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NN189128 – Kilmorich Church is hidden away in the tiny village of Cairndow on the west side of Loch Fyne. One might enter and leave Cowal many times without even noticing this village, but it pays well to go looking for it. Those who seek, will find a beautifully maintained Church of Scotland premises, with a charming, white clad exterior, and a simple, light and airy chapel within. Whereas the old Kilmorich site is now bordered by a busy road and oyster restaurant, this newer church is in very peaceful surroundings and is a perfect place to contemplate the history of Christianity in Cowal.
The church is open during daylight hours, and offers a very pleasant place to pray, or sit in contemplation. Inside is also a medieval font, which used to reside in the old church grounds, then was wrongly appropriated by the nobility at Inveraray Castle, before eventually being returned to the Cairndow parishioners. Please do take the time, whilst inside, to sign the visitor book and mention our website. Outside is an extensive churchyard sporting gravestones of all ages, and varying colours, as well as some ancient carved stones and a (sadly broken) Celtic cross.
The easiest way to find Kilmorich Church is to leave Cowal heading north on the A815, then take the left turn onto the A83 toward Inveraray. This road snakes down the hillside before sweeping around the head of Loch Fyne, but in order to find the church, you must turn left immediately at the bottom of the hill, at ///spinners.votes.robot, so you’re now heading south with the loch on your right. It’s a short drive from here. You’ll pass the Stagecoach Inn on your left (a fine place to stop for dinner), and then, on the right at ///endearing.ocean.dash, is a parking bay big enough for two or three cars. Park here and the church is just a little further down on the left at ///bottom.candles.dries. (There’s room to squeeze a car in directly outside the church, if the bay is already in use.)
To the left of the main church gate is another gate, leading into a slightly separate graveyard, with some interesting old stones and some resplendent newer ones. Perhaps of particular interest to the Scottish pilgrim is a stone depicting a sword, and bearing the inscription: “My sword given to him who shall succeed me in my pilgrimage – my courage and skill to him who can get them.”
But the ancient stones of interest to a pilgrim following Celtic Christianity in Cowal, are tucked away in the southwest corner at the rear of the building. Alas, they look a little neglected and weather worn right now, which can make them easy to overlook, but we’re working on having them moved inside the church. For now, you’ll find them at ///appraised.yelled.innovator.
If you’re heading back into Cowal after visiting this tempting tangent, perhaps on to Lochgoilhead, then you can follow the road south past the church, and it will link you back to the A815 in short time. And if you’re heading, next, over to the site of the original Kilmorich Church, then simply head back out the way you came in, and follow the A83 around the head of Loch Fyne to the oyster bar.
The medieval kirk of Kilmorich was abandoned and a new building erected on the west side of the loch, here at Cairndow (càrn dubh, ‘black cairn’). It’s not clear why this happened, but it was a deliberate choice; villagers planted trees at the original site, and brought some prized carved stones over to the new site.
At Cairndow you may see a medieval font with a chequered history; a broken grave slab with intricate celtic carvings; and a damaged cross-head of possibly 12th-13th century date. These probably all came from the original kirk when the new building was built and the old site abandoned.
A grave-slab at Cairndow was probably brought there from the old kirk site of Kilmorich. Now broken in two it lies behind the kirk, propped against the wall.
The lower part of the Kilmorich grave-slab, now at Cairndow.
This fragment is all that remains of a freestanding stone cross that was originally erected at Kilmorich, now at Cairndow.
Note that though the Cairndow church is now called Kilmorich Church on OS maps, it is not the original site.