Toward Castle was built in the fifteenth century as the home of the Lamont Clan and the prominent ruins stand in the grounds of the Castle Toward estate.
The oldest part of the Castle is the Keep which commanded an excellent view of the Firth of Clyde. Only a part of this remains. In the basement were the bakehouses and kitchens which led to the Great Hall above via a spiral staircase. The everyday business of the Lamonts would have been conducted in this large, vaulted room. The main entrance to the Castle was through the arch which can still be seen. A wooden staircase led to the ground below and this could be raised or burned as need be in time of attack. Above this room was where the Chief and his family lived. A window and window seat can still be seen on the wall of the Keep. At the very top were quarters for servants and a parapetted area for guards.
An extension was added in the sixteenth century. The large arched kitchen fireplace can still be seen. Above this would have been a minstrel's gallery which faced into the adjoining Great Hall. Here there was another large fireplace with a raised platform opposite which seated important clan members and visitors. Mary, Queen of Scots, was entertained here when she visited for one night. The fact that Mary stayed here shows that the Lamonts were held in high regard. She is said to have gone hunting and had a feast arranged in her honour. In return she planted a tree which was eventually cut down around the time when Castle Toward was built. Some of the wood from this tree was used to carve a crown which was a replica of the one which Mary wore. It was given into the safe keeping of the Duke of Hamilton.
Next to the Great Hall with its vaulted roof was where the Chief and his family lived. This area has two storeys connected by a spiral staircase. The main entrance gate was arched and known as Mary's gate. To one side of this was the chapel while a kitchen was on the other side. From this kitchen a stairway led to the guard room located above the entrance. Also in the kitchen was an arched serving hatch through which food could be served. The remaining area around the courtyard wall had outhouses and the all important well.
The end for Toward Castle came in 1646 when Sir Colin Campbell besieged the Castle. Relations between the Lamonts and Campbells had never been good with both sides being guilty of awful behaviour towards one another. However, the Lamont massacre by the Campbells was one of the worst in Scottish history.
A treaty had been signed promising that no harm would come to the Lamonts in return for the surrender of the Castle but it was not honoured. Many men, women and children were massacred at the Castle. Some fled from the scene to live where they could and changed their names to such as Black, White and Lamb to avoid persecution but thirty six of the leading men were taken prisoner and transported by boat to the Campbell castle at Dunoon. There they were hung on a tree and, when only half dead, were cut down and buried alive. It is said that the tree withered and died soon after and from its roots oozed a substance like blood. The chief and his two brothers were taken to Dunstaffnage Castle where they were held prisoner for about five years.
The treaty which had been signed had been smuggled out of the Castle by the chief's sister, Isobel. She plaited it into her long hair and it was used as evidence many years later when Sir Colin Campbell was charged with the Lamont murders and atrocities. He was found guilty and executed but the damage to the Lamont Clan was great and Toward Castle never again was used as the Clan's home.
Below is a poem written for the SCCDC by a well known local Cowal poet who wishes to remain anonymous.
Rabbie Burns Visits Toward Castle
Ach these are not just ordinary stones,
to be traded by the pound into private hands,
they belong to us all, our historic past,
present past and future. This Arch to the Castle arcs
back to a time when the Queen of Scotland
hunted on this same ground. These stones
sing a lament for the Lamonts and these rooms
are crowded by the ghosts of young men
who trained along the Clyde and laid down
thier lives so that our children would be free.
Not just ordinary stones, they symbolise
freedom, nobles and commoners,
and aye murder and betrayal without care;
we must keep our History public for all to share.