Ardencaple Castle, Helensburgh – Clan MacAulay
Now survived only by a sole navigational tower overlooking the Firth of Clyde, Ardencaple Castle is the historic seat of the Scottish MacAulay Clan.
Situated near the picturesque riverside town of Helensburgh, the castle is thought to have originally been built during the 12th century and its name is said to be derived from the Gaelic ‘Ard na gCapull’, meaning “cape of the horses”.
During the early years of the castle, the Macaulay clan would control vast lands to the north of the River Clyde, from Ardencaple to Portincaple on Loch Long, and while they would originally avoid controversy and fame as one of the smaller Scottish clans, this would change during the 16th century as the castle was strengthened and the clan aligned with other local families.
With the clan chiefs becoming more involved in local affairs, the fortunes of Ardencaple would soon change as the eighth laird, Aulay, used the estate as a method for paying off his gambling debts, selling it bit by bit as he slowly ended up in more trouble. This led the castle to fall into disrepair and – by the time the last laird died in 1787 – the castle wasn’t much more than a ruin. This would soon change though as the caste was purchased by the Duchy of Argyll and the building was expended into the grand castle that can be seen in many older photos.
Ardencaple would eventually fall back into MacAulay hands at the start of the 20th century as it was taken over by Henrietta MacAulay-Stomberg, who had aimed to turn the structure back into a centre for the MacAualay family. However, she would sadly pass away in 1935 and part of the estate was sold to a consortium of developers who would develop the land into a housing estate.
The castle would finally perish after it was requisitioned by the Royal Navy during the Second World War, eventually giving way to a naval housing complex for the workers at the nearby Faslane Naval Base as it was demolished in 1957. Today, all that remains of the old castle is a single navigational tower that was used by submarines returning to the base as a marker until the early 1990s. It can still be visited today and is now the only reminder of a time gone by when the area was ruled by the MacAulays rather than the Royal Navy.