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26 June 2023

Castle Sween reopens to visitors

Castle Sween reopens today (Monday 26 June), with visitors once again being able to explore the 900-year-old ruin.

Aerial view of Castle Sween

One of Scotland’s oldest castles, stronghold of Suibhne ‘the Red’, re-opens today

Castle Sween is the oldest castle on the Scottish mainland. It is named after Suibhne ‘the Red’, a chieftain of Irish descent and ancestor of the MacSweens. He built Castle Sween in the 1100s, a time when Argyll lay outside the Kingdom of Scotland.

After two tumultuous centuries, during which control of Argyll and the Isles was in dispute between Norway and Scotland, the castle passed to the MacDonald Lords of the Isles in the late 1300s. In 1481 James III of Scotland, fearful of the MacDonalds’ treachery, entrusted the castle to the Campbell earls of Argyll. The castle was destroyed in 1647 and stands now as ruins.

Access restrictions were put in place at the start of last year, as a safety precaution while HES, who manages the site, introduced new measures to manage the impact of climate change on its heritage assets, an issue which is affecting heritage owners globally. Castle Sween is the latest of a series of sites to reopen following inspections and necessary repairs to the masonry.

The High-Level Masonry Programme, which is the result of ongoing risk assessment and sample surveys, assesses the impact of climate change on sites as well as the scale of deterioration caused by a number of other factors, including the materials used in the building’s construction, its age and physical location. Whilst this is not an issue unique to Scotland, HES is believed to be amongst the first heritage managers to approach it in this way, with the results shared with peer organisations.

Craig Mearns, Director for Operations at HES, said:

“As Scotland’s oldest mainland castle, Castle Sween is breathtaking even now, 900 years after it was first built. We are thrilled to be able to welcome visitors back to this truly unique site which encapsulates the back-and-forth between Scots and Norwegians in the Middle Ages.”

Castle Sween is free to visit and is an unstaffed site. Some partial restrictions will remain in place.

About Historic Environment Scotland (HES) 

  • We are the lead public body charged with caring for, protecting, and promoting the historic environment. We will lead on delivering Scotland’s first strategy for the historic environment, Our Place in Time.
  • Historic Scotland, Scran, Canmore, The National Collection of Aerial Photography (NCAP), The Engine Shed, Stirling Castle, and Edinburgh Castle are sub-brands of HES.
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For further information, please contact:

Robin Kepple
Historic Environment Scotland Media Office
07721 959 962