The Out About Scotland complete guide to Castle Campbell and Dollar Glen
What’s this attraction all about?
For an afternoon walk that includes meandering rivers, rushing waterfalls, deep gorges, towering trees and a castle with one of the best views in Scotland, the trail around Dollar Glen is hard to beat. This beautiful stretch of woodland is situated close to the village of Dollar in Clackmannanshire and it’s been a popular recreation site since Victorian times, which is easy to understand once you leave your car and step out onto the path that quickly loses itself within the dense trees and ferns of the glen.
There’s an extraordinarily diverse variety of wildlife habitats here with lots of woodland animals to be seen in the lush, wooded gorges, and in spring and summer the glen explodes with colour from a carpet of wildflowers. To my mind, Dollar Glen has to be one of the prettiest places in Scotland.
Although the glen is managed by the National Trust for Scotland, the site’s other popular attraction is managed by Historic Environment Scotland, the government organisation that serves to preserve and protect the nation’s heritage.
Castle Campbell sits high on top of an outcrop that looks out over Dollar Glen and the surrounding countryside in a location that’s regarded as one of the most dramatic in Scotland, which is something that you can’t help but agree with once you visit it. Home to the powerful Campbell Earls of Argyll since the 1400s, the castle now lies mainly in ruin, but even so there’s a lot of things to see on a visit to this historic site, including one of Scotland’s best-preserved tower houses and an extremely tranquil terraced garden.Read more...
What can you do there?
Dollar Glen is definitely worth a visit even if you don’t stop to wander around Castle Campbell, but I’d recommend you fit both attractions into one day, especially as you’ll be passing around the castle as you follow the woodland trail that runs through the glen.
Wildlife lovers are going to really enjoy this walk thanks to the different plants and animals that call the deep gorges their home, and not only is Dollar Glen a nationally important site for lichens and ferns but it’s also a haven for a large number of bird species, with woodpecker’s, dippers, and nuthatches frequently visible as they flit about near the gently flowing burns.
The dramatically named Burns of Sorrow and Care run right the way through the glen and the woodland path crosses over these stretches of water in several places, but thankfully the risk of slipping down the steep gorges is kept to a minimum as the paths are well maintained. Even so, they can get extremely muddy at times, especially in winter, so if you’ve got a dog or a wayward toddler it might be worthwhile investing in a wipeable car seat cover….
Castle Campbell is impossible to miss during your walk around Dollar Glen and it’s worth exploring even if you’re not really into dilapidated old buildings. There’s a powerful atmosphere at the site which is probably caused by the dramatic setting, but I think it’s equally due to the imposing tower house that stands over 20 metres high above the central courtyard. Fashioned from a deep-grey stone, the tower house was once the Campbell family residence and was originally known as Castle Glume, although to my mind the name Castle Gloom is way more appropriate.
Stepping inside the tower house you’ll find a stairway that leads up onto the roof for some spectacular views across Dollar Glen, while heading back down to the courtyard will take you out onto the terraced gardens and the John Knox pulpit where the revered Edinburgh preacher supposedly gave a sermon in 1556. There’s also a small visitor centre on the site and there are plenty of information displays dotted about so you can find out more about the castle’s history, while the picnic area is the perfect place to take a rest before heading back out into the wilds of the glen.
The history of the attraction
It’s easy to see why a fortification was built in Dollar Glen as it commands excellent views all the way to the horizon, but although the castle that we see today is known for being home to Clan Campbell, it was originally built in 1430 for Lord Lorne, a Scottish noble who was a prominent political figure at the time. It wasn’t until 30 years later that the property passed to the Campbells when the 1st Earl of Argyll married Lord Lorne’s daughter, and it remained with the family for the next 400 years.
Over the generations the castle was expanded and modified several times, firstly with the addition of the east range and then with the south range, while an arched loggia (an exterior gallery with one side open to the elements) was added in the 1590s.
However, with the execution of the 8th Earl of Argyll in 1660 the Campbells chose to build new lodgings in Stirling rather than continue to live in the castle, and apart from a brief spell when it was used as a Jacobite garrison in the mid-1700’s, it was left to fall into disrepair.
The Campbells finally sold the castle in 1805 and it passed into the ownership of several wealthy Scots over the next 140 years, until it was finally handed into state care in the 1940s. Today, Historic Environment Scotland manages Castle Campbell, which has now been designated as a scheduled ancient monument.
What I liked about this attraction
- It’s two attractions in one!
- Dollar Glen is beautiful and the walk through it is fantastic
- Castle Campbell is well worth exploring. Don’t forget to climb to the top of the tower for an amazing view
What I didn’t like about this attraction
- The paths through the glen can get very muddy. Wear boots in winter
- The car park can get very busy at the weekend. Get there early to secure a space
You can start your walk from several places on the circular path and you’ll most likely have parked up either in Dollar village or at the car park on Castle Road, but my preference would be the car park nearest the castle as it allows you to nip back to the car to grab a picnic if you want to enjoy the castle gardens for lunch. As the route is circular you can’t really get lost unless you decide to leave the path for some reason, but seeing as it leads onto several viewpoints with benches you’re best off sticking to it anyway.
From nearly all of these viewpoints you’ll be able to see Castle Campbell, while the lower sections of the path run alongside the gentle burns for a considerable section of the walk. Not all of the stretches of water are peaceful though and there’s a couple of areas where the water positively thunders down some fairly impressive waterfalls, so remember to bring your camera as it’s quite a sight.
- Telephone: 01259 742 408
- email: NA
- Website: Historic Environment Scotland
Prices and opening times
- HES Member/Explorer Pass holder: Free
- Adult: £6.00
- Child aged 5–15: £3.60
- Child under 5: Free
- Concession: £4.80
- 1 April to 30 September: Daily, 9.30am to 5.30pm. Last entry 5pm
- 1 October to 31 March: Daily except for Thursday and Friday, 10am to 4pm. Last entry 3.30pm
- 25 and 26 December
- 1 and 2 January