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Bringing History and Nature to Life


Argyll + Bute, Scotland, PA29 6UD


Late 1950s - late 1980s

Various individuals in the Tarbert community contacted government departments and ministers in the Scottish Office, attempting to drive forward action to repair and make safe the ruins of Tarbert castle.  Despite meetings and letters acknowledging the importance of the castle, little action was forthcoming.

Initially, despite meetings and letters acknowledging the importance of the Castle, little action was forthcoming

Late 1980

Public meetings were convened locally, which pushed forward the need for the community to take action themselves, and a steering group was formed.

The ruins were becoming less stable, with alien vegetation taking over the site


A Limited Company Trust was registered, and action started to produce a brochure trying to raise funds.

Information signs were installed, naming features around the castle ruins.

1990 - 2005

A great amount of work was carried out trying to raise funds initially to achieve a feasibility study by experts.  Grants were applied for, but major support was not forthcoming.  During this period, the group took over ownership of the castle, but the lack of support led to action slowing.  The ruins were becoming less stable, with alien vegetation taking over the site, and the Tower House propped and fenced off due to its dangerous condition.

The Tower House, propped and fenced off due to its dangerous condition.


Tarbert and Skipness Community Trust (TSCT) approached the remaining group representatives and they agreed to hand over the Castle to the Community Trust, including an area within the scheduled site owned by a group member and £1000 in residual funds.

Tree clearance


TSCT decided that, as previous approaches to authorities who should have been responsible together with grant organizations had received little or no support, a strategy was developed to take action locally.  Tarbert Conservation Initiative (TCI) was formed to achieve a volunteer group willing to carry out work on the ground.  Volunteers started clearing vegetation at regular work parties, after Scheduled Monument (SM) consents were applied for and received.  

The Castle itself is a Scheduled Monument (ref. SM276), as is the surrounding ground (ref. SM3410), and anything which is done on the site must receive a consent.

Urgent work was carried out to improve access, and the strategically significant Kintyre Way opening ceremony was hosted at the Castle.

Kintyre Way opening ceremony, 2006


When vegetation was stripped from the ruins, a biodegradable matting was secured to keep soil in place until sown grass took hold. ......

Biodegradable matting afforded temporary shelter for the new grass seed

........This represented an affirmation of our strategy, when Historic Scotland became engaged requesting and funding this protective work. .....

It wasn't pretty, but it certainly worked

.....Also, Tarbert Academy's drama group performed “The Scottish Play” before a local audience of some two hundred residents, who were seated on the banks surrounding the inner bailey.

Tarbert Academy pupils stage "the Scottish play", outdoors at the Castle


Temporary support of the Tower House structure, with scaffolding, helped improve stability to prevent imminent complete collapse....

Temporary scaffolding saved the tower house

.....and the Castle volunteers received the Argyll & Bute "Volunteers of the Year" award.

Argyll & Bute "Volunteers of the Year, 2008"


With site clearance approaching completion, fencing the site with gate accesses commenced, to start plans for future maintenance with grazing.  The land was registered as an agricultural holding ref. no. 154/0041.

Agricultural Holding No. 154/0041. Or, to them, simply "home".

2009 - 2012

While normal maintenance and further clearance continued, a major plan to consolidate the Tower House structure at a cost of £750,000 was commenced.

Local organizations and individuals provided loans of £100,000 required as cash flow as grants were paid in retrospect, month by month, as the 3-year on-site contract commenced.

The smart way to deliver maintenance materials


Web site was established.

To provide conservation of the now grass covered areas, community Hebridean sheep were introduced to the site,......

Woolen fleeces are just the thing for a brisk walk on a chilly day

...........and, of course, from time to time, they require to be sheared. .....

Shearing the Hedbridean sheep

.....To make use of our Hebridean sheared wool, a spinning group was formed.

The spinning group, spinning.


Volunteers installed floodlighting around the Tower House.

