Kames Estate and Castle: Bannatynes and later owners.

Jess Sandeman.

Transactions of the Buteshire Natural History Society Vol.25, 2000.

Wester Kames

It is convenient at this point to give an account of Wester Kames, an estate with a small turreted castle about half a mile from Kames. The date of its first erection is unknown, and there is confusion about the early owners. It is alleged that up until Robert the Bruce's time this estate was owned by the MacKinlay family. John Wilson refers to "Old MacKinlay" and his three sons, but makes no mention of their Christian names or ages. They were all said to be excellent archers, and were victorious in a great archery contest with the King's men from Rothesay Castle. The latter returned to Western Kames the following day in a mood for reprisal, but between them the MacKinlays killed seventeen of the King's men. Fearing royal vengeance they fled to Perthshire via the Colintraive ferry.xxv An entirely different story is told in a ballad The Raid on Wester Kames,xxvi which declares that MacKinlay and his three sons were murdered by Argyll's men and bloodcurlingly describes their terrible death. Several accounts agree that the King then gave the castle and its surrounding land to Macdonald, his spenser (butler)xxvii. Macdonald took on the name of Spens and for some time the building was known as the House of Spens.

The Spens family were prominent in the life of the island – Finlay de Spens was Constable of Bute in 1445.xxviii Considerable value lay in the slate quarry, on the hill above Edinbeg and Croc-an-Raer. The Royal Chamberlain paid Robert Spens 11s. 10d. for 13,000 slates quarried in 1445 on the estate.xxix These were used to repair the Royal Castle at Dumbarton. In the 1500s (exact date unknown) a marriage took place between Agnetta, daughter of Hector Bannatyne of Kames, and Ninian Spence of Wester Kames.xxx For several decades the Spens family lived in harmony with their neighbours the Bannatynes in Easter Kames (Kames Castle), and on 16th March 1695 the parish records show a marriage between a Margaret Spens and an Alexander Bannatyne.xxxi

Photo 2: The restored tower of Wester Kames, as shown on an old postcard

Around 1670 Margaret Graham, wife of Sir Duncan Campbell, acquired Wester Kamesxxxii, and from then on Campbells seem to have occupied the castle. It is alleged that Alasdair McDonald (a supporter of Montrose) in passing through Bute, after Argyle's defeat at Inverlochy, laid waste most of the Kames Estate, but not the castle which was garrisoned. As Wester Kames was occupied by Campbells, sworn enemies of the McDonalds, this story is quite credible.xxxiii All Wester Kames land was swallowed up by Easter Kames before 1707. By 1768 the House of Spens was reported to be a ruin, and when the Kames Estate was bought by the Trustees of the 3rd Marquess of Bute in 1863 the tower of Wester Kames was no more than twelve feet high.xxxiv

As the restoration of Mount Stuart House neared completion, the 3rd Marquess turned his attention to his other properties. At his request the Arts and Crafts movement architect Robert Weir Schultz drew up plans for Wester Kames. Unfortunately the Marquess died in 1900 ebfore the building was finished. The Rev. A S Borrowman was opened temporarily in 1906 to allow slates to be taken for the roofing of Wester Kames.xxxv Once the Castle was habitable it was let. A Mrs Myles, who had been governess to the German Royal family, lived there for over twenty years. Always involved in the life of the community, she did a tremendous amount of work for the Red Cross movement. She swore that the Castle was haunted by the friendly ghost of a Spanish sea-captain, and described how he would stand aside to let her pass on the stair, and turn the music when she played the piano.xxxvi

During the Second World War, Wester Kames was let to various naval families, and later became the residence of the Commanding Officer of the Submarine Attack Teacher at Ettrickdale. One of the Naval Officers reported that his labrador sensed a presence on the stair – the Spaniard? Later, it was the home of Sheriff Hook from Edinburgh for some time, and was then sold by Lord Bute to Maldwin Drummond, a merchant banker, whose forebear was killed at Culloden in 1746 while commanding Prince Charles' calvary.