Castle Semple Trail, March 2022


Helen Rose Outdoors


Lochwinnoch (in Scottish Gaelic, Loch Uinneach) is a village in the historic county of Renfrewshire in west central Scotland. Lying on the banks of Castle Semple Loch and the River Calder, Lochwinnoch is chiefly a residential dormitory village serving nearby urban centres such as Glasgow. The Glasgow HF Outdoor Club organised a walk on the Castle Semple Trail during the winter and I had previously done the walk in the Spring.

Lochwinnoch is a nature reserve  with a mixture of broadleaved woodland, open water and marshy areas with some floating fen. Unfortunately, on our walk we did not see any wildlife other than swans on the loch which seemed to like walking around the cars in the car park and blocking the traffic! The walk started at the Castle Semple Visitors Centre alongside the loch where there many participants in the water sports activities. Included are dinghy sailing, powerboats, paddle boarding, kayaking etc. The area is in Muirshiel Country Park. The walk is fairly easy and can be from 6 to 8 Miles to take in the main features.

Castle Semple Trail

The family, variously known as Sempill, Sempil, Sempel and Semple, had probably owned estates in the area from as early as the 13th century. Robert Semple, Steward of the barony of Renfrew during the reign of Alexander II, was recorded as living in Elliston Castle, whose ruins lie near Howwood. The Semples of Elliston fought for Robert the Bruce, and steadily grew in power to become the Steward’s hereditary Baillies of Renfrewshire. They were appointed Hereditary Sheriffs of Renfrewshire and Hereditary Baillie’s of Paisley. They were later designated as Lords Semple. Their extensive land holdings and Castle Semple constituted some areas of Lochwinnoch and its hinterland. At some point, probably in the 15th century, the family built a tower keep at the east end of the north shore of the Loch.

Parkhill Woods

We left the shores of the loch to go in to Parkhill Woods where there interesting wooden sculptures to sit on before starting the incline through the woods on a good gravel path and taking a further turn at an upright wooden sculpture. We wound our way through the woods towards our morning coffee stop looking out over open countryside toward Howwood. In Spring the daffodils were in full bloom and a beautiful sight. Shall I quote Wordsworth here!? A host of golden daffodils.

We left the woods and headed toward a railway viaduct which we would later walks over when we joined the cycle track. It was built in a grand manner by Lord Semple and was designed to bring in his workers by train to a station on the estate that was not open to the general public.

Collegiate Church

We headed for the Collegiate Church which in Christianity is a church where the daily office of worship is maintained by a college of canons, a non-monastic or secular community of clergy, organised as a self-governing corporate body, which may be presided over by a dean or provost.

John Semphill, 1st Lord Sempill, founded the collegiate church near Castle Semple around 1504. The building is a simple oblong, terminating toward the east in a three-sided apse and has a square tower projecting from the centre of the west wall. The forms of the double windows indicate that they are very late survivals of Gothic architecture. There is a monument to John, Lord Sempill, who died at the Battle of Flodden between Scotland and England in 1503. The church stopped being used during the Reformation.

Ice House

Across the path from the Collegiate Church, there is the cascade complex and the Ice House. An ice house is a building used to store ice throughout the year, commonly used prior to the invention of the refrigerator. Some were underground chambers, usually man-made, close to natural sources of winter ice such as freshwater lakes but many were buildings with various types of insulation. During the winter, ice and snow would be cut from lakes or rivers, taken into the ice house and packed with insulation (often straw or sawdust). It would remain frozen for many months, often until the following winter, and could be used as a source of ice during the summer months for storing fresh food or cooling drinks. We followed a narrow path to the cave which was the ice house but there was a locked gate on it.

The path led past the former fish ponds to the top of the cascade complex which looked like a wall of water.

Castle Semple

Our next stop was at Castle Semple. The old castle was, one of the largest towerhouses in the west of Scotland. On the same site Lord Semple built one of the earliest Palladian country villas in Scotland. The mansion had a panoramic frontage, including four pavilions fronting Castle Semple Loch.Today, it is converted in to private residences but some of the old walls still remain.

Kenmure Hill

Any train passengers  passing near Lochwinnoch cannot fail to notice the stark, roofless ruin crowning Kenmure Hill. We climbed up the hill to the folly for lunch with good views of the surrounding countryside. Little is known about ‘The Temple’ as it is called. Local folklore states the octagonal structure was a place of worship for the landowner’s servants or his foreign wife. Other tales claim it was a nursery for a sick child, or a watch tower for ladies to attend to their embroidery while the men hunted below on horseback. Records show the building was constructed around 1760 for Colonel William McDowell, a wealthy merchant who made his money in the West Indies. Originally, there were avenues of trees on the hill which was a common feature for summer houses of that era.

From Kenmure Hill, we descended to the cycle track which led back to our starting point at Castle Semple Visitors Centre. It was then in to Lochwinnoch for a welcome refreshment at the Brown Bull Pub which is over 200 years old.

Thanks to Alan for leading the walk and all his historical information.

Coming attractions; University of Glasgow and Strontian/Corran.





Helen Rose Outdoor Diary: University of Glasgow. April 2022
New York. February 2022.

This section: Helen Rose Hillwalking Diary

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