Floodlighting of the tower house


Loans were repaid to the community lenders, and a new organisation  -  Tarbert Castle Trust (TCT), classed as a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (SCIO)  -  was formed to take over the Castle, to ensure its security in community ownership.  The TCI volunteers, together with their tools and equipment, were absorbed into this organisation.  Those volunteers, as well as continuing on site operations, were to play a major role in future developments.  Interpretation panels were permanently installed, with small signage around the site naming visible features.  It was becoming obvious that visitor numbers were increasing and, for the first time, these were monitored with people counters, which recorded 15,000 visits during 2012.


The community-owned area includes marshy ground to the south east, behind the Scheduled site, and volunteer work commenced on the reclamation of this by creating a Community Woodland, which includes a wildlife pond creating diverse habitats.  In preparation for future archaeological exploration, Roddy Regan, our consultant archaeologist, prepared a desk-based assessment of known facts about the castle, and a full non-invasive survey of the site (see document on the Archaeology page of this website).........

The new Wildlife Pond

.......and, in celebration of the Castle being open and accessible for residents and visitors, we held a ”Medieval Melee”, providing a day's themed entertainment for some 350 local people and visitors of all ages......

Roll up, roll up! Get yer knightly picture taken 'ere.

......and attended by these two medieval blokes.  We reckon they were travelling minstrels, just passing through.

A couple of odd-looking medieval blokes


The Community Woodland was established, with 700 trees planted, paths formed, and picnic tables installed, all accessed via gates from the Castle area itself.  Tarbert Academy junior pupils began using the woodland area for "forest school" activities.

A peaceful scene in the new Community Woodland


Castle access paths were created and improved, including a board walk across marshy ground, creating a circular walk around the castle and the woodland. 

Access paths and board walk - work in progress


Woodland sculptures were added to the woodland, and a further 100 trees planted.  We started working with Tarbert Academy, giving children experience in outdoor work, and this has developed into providing the practical activity for Rural Skills courses within the secondary pupils' curriculum.

Tarbert Academy pupils planting new trees at the Castle Heritage Park


Plans for a Community Orchard on remaining land behind the Castle were prepared and implemented,......

Explanatory notice at the Orchard shed

.....with some 200 fruit-producing trees and shrubs planted on not inconsiderable works to deer fence site, create raised beds with ditches between. .....

Volunteers gather at the orchard shed, with the tower house in the background

.....Having applied to Historic Scotland for permission, we received, at last, a consent on safety grounds to construct a new path, up and over the hill, on the main access route.

The new path, looking towards the harbour


As preparation for a major archaeological dig which we were planning to carry out the following year, we conducted, in 2018, a trial dig in Bruce Hill, just beyond the castle boundary.

Volunteers gain invaluable experience at our trial dig in Bruce Hill, Tarbert. Perfect weather!

.....This was very successful, in that it provided preliminary training for volunteers and revealed evidence of medieval occupation of the area.

One of several interesting finds

.....Also, to improve the visitor experience and encourage donations, we constructed a distinctive and sympathetic new canopy over the arrival gateway from Harbour Street below.  That's a turfed roof, by the way.

The distinctive gateway canopy which greets visitors arriving via the steps from Harbour Street


The "OUR CASTLE OF KINGS" community archaeological dig, designed and supervised by Roddy Regan our consultant archaeologist, ............

An example of our professionally-run excavations

..... included a children’s programme of involvement organized by the Kilmartin Museum education team.

Our chairman Robert McPhail explains the castle layout to visiting school pupils

.....In total, over the course of the whole dig, which lasted several weeks, 52 volunteers and 250 children, from schools in Kintyre and Knapdale, took part.

Some of our hard-working volunteers

.....Full details of the dig outcomes are available on our Archaeology page (on our menu, go to Castle > Archaeology).

Previously undiscovered western entrance, revealed by archaeological excavation

In 2019, we experienced a record number of visits to the site.  During the year, there were 46,000 such visits.  This equated to a 300% increase over the 2012 figure.  What a difference in just a few short years!

