Standing on the banks of Loch Awe amidst some of the finest Scottish scenery, Kilchurn Castle is among the country’s most iconic medieval ruins and has long caught the eye of landscape photographers. In this article, I’ll explain how to photograph Kilchurn Castle, cover the best photo locations, and offer some tips for getting the best images possible.
Why Photograph the Kilchurn Castle
Kilchurn castle is located on a small peninsula in the northern part of Loch Awe in the Argyll and Bute region of the country. Marking the beginning of the Scottish Highlands, this area is well known for its desolate yet gorgeous landscapes.
There is no shortage of excellent photography locations around. Glencoe, Beinn a’Chrulaiste, and Etive waterfall are but a few examples. But despite the variety, it’s the Kilchurn Castle that many consider the “unmissable” highlight of this part of Scotland.
And once you see it, you’ll immediately know why. On a clear windless morning, with the sun painting the hills behind it in crimson and hardly a ripple to disturb the lake, Kilchurn Castle looks absolutely stunning. Right there is a photo that would make any photographer happy.
Yet you need to work hard for it. A seemingly easy subject, Kilchurn Castle isn’t as straightforward to capture as you might imagine. Whether it’s the wind that breaks the surface of the water or fog obscuring the peaks, getting the perfect conditions is extremely difficult.
And it’s this combination of beauty and challenge that makes Kilchurn Castle photographers’ favorite. It’s a location you might find yourself returning to over and over again because every time it is different. But if you get it right, you know you’re walking away with a keeper.
Kilchurn Castle Photo Locations
There are two large areas you can photograph Kilchurn Castle from. One is to the south from across the bay, the other — east, from the castle’s peninsula. Each can be split into a couple of smaller locations that are similar to each other but grant a sufficiently different composition.
I have marked all of them on the map above for your reference. Let’s now discuss each one in more detail, with some sample images and a few tips on when and how to best approach them.
Kilchurn Grazings is a boggy patch of land almost due south of the castle across the bay. It is one of the most popular spots to photograph the fortress and is easily accessible from road A819.
There are a couple of small pull-over areas to park right next to where the path starts. From there, pass through the sheep gate with the “No drones” sign and follow the barely visible trail to the lake shore.
It’s a short walk but can be quite swampy if it rained recently. Wasn’t too bad when I was there but it’s a good idea to bring waterproof hiking boots or wellies. The muddiest parts are covered with logs and bits of the boardwalk but you might have to do some occasional rock-hopping.
Once at the shore, spend a few minutes to find the best composition. One option is to align the castle against the valley behind it. This creates some strong leading lines. Another is to play with the foreground elements, such as rocks, trees, or patches of grass.
There’s no one right answer here as the scene changes a lot depending on the conditions. Ideally, you want to be here on a calm windless morning. As the first light breaks from the east, the castle and the hills behind flare with an amazing golden hue.
So be ready for when that happens. And if you’re lucky enough to also catch the reflections in the water, you’re in for a treat. But don’t be discouraged if that’s not the case. You can always get some great images here no matter the weather.
The Tree Grove
The Tree Grove is what I call the small rocky peninsula in the eastern part of Kilchurn Grazings. Technically, it belongs to the same area and is accessible from the same trailhead, but the view is sufficiently different to discuss it separately.
From here, you’re looking at Kilchurn directly from the side. This might work better when there’s no good light or if you fancy a less conventional image.
Another perk of the Tree Grove is that sheep like to sleep and hang out around here. We found a whole pack of them just chilling there. Super friendly too, some even came to cuddle and play.
Sometimes, they would be kind enough to pose. That’s your chance to get a more rural-feeling photo with a unique twist on the classic composition. Obviously, be respectful of the animals and don’t harass them into doing anything. That wouldn’t be cool!
One annoying drawback of Tree Grove is that from this angle, high-voltage power lines are visible behind the castle. You can easily fix that in post but that’s something to be aware of.
Otherwise, it’s a great photo location throughout the entire morning. Feel free to come here after shooting the sunrise at Kilchurn Grazings or if you slept over. Happens to the best of us!
