead. Around thirty years later, the castle, as well as the nearby lands, were purchased by Sir Robert Cunninghame of Auchenharvie.
In 1655, Kerelaw Castle was once again purchased. This time, by Alexander Hamilton (the grandfather of Alexander Hamilton, a founding father of the United States of America), formerly of Cambuskeith (now known as ‘The Mount’), and afterwards of Grange. He changed the name of the castle and its grounds to Grange, after the family home in Kilmarnock.
In 1685, Clements, Graham, and McLatchie say that the sale of Kerila (Kerelaw) to John Hamilton by Robert Reid Cunninghame of Seabank House (Auchenharvie) whose mining activities were causing him financial difficulties happened. After this, Kerelaw Castle remained the main residence of the Hamilton family until 1787 when another Alexander Hamilton (second cousin of the American politician), built Kerelaw (or Grange) House nearby.
This then led to Kerelaw Castle becoming unused. Further on, in 1838, the house, castle, and grounds were sold to Gavin Fullerton after Alexander’s death. Fullerton soon restored the original name of Kerelaw to retain its heritage.
The current day
Nowadays, Kerelaw Castle is nothing but a romantic and overgrown ruin. While writing this, only three walls survive, each in a different state of decay. Unique Gothic windows still exist on the southern wall that are thought to have been inspired by those at Kilwinning Abbey. They are proof that the castle was built throughout many points in history.
An old bridge, now used for pedestrians only is situated alongside the ruin. However, the castle itself is fenced off to protect the public from the decay and the castle from unwanted attention. You can still gain a great view of the castle from outside the fence. In 2014, some repairs were carried out to the building and immediate surroundings in order to clear excess trees and shrubs that were either harming or hiding the elegant structure.
Kerelaw Castle Timeline
- 1191- Kerelaw Castle is held by the Lockharts from Richard de Morville, Constable of Scotland
- 1488- Kerelaw Castle is in the hands of the Cunninghame’s and is sacked and burned by the 2nd Lord Montgomerie, during the well documented and long-term feud between these two prominent Ayrshire families.
- 1528- The Cunninghame’s, led by the Earl of Glencairn, go forth and burn Eglinton Castle to the ground as an act of revenge
- 1488- Kerelaw Castle is built
- 1545- Nine fishermen from Saltcoats are granted leases in return for carrying all of the Earl’s furniture
- 1609- Kerelaw Castle is purchased by Sir Thomas Boyd and sold again to Sir William Cunninghame of Cunninghamhead soon after
- 1655- Kerelaw Castle is once again purchased by Alexander Hamilton
- 1685- Clements, Graham and McLatchie say that the sale of Kerila (Kerelaw) to John Hamilton by Robert Reid Cunninghame of Seabank House (Auchenharvie) whose mining activities were causing him financial difficulties happened
- 1838- The house, castle, and grounds are sold to Gavin Fullerton after Alexander’s death and restored the original name of Kerelaw to retain its heritage
- 2014- Some repairs are carried out to the building and immediate surrounds in order to clear excess trees and shrubs that are either harming or hiding the elegant structure
Kerelaw Castle facts
- Kerelaw Castle has known many names throughout its life
- At one point, Kerelaw Castle was renamed Grange Castle
- The castle is still in the hands of the Hamilton family
- A cobbled ford once crossed the Stevenston Burn in the Kerelaw Glen beneath the castle and ran up the bank passed the Kerelaw Mains home farm
- The castle’s former walled garden with its sundials and complex flowerbed layout is now occupied by a housing estate and only one structure of it remains
Who owns Kerelaw Castle?
Nowadays, the ruined Kerelaw Castle is owned by the surviving male descendant of the Hamilton family, Logan Neely. As the castle is in ruin, it is not his place of residence.
Even though it is now just a ruin, there is still a lot to see when visiting Kerelaw Castle. Although it is now fenced off to avoid injuries and unwanted visitors to the castle, you can gain a great view of it from behind the fence. It truly is a magnificent ruin.
Still covered in ivy, this romantic castle attracts many people, particularly artists and poets due to its beauty. To get there, you embark on only a short walk throughout the countryside and woods. It is definitely worth the visit.
Nearby, you can visit Great Cumbrae, Dean Castle Country Park, Kelburn Castle and Estate, Jedburgh Castle, and Dundonald Castle.