Excavations in 2019

Our big community dig discovered some fascinating finds, including this broken pottery.......

Broken pottery, found during our big community dig

.......and this coin from the reign of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Found coin, from the reign of Mary, Queen of Scots


We carried out a further small community dig, successfully confirming the location of an Eastern entrance to the castle......

.........on a similar scale to the previously unrecorded major Western entrance found during our 2019 big community dig.

Castle signage at western entrance

..........Despite the limitations on volunteers during the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, we updated on-site interpretation facilities, installing additional interpretive panels below a new shelter canopy in order to enhance the visitor experience.

That's another turfed roof.

A new path is planned in the woodland, and further trees will be planted.  

The new shelter canopy


Although COVID-19 continued to restrict our operations, our volunteers were undaunted, and  -  respecting distance, and taking other precautions  -  continued to form highly effective work parties for maintenance sessions.

We carried out a further, small, archaeological excavation, this time at a location near the head of West Loch Tarbert, where, according to the Exchequer Rolls of King Robert the Bruce, there had been expenditure on the construction of a ”peel”  -  a small, square, defensive tower.  We found a stone platform, and further research revealed that, in the 13th century, a clear view of the Castle battlements would have been possible, allowing the use of signals between the two locations, e.g. to warn Castle personnel of the arrival of potentially hostile ships nearing the head of West Loch Tarbert.

This dig will be included in our Archaeologist's research report, which has been delayed by Covid, but which, we hope, will be published soon....

Excavation reveals a stone platform, near the head of West Loch Tarbert, where, according to the Exchequer Rolls of King Robert the Bruce, there had been expenditure on the construction of a ”peel”. Aerial view of the stone platform

...In the summer months of 2021, visitor numbers recovered as the Covid threat receded.

The Castle Trust asked Historic Environment Scotland to deliver a presentation on ”Heritage Volunteering & Climate Change”, as the Trust's contribution to the global COP26 conference in Glasgow.  This enabled us to reassess what we had achieved to date, and the resultant diagram, summarising our activities, was presented and discussed at an online meeting of volunteer-supported national heritage organisations.

Diagram, summarising TCT activities. Our diagram of achievements


In January 2022, we added a new stats facility for our website  By August, we were pleased to note that the website had already welcomed 2,100 unique visitors since the beginning of the year.  Of course, it's in the nature of the internet that the figure quoted includes representation from a wide range of countries around the globe, so we look forward to making many new friends as word gets around and international travel gradually returns to something resembling normal.

Castle website stats, Jan-Aug 2022 Our new stats facility

As 2022 progressed, we explored further the ways in which technology can assist us.  Drawing upon the drone photography skills of one of our younger volunteers, we worked with Tarbert (Loch Fyne) Harbour Authority (THA) as partners in the preparation of a new video.

The short production, which you can watch on our Home page, promotes not-for-profit organisations in our village.

As of September, the recording was showing also via window-displayed high-brightness monitor screens at two locations in the village  -  the Marina laundry (adjacent to the walkway leading to the THA Pontoons) and the public library in Harbour Street.

The new video is available also on YouTube, and is chock full of superb footage showcasing our fine and historic West Coast fishing village, our Castle Heritage Park, and the scenic territory of North Kintyre and South Knapdale.  It's a must-see for anyone newly arrived in Tarbert, as well as for those who have not yet had the pleasure of visiting in person.

The video is:-
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New video shows on monitor in window of Tarbert Library Harbour Street Tarbert The new video showing on monitor screen within window of Tarbert Library, Harbour Street, in September 2022

In Autumn 2022, we received, from our archaeologist Roddy Regan, his final report of our 2019 Community Archeological Dig  -  the “Our Castle of Kings” project.  It makes for fascinating reading, and brings alive the tumbled masonry and grassy knolls of the Castle as we know it today.  The report can be found here.

roddy final report Archaeologist Roddy Regan's final report
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