The previous two locations are rather far from Kilchurn and across the water. To photograph the castle from up close, you have to approach it from the east instead.
Unfortunately, Kilchurn is not accessible by car or any other means of transportation. The closest you can drive to is the car park on A85. Although there is no sign for the castle, it’s a large space and you won’t miss it.
From there, it’s a 15-minute walk to the ruin. Right at the start, you’ll notice that the path forward is blocked by a metal gate with some warning signs. Don’t try to climb it. It’s a private railroad crossing and doing so is probably illegal.
Instead, follow the narrower trail on your right. It’ll take you under the rail bridge and to the other side of the tracks. Keep walking, and you’ll soon see Kilchurn castle in the distance. But don’t rush there just yet. There are a couple of compositions along the road that are worth exploring.
One idea is to photograph a person (maybe even yourself) walking toward the castle. This makes for a nice Instagram shot, especially on a gloomy day if you’re wearing something bright. Alternatively, use grass and vegetation on either side of the path as a foreground element.
This location works extremely well during sunset or in the evening golden hour. Because you’re shooting west, into the setting sun, you’ll be able to capture all the colors of the evening sky behind the castle.
Near the Castle
The same path will lead you straight to the castle walls. This might not sound like the perfect place to photograph it from — you’re facing away from the best landscape and the ruin is a bit too dominant in the frame — but you can still get some decent results.
The key is finding a strong composition. The typical one from where the road ends is okayish but somewhat underwhelming. So instead, I suggest spending some time walking around the castle walls and seeing what catches your eye.
The photo above is from the edge of the water to the left of the castle entrance. To me, it felt like a good angle to capture Kilchurn against the burning clouds of the sunset. Just keep in mind that the ground can be wet and muddy there, so wear proper shoes.
From Inside the Castle
Castle Kilchurn is open to the public and free to visit. So if you want, you can go inside and search for a less conventional image.
To be honest, I mainly include this for completeness and would put it pretty low on the priorities list. In my opinion, from the inside, Kilchurn looks like any other medieval ruin and loses much of its charm. In other words, I wouldn’t expect anything groundbreaking.
Still, if you’re around, it may be worth a quick peek. Please note that as I’m writing this, Kilchurn is temporarily closed for conservation works. You can check for the latest updates and opening hours on the Historic Environment Scotland website.
From the Air
Ok, now we’re getting onto some slippery territory. Wouldn’t it be cool to photograph this amazingly picturesque castle with a drone? There are so many amazing angles to explore — just have a look at this image from Google Maps for example.
There’s just one problem. Drones are not allowed near Kilchurn Castle. There are “No Drones” signs everywhere — at the castle, on the parking lot, even at the gate to the Grazings. Where exactly they apply is unclear but it’s pretty obvious the landowners are allergic to drones.
To fly legally, you’d need prior approval from HES (Historic Environment Scotland) who are currently in charge of the castle. The process is quite tedious and implies submitting a bunch of paperwork including your drone registration and certificate of competency.
However — and what follows is by no means legal advice — from what I could gather, land owners in Scotland can only prohibit launching from their ground. Flying over the privately owned estate might actually be fair game.
According to this article, “drones fall within the scope of the Civil Aviation Act 1982, section 76(1) of which provides that no action of trespass or nuisance may arise solely out of the flight of an aircraft over the property (whether for commercial or leisure purposes).”
What you do with this information is up to you. My recommendation is to always follow the rules. That said, when I visited Kilchurn Castle, there were no officials on site and hardly any visitors either. And yes, I could hear someone’s drone buzzing over my head at some point.
When to Photograph Kilchurn Castle
It is no secret that landscape photographers like to plan their shoots around sunrises and sunsets. That’s when you often get dramatic light and bright vivid colors. And for Kilchurn castle, both would be an excellent choice.
In the morning, Kilchurn Grazings is easily the best pick. The sun will be rising behind you, painting the castle and the hills behind it with soft golden tones. The wind is often calmer in these early hours, giving you a chance to nail that iconic reflection image.
