Ardchattan Priory, UK – A garden of contemplation

Ardchattan Priory sits approximately 10 miles/16 kilometres outside the port city of Oban in Scotland. Its history dates back to its founding in 1230.

A view of Loch Etive from the wall of the main priory garden

History

Ardchattan Priory resulted from Duncan MacDougal, the Lord of Argyll, located in Dunollie Castle. He invited the Valliscaulian Order to set up a local priory. They had been given a place by the king of Scotland several years before and this could have been MacDougal trying to gain more favour.

A view of the main contemplative garden

The Valliscaulian Order was a contemplative order from Dijon, France, that lived off land grants, so they did not have to do physical work. Rather they contemplated the day away. As a result a garden for contemplation has existed on the site since its founding. This garden did not grow vegetables or herbs but rather flowers that lent to the contemplative atmosphere.

A view of one of the old buildings that were converted into part of the private residence.

The priory had its ups and downs until 1560. Its numbers at one point dwindled to only 3 monks. In 1545 the priory was administrated by John Campbell whose family retained the Priory when it was dissolved in 1560. At this point the family took it as their private residence. They converted the main building for this purpose. It has remained so until modern day.

The oldest of the Campbell grave markers at Ardchattan Priory. It would have been brought by the Campbell family when they moved there.

Today

Today the site includes both the garden and the ruins of the Priory. The family also lives there and several areas are private; these are signposted. Parking is located just within the gates and there is a short, easy (accessible) walk to the start of the gardens.

To the left of the road is the “wild garden”, which is organised but focuses on local plants from the area. It includes the “Monk’s Pool”, shrub gardens and trees. To the left of the path is the “Monk’s Walk”, which includes rhododendrons, azaleas, autumnal shrubs and daffodils. There are both located in front of the house.

A panorama of the view of Loch Etive

The main part (and the part I liked the most) was the main garden of the house, which sits between the house and the edge of Loch Etive. It is mostly lawn but the edges include flowering and herbaceous plants as well as trees and bushes. It also offers amazing views of the loch and the surrounding area.

A private burial area within the Priory ruins

The ruins of the buildings that were not included in the modern house are located at the back of the site. You access them by walking through a farm-like courtyard. Out the back are the remains of the old chapel, which includes many graves, especially of members of the Campbell family. Little remains of the buildings except for the lower part of the walls of the buildings but it gives you a sense of how large (or small) the priory was.

The lawn with the loch in the background

Visiting Ardchattan Priory

Ardchattan Priory lies a few miles/kilometres off the A828, which runs up the western coast of Scotland from Connel to Ballachulish. You will need to reach the Priory with a private vehicle as local transport does not stop at or near it. When you go, place the £5 entrance fee into the honour box at the entrance.


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