Sunday, 26 September 2010

Loch Awe 2 - St Conan's Kirk

Kirk GJC_IMG_8635

St Conan's Kirk is an inconspicuous church that stands partially hidden in the trees adjacent to the A85  Tyndrum to Oban road on the banks of Loch Awe.
After my short somewhat disappointing and cynical excursion to the underground Ben Cruachan Power Station, I was returning to the most famous landmark beside Loch Awe when my attention was drawn to an old tower through the trees. I had to make a split second decision to stop as I was travelling at too fast a speed to pull over the road into the small car park. I couldn't make up my mind in time and passed a tight vacant car parking space. As there was a car behind me and with no place to stop, I had to continue on to the village of Loch Awe to turn around.
As an aside, I am aware that Churches and Cathedrals are places of worship followed by architectural interest and then general tourism. However I was glad on this particular occasion that I reversed that order because when you have seen as many magnificent structures that I have, some of these glorious buildings begin to look similar to each other. I made the decision to return and park the car as this was one of the most amazing surprises that I have come across in a long time.
The area around this vicinity once was uninhabited due to the lack of roads in the area ( you may remember the road constructed above the water in the last post). Once the Oban railway was constructed ( an engineering achievement in its day), it was decided that a Hotel should be built and Walter Douglas Campbell built a large house nearby for his Mother, sister Helen and himself. As an architect and builder, he built a simple church for his mother to attend on this site as it was too far to travel to Dalmally. He wasn't happy with the building that took five years to build and complete in 1886. He set about on a more grand project that started in 1907, but the slow labour of love that included locally resourced stone from the nearby hillside, rolled down the hill, split and shaped on site took its toll. He died in 1914 and the work was continued by his sister Helen who subsequently died in 1927. The trustees finally finished the project in 1930.
Walter Campbell had an unorthodox approach using styles from as many different generations of architecture that he could possibly use to create a hybrid building of great beauty.

Front Door  GJC_IMG_8623

Parts of the building were re-cycled from a variety of other structures, Inchinnan church, A bell from Skerryvore lighthouse, some stones from Iona for the south aisle, chairs from Edinburgh and Venice  and oak beams ........ from the battleships The Caledonia and The Duke of Wellington. Wood from these ships was used in the making of doors and some of the main roofwork..........

Nave  GJC_IMG_8605

 I was firstly struck on entering the building by the amount of light coming through the roof windows ( the man's a genius) and the unusual exposed walkway behind the simple communion table (yeah right... it was hand carved from a piece of solid oak wood that weighed 35 tonne). It is thought that the main chancel design was based on St John's Chapel in the Tower of London with the addition of natural sky and back light. After a walk around the Ambulatory curve and into St Fillan's aisle.......

doors  GJC_IMG_8594

.... it was time to wander outside into the cloister and explore the majestic exterior....

Cloister walk  GJC_IMG_8616 (1)

I was beginning to see the mixture of styles as well as a lot of potential for staying here for a bit longer with the camera. The door at a height to the right (below) was the original entrance to the bellows of an old pipe organ ..........

Cloister  GJC_IMG_8611

 .... accessed by some interesting stairs ....

Steps  GJC_IMG_8613

Ceiling  GJC_IMG_8614
Cloister roof design

Back Door  GJC_IMG_8618 (1)

Returning into the main building again, there was still the rear of the Kirk to explore via the back door to the back drop of Loch Awe which is why the location was chosen in the first place. It is said that Mr Campbell was so much of a perfectionist that he pulled the sundial down on numerous occasions until he was happy with the result on the eighth attempt. Shame it was no use to me today ...although I could catch the reflection of it due to the rain !!

Sundial  GJC_IMG_8589

The rear of the building is the ultimate in the architectural fusion which would need a whole album to demonstrate fully the unusual flying buttresses doubling as rainwater aqueducts. The saxon tower and strange anatomy will have to suffice for this photo.

Rear view  GJC_IMG_8627

On the roof there were three lead Gargoyles, one dog chasing two hares ! On a day like today it would be rude to show something coming from the hares mouth so I waited for my moment .... you know I was only keeping dry inside....

Gargoyle  GJC_IMG_8585

I am sure he could have taken a lesson from these silent creatures sheltering from the weather !!

Owls  GJC_IMG_8620


  1. Great architecture--I love the roof windows.

  2. One of the best churches I've ever seen. You have done a superb job with the photographs.

  3. What can generate love for his mother! Beautiful story, beautiful place and beautiful pictures!

  4. This place is gorgeous! It's design looks so much older than the date it was built.

  5. It is already good photographs.

    With best wishes
    Jonas Ramoška

  6. your photos are really gorgeous! Congratulations, I like this style, very good post! bye !! :))

  7. What a nice set of photos and travel information. I spent some time traveling with you. I am amazed at the mountainside shots.Thanks for dropping by.

  8. Hi There, Thanks for coming to my blog. Hope you return. I am enjoying yours --and love learning more about your country. That church is fabulous... Like you, I loved seeing the lights in the ceiling... WOW--incredible idea.

    The architecture is fabulous.. Your photos are GREAT... Thanks so much for sharing such beauty with us.

  9. Oh my goodness, what a beautiful place! Are worship services still held there, and if so, do you know the number in attendance? I like to visit churches but also to attend a service. Aren't you glad you stopped there!

  10. Thanks for all your comments, I was blown away with this one. From the three things I saw at Loch Awe, this one stood out by a long way.

    JoLynnne....The roof windows were a great surprise.

    Adrian... one of the best churches, I agree & possibly in the category of most interesting building I have seen in a while.

    Sciarada..... amazing story of how he dedicated his life to this project.

    T.Becque.... one of the reasons why I decided to turn back and visit it as it seemed a lot older from the view I had from the car.

    Mahon... always a pleasure sharing comments with you.

    F.P/ Out on the Prairie/ Betsy.... Thanks for your visit, glad you enjoyed this post as much as I enjoyed visiting it.

    Cimpoaca Laurentiu... nice to see you back, a lot of people have missed you.

    Cranberry Morning.... Pleased I visited. It was by chance that I turned back as I had loads of time to spare. I got a small photocopied A5 information booklet for 70p from the near the entrance, It says that :-
    ".... The Nave is regularly used for public worship every sunday. In winter the local congregation is a small one, but in summer, when there are many visitors in the neighbourhood, it is usually well filled....."

  11. Beautiful places thay you found on your nice trip.

  12. Very interesting. Impressive building and I'm fascinated by those roof windows - never seen that before.

  13. My wife and I were visiting Glasgow in August and took a West Highlands tour with Timberbush Tours and our driver stopped to show us this church. Very nice.


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