For sunset, any location would work but I prefer the castle road or the area near the castle itself. From these, you are shooting almost directly into the sunset, allowing you to capture all of its burning beauty.
But even if you can only visit Kilchurn during the day, don’t let that discourage you. The weather in Scotland is famously unpredictable and sometimes, amazing conditions happen when you least expect them. Just come and see what you can achieve — you might get lucky.
When it comes to gear, there’s no right or wrong answer. Whatever you’re comfortable with — be that a phone or a professional camera — will do the job if you know how to get the maximum out of it. That said, here is a short list of what I think could be useful at Kilchurn.
- A standard travel lens such as 24-105 mm. In most cases, you will be photographing Kilchurn from afar, and having the ability to zoom in on it is highly desirable.
- A wide-angle zoom is quite handy when photographing the castle from a closer distance.
- A sturdy tripod is a must during sunsets or sunrises or for any sort of longer exposures, time-blends, or time-lapses.
- An ND filter can help to smooth out the water and get a better reflection when there’s some wind and ripples.
- A polarizing filter, on the contrary, is great at reducing reflections. You might occasionally want that — for instance if you have water in the foreground.
In addition to the above, here are a few non-camera-related items that are worth considering for your photography trip to Kilchurn Castle.
- Water-proof boots or wellies. While the castle itself stands on solid rock, the ground around it is often boggy, muddy, and wet. Bring shoes that can handle some beating.
- A repellent or a mosquito net in case midges show up. We’ve been lucky enough to not have them but it’s better to be prepared. Trust me.
- A rain jacket in case it starts to drizzle — not a rare occurrence in Scotland.
- A headlamp to see where you’re stepping when it’s dark.
Getting to Kilchurn Castle
The quickest and most convenient way to get to Kilchurn Castle is by car. Driving time is around 2.5 hours from Edinburgh and slightly over 1.5 hours from Glasgow. This means that you can visit Kilchurn as a day trip from either city and even see some other sites while you’re at it.
If you’re using Waze or Google Maps for navigation, simply put in Kilchurn Castle Car Park or Kilchurn Grazings for A85 and A819 car parks respectively, and it’ll get you there. Just remember that roads in this part of Scotland are quite narrow so drive carefully.
Public transport is also an option albeit a much slower one. The nearest train station is Loch Awe. From there, you can either walk, cycle, or catch a taxi to Kilchurn. On foot, it’s about 30 minutes along the A85 road. There are no sidewalks so be alert, let the traffic pass, and carry a reflector.
All in all, expect a journey of at least 4 hours from Edinburgh when using public transport. Being at Kilchurn for sunrise or sunset that way without staying overnight could be difficult. But if that’s the option you prefer, Google Maps or Traveline Scotland will help you plan the route.
There’s undeniably something mystical and magical about Kilchurn Castle. Maybe it’s the serene landscape and remote location. Maybe, it’s the mystery that surrounds it. Or perhaps, it’s a combination of all these factors.
But whatever it is, one thing is for certain. It’s a place that calls out to all the photographers and photo enthusiasts who see it. And that’s not at all surprising. In many ways, Kilchurn Castle represents what it feels like to be in Scotland.
Hopefully, with this photography guide to Kilchurn Castle, you now have all the tools to go and create some stunning images of it. If that’s the case and you got something useful out of it, please do me a favor and share it with your friends and on social media.
As always, I’ll be happy to answer any questions that you might have. In the meantime, explore the rest of the blog. I have a bunch of articles about Scotland and other destinations and I think you’ll enjoy them as well. Here are just some of my recommendations:
- Photography Guide to Scotland: How to Get Amazing Images
- Edinburgh Photography Guide: Best Locations and Practical Tips
- Isle of Skye Photography Guide: Best Locations and Tips
- How to Photograph Lake Bled: Best Locations and Useful Tips
- Best Landscape Photography Locations in Patagonia
- Photography Guide to Madeira: Best Locations, Tips, and More
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