Located in one of the most beautiful and isolated parts of Great Britain, the medieval Kisimul Castle can be found on a small rocky outcrop off Castlebay, Barra, in the Outer Hebrides. It is completely surrounded by sea and can only be reached by boat. With walls that are constructed on the very edge of the bedrock, the castle seems to float on water more like a great ship than a stone fortress. ‘Caisteal Chiosmuil’ literally translates as ‘Castle of the Rock’.
Since the 11th century legend has it that this has been the stronghold of the MacNeils, a Scottish clan that come from Barra. The earlier history of the Clan MacNeils is not well documented and remains obscure but they lay claim to being related to ‘Niall of the Nine Hostages,’ an Irish King and the ancestor of the Uí Néill family that dominated Ireland from the 6th to the 10th century. The earliest official records of the castle date back to the 16th century.
Kisimul was abandoned in 1838 when the island was sold and the castle fell into ruin. In 1937 the remains of the castle along with most of the island of Barra were purchased by modern-day Chief of the Clan, Robert Lister MacNeil, (known in Scotland as Clan Niall).
Officially Kisimul Castle remains in the hands of the MacNeil family but in 2001 it was leased by Robert Lister MacNeil to Historic Scotland for 1,000 years. The price for this agreement was £1 a bottle of whisky per year.
There has been extensive archaeological research undertaken on the site revealing animal bones and shells. It is hoped that further investigations will assist archaeologists with their studies regarding the type of diet that was eaten by those who lived in the castle.
Quantities of broken pottery also found at the site appear to range in date from prehistoric times through to the medieval period and coming forward to the more recent past. Other finds have included Neolithic flint blades and jewellery demonstrating that people were using the island thousands of years before the present castle was built.
Visitors need to be aware that at high tide the only access to the castle is by boat from Castlebay and, although this is only a short trip, it is subject to the prevailing weather conditions. Kisimul Castle was recently listed by the Huffington Post as the fourth most remote destination to visit in Britain and is the only (largely intact) surviving medieval castle in the Western Isles.
Camping and Caravanning Club Site
A850 (Rd), Loch Greshornish Borve, Portree
Isle of Skye, Scotland, IV51 9PS
+44 (0)1470 582 230
- Address: Pier Rd, Castlebay, Isle of Barra, Western Isles, Outer Hebrides, Scotland, UK, HS9 5UZ
- GPS: 56.9522375,-7.487585699999954
- Phone: 0044 (0) 1871 810 313
- Part of UK: Scotland
- Sat Nav Postcode: HS9 5UZ
- Entrance Fees: Charges Apply
- Disabled Access: Poor
- Visibility from Road: Good
- Image Credits: Luca Quadrio