Anyone who has ever driven from Paisley to Largs or taken a train through Lochwinnoch station will be familiar with the sight of Kenmure Temple. It sits on top of a hill on the northern side of the A737 and I’ve always wanted to visit it and find out what it is. It’s taken me far longer than it should have to get around to it, but since the lockdowns, I am more determined to just get out and do things instead of putting them off. There’s nothing like being prevented from doing something to make you determined to get it done!
I’ve now managed the former, but the latter is a little more complicated. I’ve called it a temple as it is often described as one, but it would seem that in reality it’s actually a folly or a summerhouse. It was most likely built as part of an overall scheme of design for the grounds of Castle Semple, rather than having a specific purpose in mind.
It was built around 1760 for Colonel William McDowall, having been originally suggested perhaps as early as 1733 by the McDowall’s surveyor John Watt. The design was possibly drawn from James Gibb’s 1728 Book of Architecture. There were originally avenues of trees leading out from the octagonal structure and some are visible on various Victorian Ordnance survey maps. It was burnt down after a lightning strike in the 1830s and only partially restored.
Perhaps it is the unusual octagonal shape that has people determined to view it as a temple — there are rumours of connections with Freemasonry. Other claims that it was a nursery for a sick child or a hunting lodge or somewhere for the ladies to sit and embroider while they watched their husbands hunt are also debatable. There were deer in the surrounding fields, but they were likely primarily present for decorative purposes, as part of the overall landscaping scheme, rather than for hunting. The temple is surrounded by ha-has — a type of boundary ditch which prevents deer from escaping but which when observed from outwith the estate appears to be simply part of the landscaping. It was most likely designed simply as a folly or summerhouse, a decorative element in the landscape designed to be visible to visitors at the castle and passers-by — a function it still fulfils.
Originally, it comprised a basement and main floor, which was raised significantly above ground level. This helps to explain the relative height of the windows. The main staircase is now missing, as is the cupola-styled roof. The views even from ground level outside are well worth the visit and would have been even better from the raised height of the original floor.
The temple is not nearly as difficult to reach as I expected. I parked at the Castle Semple Watersports centre car park, dropped one child off for a day’s sailing, and headed along the side of Castle Semple loch (formerly Loch Winnoch). There were some interesting modern wood carvings at Blackditch Bay and here I headed away from the lochside and, after a short uphill climb, headed along the cycle route — a former railway line.
It was an easy walk along and en route I stopped at the Castle Semple Collegiate Church (which I’ll talk about in another post) along with some remains of Castle Semple itself. It was a very hot day, and it’s a really pleasant walk in brilliant sunshine. Once I found the gate that gave access to the temple via a farmer’s field, the route was less clear. I stayed to the left of the telegraph pole and that led me to a track up over the rocks to the temple itself.
A helpful dog walker making her way down the hill warned me about the presence of a herd of cows in the field, but once I reached the temple, said cows were safely grazing at the foot of the opposite side of the hill. Cows are not my favourite animal and after being chased away from a henge last summer by two cows with their calves, I didn’t really fancy meeting a whole herd. Aside from the fact that they were clearly regular visitors to the temple interior based on the smell, we managed to co-exist for the half hour I was in their field quite happily.
Approaching from the cycle track, the hill is much easier to climb than I suspect it is coming from the A737 side. Plus that’s where the cows were anyway, so I’d recommend my route.
The view from the temple was beautiful. Well worth the walk and climb. And I now have the sense of satisfaction of knowing that I’ve stood inside it.
Looking at the site with its almost dual peak, I wonder if in the past it was the site of a hill fort. It’s very well placed to have been one, but this is research for another day!
Visit a place you are familiar with from passing, but have never actually visited. Think about how your perception of the place changes once you have visited it.
- Was it what you expected?
- How did it make you feel to visit?
- Have your thoughts about the place changed?
- Did you discover anything new about the place?
- Did you discover something about yourself which might help to explain the reasons you had never taken the time to visit in the past?