I Vow Yew

I,Vow is a small island in Loch Lomond containing the remains of a Castle, and several ruins . It is closely wooded and contains a number of Yew trees supposed to have been planted by Robert the Bruce. Its name was derived from the Chief of Clan Macfarlane building the Castle and making a solemn oath that he would allow no more Clansmen hostile to him to pass down the Loch. The name was originally Gaelic but is now better known in its English form.

Much of the material for this post, but not all, comes from The Elanvow Preservation Fund and please can I ask you to acknowledge them if you share this post. Thank you.

The castle was built in 1577 by Andrew MacFarlane. It measured 34′ x 24′, was very strongly built, and the ground floor was vaulted. The E and S walls are still in a tolerable state of preservation. The entrance seems to have been on the N. Around the castle are the ruins of small houses, in which probably resided the guard and retainers of the chief.  n 1581 the dowager of the MacFarlane chief had a life rent on the castle from her son. The castle was occupied by the MacFarlanes as their principal residence after their castle on Inveruglas Isle was destroyed by Cromwell’s troops in the mid 17th century. The MacFarlanes moved to a new house at Arrochar in 1697 and the castle was thereafter used as a storehouse.

In the early 18th century (1743) the castle was described as a ‘pretty good house with gardens’ by Buchanan of Auchmar and Alexander of Duchray suggests the house was still inhabited in 1724. However, it was in ruins by 1814 when William Wordsworth visited Loch Lomond.

The island has gone by different names at different times. Originally Island Vow in the charters, for a period it was known as ‘Eilan-ure’, ‘the new island’. This second description was probably given when Walter built his new house upon it, and distinguished the house, probably more than the island, from the existing castles of Inveruglas and New Tarbet (Arrochar). Later, when the chief had abandoned the island castle as a residence, it became known as ‘Eilan-a-bhuth’ – ‘the island of the shop or store’. This was due to a very ordinary circumstance. A certain Andrew MacFarlane, it is recorded, used the kitchen (what we have called a guard room) of the old castle as a sort of store in which he kept the goods which he sold to the inhabitants on both sides of the loch.

The following is an unpublished account by James MacFarlane:


Sir Walter Scott refers to MacFarlane’s Geese in his book “The Monastery”.

When William Wordsworth visited the area in 1814, the castle was in ruins. His visit and supposed encounter with a hermit residing there inspired his poem, “The Brownie’s Cell”.

From year to year this shaggy Mortal went
(So seemed it) down a strange descent:
Till they, who saw his outward frame,
Fixed on him an unhallowed name;
Him, free from all malicious taint,
And guiding, like the Patmos Saint,
A pen unwearied–to indite,
In his lone Isle, the dreams of night;
Impassioned dreams, that strove to span
The faded glories of his Clan!