old fishing boat moored up in inveraray

Exploring Inveraray Castle, Inveraray Jail and town

From our base in Glasgow we travelled out to Inveraray to check out the scenery, but also visit Inveraray Castle.  The mileage isn’t too bad and it’s an easy drive, but the roads can be windy and slow, depending on what you get stuck behind. 

Read more about our Scottish roadtrip posts, where we stayed, travelled and what we saw.

Take your time and enjoy the beautiful scenery you’re driving along and around various lochs and through beautiful rural and rugged countryside. It took us around 1 1/2 hours, it’s around 64 miles north west from Glasgow.

exploring inveraray

The town of Inveraray has lots of photo opportunities of Loch Fyne and in the streets so it’s a nice walk around if you arrive before opening time. Parking is a mix of free and really cheap. I think I paid 20p for 15 minutes just to stop for photos of the loch waiting for opening time. And after visiting the castle we parked in a small car park which cost about £2 for 3 hours. Bargain compared to home. 

looking along the side of loch fyne in inveraray towards the houses on the edge of the loch
white old buildings in inveraray town
old fishing boat moored up in inveraray
hill and tree reflections in loch fyne with the road bridge at the edge

Inveraray Castle

It’s best to buy tickets online ahead of visiting the castle, and you do have to pay for parking. It was £3 for the day for castle visitors when we visited, but for people not visiting the castle and using the car park to go into the town it’s a higher price.  We arrived as a coachload walked up the hill, but luckily we were able to get into the castle just ahead of them, so didn’t get held up.

Timings for opening was a bit confusing because the gates open at 9.45, the first castle slot is 10.15. We thought we could go into the gardens on arrival, but the guy in the ticket booth told us off as the gardens weren’t open til 10. We were able to nip to the toilets which were open before 10.

looking up the garden path to inveraray castle

Our tickets were for the first slot of the day, so were straight in as Inveraray Castle opened. I’d wanted to see Inveraray Castle as part of our trip, but it wasn’t entirely as I expected.  It was smaller, although full of lots of interesting artefacts from history as well as current history and photos from the previous and current Dukes’ lives and the links to royalty, as well as the royal visits to the castle.

The castle is home of the Clan Campbell, the family still lives there today.  The current Duke of Argyll’s wife is related to someone local we know so it was interesting to find out more about the family. Although it’s a castle and set up for the public, there are plenty of current pictures and newspaper cuttings about the current and previous Duke as well as the history of their ancestors. I always find it interesting when there’s current history.

porcelain round room at inverarary with sofa in the middle and arched window
ornate glass chandelier with patterned designed ceiling
lots of regimentary drums displayed on wall

If you’re a fan of Downton Abbey then it will probably be on your ‘to visit’ list as filming for the 2012 Christmas epsiode was done there.

We enjoyed looking around. I loved the china turret, and looking at the coronation robes, plus the wedding dress of Eleanor Cadbury when she married the current Duke. The state dining room is set up for a feast, and there are lots of tapestries to admire.

Duke of Argyll coronation robes and bruce oldfield wedding dress and cloak of Eleanor Cadbury
state dining room at inveraray castle
drawing room with harp and chairs at inveraray
bedroom at inveraray castle
kitchen set up at inveraray

The armoury had plenty in for N to look at and find out about in the armoury hall which has the highest ceiling in Scotland at 21 feet tall.

height of the armoury hall at inveraray castle with gallery and weapons on display
circular display of weapons and others in fan shapes either side in the armoury room

Each room had various leaflets to read information about it – available in a few different languages. 

The garden is really beautiful as well. Quite formal in structure, but plenty of flowers, plants and walkways to enjoy or just sit and relax in the sun.

close up of the rear of inveraray castle
inveraray castle gardens and sign
manicured gardens at inveraray
turret of inveraray castle

Before we left we stopped in the tea room for a hot chocolate. There’s plenty of seating inside, although there are steep steps going down to the tea room, toilets and gift shop, so I don’t know if there was anything to help wheelchair users get down there.

tea room at inverary with black and white checked floor

If didn’t take us long to look round the castle and enjoy the garden, so we were soon on our way to explore the town a bit more.

Inveraray Jail

Inverarary Jail we probably enjoyed more than the castle. There was lots to find out about the legal system and criminals in the town and surrounding area.

The Jail is easy to find in Church Square. If you’re lucky there’s a few parking spaces in front of it. If not, it’s only a short walk to other car parks.

inveraray jail frontage

Inveraray Jail is open daily from 10am to 5pm most days of the year (check around Christmas before visiting). The price for tickets (pay on the door or in advance) are reasonable. You can use the free audio guides which mean you can find out so much more than just reading everything. In some areas you can choose which stories to listen to.

For children there’s also stamps to collect in different areas of the jail. We managed all but one as it was too busy to go upstairs in the new jail, and we presumed we missed it there. But we still got given the badge to complete our visit.

You’re basically going back to the 19th century prison, finding out what life was like for those locked up – men, women and children (even as young as 7 years old).

You start off finding out about the punishments for different crimes. If you’ve got a younger sensitive child, you might want to move through that room faster.  

display and artwork of information on punishments

There’s a green screen and you can hold up your ‘crime’ poster, choose your prison background and take the photo. If you take your receipt you can see your photo in the shop at the end and buy a copy.

The courthouse lets you sit in the viewing seats and watch and listen to the stories of cases being tried. We used the audio guide to listen to 3 stories here. People were locked up for menial crimes, to deter others from following in their footsteps.

courtroom set up at Inveraray jail

We got to see the old prison (built in 1920). Then the newer one built in 1848, which was much improved for prisoners, complete with toilets on each floor, store room and warden accommodation.

tower at inverarary jail

N tried out the hammock, we checked out the washroom, and found out about the different crimes done by prisoners staying in the cells.

display stories of prisoners at inveraray

The airing yards were used for each prisoner who got an hour’s exercise in them a day. When visiting you can go in them and having the warden lock you up for a bit. 

Finally we checked out the prison kitchen where meals were cooked.

prison kitchen set up at inveraray jail

Throughout the visit there were people dressed up in costumes to direct you or answer questions as you went round.

It’s not a huge place, parts do get busy to move through narrow corridors. But we really enjoyed the visit, and there was plenty to find out about.

Inveraray town

We stayed long enough to enjoy the loch where we were parked, and to get some lunch. Our lunch options in the main street were limited as the time approached 12. An attempt in Caffe Bella had the man tell us he only had tea, coffee or cake, no hot options were served. We only wanted sandwiches, but he was very rude, and not helpful suggesting where else to go.

Just along from there we went into Brambles which was quite a smart cafe restaurant. It was very busy although we got a table, the food was a lot more than we wanted for a quick bite. We saved our money and bought sandwiches from the convenience store just along which suited us fine.

We enjoyed our visit to Inveraray. There’s obviously more to see if you want to spend more time there including:

  • Dun na Cuaiche viewpoint – a steep walk out the back of Inveraray Castle car park for views over the loch and beyond.
  • Climb the Bell Tower – weekdays, summer months.

I think Inveraray is better for older children to really enjoy the sites. But there were plenty of younger families we spotted. Tickets for both the castle and jail are free for under 5s.

It’s worth a visit to Inveraray for a few hours, if only for the beautiful drive and enjoy the loch in the sunshine.

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