HISTORY OF ACHNACARRY - PAST AND PRESENT
Ewen "Eoghainn MacAilein" Cameron,
XIII Chief of Clan Cameron, built the highly disputed
(said to have been on Clan Mackintosh lands) in the early 16th century.
Tor Castle would remain the seat of Lochiel until demolished by his
great-great-great grandson, Sir Ewen "Dubh" Cameron, XVII Chief.
Sir Ewen wanted a "more convenient" house, which was further removed from
Clan Mackintosh, Clan Campbell and the Cromwellian garrison of Inverlochy.
He built Achnacarry somewhere around 1655. One of the few remaining
descriptions relate that Lochiel's seat was "a large house,
all built of fir-planks, the handsomest of that kind in Britain." Sir
Ewen's Bard described the home somewhere around 1663 in song as "The generous
house of feasting...Pillared hall of princes...Where wine goes round freely
in gleaming glasses...Music resounding under its rafters." Others portrayed "old" Achnacarry as a "man's home," with the feel and look of a
grand hunting lodge amidst the West Highlands.
With Sir Ewen's death in the early 18th century his son John became chief
of the clan, soon after which his son, Donald would obtain Achnacarry when
John went into exile in France after the first Jacobite Uprising.
From Donald Cameron ("The Gentle Lochiel") XIX Chief we
find the the best description of the grounds of Achnacarry. In his
marriage contract a requirement was placed in which Lochiel had to build
his wife "a house...to the value of 100 pounds sterling at least, with gardens,
office houses [privies], lands, other conveniencys." Donald was planting a long line of
beech trees near the banks of the
River Arkaig when word of "Bonnie Prince Charlie's" landing arrived in 1745...it
would be the last landscaping done at Achnacarry for years to come.
With the Jacobite army's defeat at the
Culloden the clans retreated into the Highlands, with Donald taking the lead in re-grouping them. After this last attempt
at resistance failed, he and his men took to the mountains. On May
28th, 1746, Donald watched as 320 men of Bligh's Regiment, under the command
of Lt. Colonel Edward Cornwallis and a "body" of Munros, under the command
of Munro of Culcairn, burnt Achnacarry to the ground. Many valued relics
and personal possessions were relocated prior, but the great fir-planked
"old" Achnacarry was left in ashes.
In 1802 Achnacarry, which had spent the last
fifty or so years in ruin, was rebuilt under Donald Cameron, XXII Chief of
Clan Cameron as a "Scottish Baronial" style home (it is also commonly referred to as a
castle.) In the years after the Uprising Lochiel's descendants had
slowly made their way back to the UK, in time paying a huge fine to the
Hanoverian government to regain the estates of their ancestors. This
new "mansion house" was rebuilt after a design by the distinguished architect
James Gillespie (Graham.) Its building contractor was Robert Ferguson. This
was a gradual project, which had lengthy periods during which construction
was called to a halt altogether. In order to arrange for its modern
construction, the road from Gairlochy to Achnacarry was undertaken by Lochiel in
1809. Before that time it was not much more than a well worn rural
While visiting Achnacarry in 1837 a Joseph Mitchell, C.E., of Inverness
recorded these notes on the residence of Lochiel (now
Donald Cameron, XXIII
Chief): "We went through the rooms. The house had been built
some thirty-five years previously, and was all but finished when Lochiel's
father became disgusted with the place, left it, and never returned. We
found that the plaster ornaments of the ceiling lay all that time on the
floor ready to be fixed, and the doors of the rooms, of beautiful Highland
pine, grown brown with age, leaned against the wall ready to be screwed on.
They had remained in this position for thirty-five years. The
present year  Lochiel arranged to have the house completed, which has
been done, and is now a handsome residence worthy of the chief..."
During September 1873 Queen
Achnacarry, and portions of the estate with Lochiel. A highlight of
this jaunt was when the Queen accompanied the Cameron Chief on a small steamer
tour of Loch Arkaig, where she took advantage of the scenery and created some
In August of 1928 Achnacarry was the chosen secret location for a "peace
conference" between the leaders of the free world's oil industry. Lengthy
price wars and the threatening flow of Russian oil had drawn these men together
to come to terms in an isolated and relaxing setting. Their two weeks
of discussion and hunting among Lochiel's estate resulted in an impressive
seventeen page document that was known as the "Pool Association." Later it
became better known as the "As-Is" or "Achnacarry Agreement." In it
these men of industry attempted to solve the era's problem of overproduction
with quotas in various world markets.
During World War Two (specifically, from 1942 to 1945) Lochiel vacated Achnacarry, handing
it over to the British military. As many as 25,000 English, Scottish,
Irish, Welsh, French, Belgian, American, Dutch and Norwegian soldiers would
undergo commando "basic training" there. Achnacarry was known to the
soldiers as "Castle Commando." "Here, in the heart of the Scottish
Highlands, fighting men from nearly every land underwent a period of training
designed to stretch human stamina to the utmost. Here, after weeks
in which they marveled at how much their own bodies could stand, they finally
qualified for the honor of wearing green berets. They became
Commandos." Achnacarry itself was "wounded in action" during the commando's
visit; on November 5, 1943 a
fire broke out,
gutting its entire center and roof. The roof would be replaced in tin
by the military and Lochiel would be somewhat compensated for the loss.
Nevertheless, Achnacarry experienced its second fire at the hands of
the British military, this time the seat of Cameron of Lochiel would fortunately
manage to survive.
Achnacarry continues to be, in the words of one of the British Commandos
himself, "the spiritual headquarters of the Clan Cameron." During August of 2001
Colonel Sir Donald H. Cameron of Lochiel, XXVI Chief of Clan Cameron (1910-2004)
and Lady Margaret welcomed clansfolk from throughout the world to the
latest International Gathering
of Clan Cameron at Achnacarry. When Camerons feel the urge to "come
home" their path inevitably leads them to Achnacarry.