By Alexandra Redisch in Loch Awe
St Conan’s Kirk must always have stunned visitors as it does me today.
Although the church may look many centuries old, it was completed in 1930. The architect was Walter Campbell. Or architect… he had no formal training, but that didn’t stop him from creating this intriguing little kirk on the western shores of Scotland. (I’m reminded of another un-trained architect, Clough Williams-Ellis, creator of that masterpiece Portmeirion on the Welsh coast.)
Campbell lived on the island of Innischonam, and when his elderly mother found the weekly journey to mass in Dalmally too long, Walter decided to build her a new church.
St Conan’s Kirk incorporates all kinds of styles, and looks like a mash-up of Medieval, Gothic and Alice in Wonderland. It even has a rabbit drain as you can see above.
Campbell was also a keen collector of artefacts, adding curious details to the kirk’s cloisters. The oak beams below are from the old battle ships The Caledonian and The Duke of Wellington –
– and the iron bars leaning against the walls here are old mort safes; 19th century iron grids that were attached to caskets to prevent body snatching.
Entering, I’m immediately struck by the crazy charm of this kirk; all these different architectural styles. Campbell was clearly more interested in beauty than consistency. It’s a delightful, divine madness.
Within the kirk are several interesting chapels: St Conval’s Chapel (named for an Irish saint who allegedly sailed to Glasgow on a flat stone) houses the remains of Campbell and his sister Helen. The opulent St Bride’s Chapel is built in early Norman style, and houses the remains of more of Walter’s family.
I found the Bruce Chapel the most interesting; the wood and alabaster statue depicts the famous king of Scotland, Robert the Bruce. Below him is a fragment of bone, taken from his tomb in Dunfermline Abbey.
Sadly, we only had a brief stop at St Conan’s Kirk on the way to the island of Islay (for a bit of whisky sampling – more on that later). This church sits firmly on my ‘must return to’ list; it’s the kind of place one could spend hours, to take in all the wonderful details.
Getting to St Conan’s Kirk
- St Conan’s Kirk is can be found in the village Loch Awe, about 30 minutes from Oban, or 2 hours from Edinburgh.
- Opening hours are 9am – 4pm, frequently longer.
- Tours of the kirk can be arranged; call + 44 1838 200 298 – or 01838 200 298 from a UK phone.