Traditions of the Tower
by DEREK PARKER
THE rocky summit of Kenmuir Hill is crested by an octagonal tower superbly sculpted in the architectural traditions of ancient Rome and Greece. The impressive edifice was erected in 1758 by the wealthy Macdowall family who owned nearby Castle Semple estate from 1727 until 1810.
The lonely landmark has inspired romantic legends about its origins down through the ages. It was once believed to have been a Roman or Druid temple. One poignant, but inaccurate story, glorified it as a shrine erected by an opulent family member to remind his homesick oriental bride of her native land. It was frequently described as a folly – an architectural structure with no practical purpose – devised by a wealthy Macdowall in imitation of classical buildings in Italy and Greece, which he visited during a grand tour of mainland Europe.
At one time the hilltop tower was used as a vantage point where members of the Macdowall family and their guests assembled in all their finery to admire the panoramic Castle Semple landscape. Among the many attractions were herds of white deer roaming the pastoral valley of the River Black Cart and the slopes of Courtshaw Hill. Remains of the deershed can still be seen today below the tower.
However, my own extensive research leads me to believe that the tower on Kenmuir Hill was inspired by the Macdowall family's strong links with Freemasonry. The craft – which embraces adherents of all denominations and religions who believe in a Supreme Being – uses architecture to promote humanity's loftiest aspirations, spiritual growth and the creation of the fair and just society.
The Kenmuir Hill tower – or Temple as it is more accurately known – symbolises each man and woman whose body is the temple of God's Holy Spirit. The haven on the hilltop was shaped from rough, unhewn rock into a beacon of beauty and a structure of sacred significance. It allegorises the desire of spiritually aware men and women to cultivate their inner divinities and higher selves from their unredeemed and unconstructed human natures. During our all-too-short earthly pilgrimages, it's our sacred duty to cultivate compassion for others and respect for nature by making ourselves bricks, pillars and arches in the grand temple of the cosmos, fashioned and designed by that Supreme Being known in Masonic circles as the Divine Architect of the Universe.
Standing at dawn or dusk within the shady recesses of the old Temple on summer mornings or twilit evenings it's easy to understand these cherished principles and why the Mac-dowalls built their watchtower on the prominent hilltop.
The bright beams of the rising or setting sun pouring into the interior of the shadow-shrouded citadel are identifiable with divine light illuminating the human soul with wisdom, knowledge, understanding and compassion for our fellow humans.
The Macdowalls, like most of Renfrewshire's great landowners, were Freemasons. The name of Garthland, their other Lochwinnoch home, lives on today in the title of the village's masonic lodge. The sacred symbolism of the Temple is further exemplified by its eight-sided walls. As well as being a dramatic reminder of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ, this mystic, octagonal design incorporates the shape of the eight-pointed cross, which was revered by the medieval Knights Templar, who were the predecessors of Freemasonry.
Other examples of sacred architecture are visible in the village today where both the octagonally-shaped Calder United Free and Lochwinnoch Parish churches are obvious examples. The two pillars at the entrance to the churches originate in the Boaz and Jachin pillars which guard Masonic Temples. Boaz was the ancestor of King David Of Old Testament fame while Jachin was the first High Priest of the rebuilt Temple of Jerusalem, which inspires all Masonic Temples. And an examination of the village centre – promoted by the Macdowalls – reveals a townscape based on the Masonic grid system. This utilises sacred geometrical principles, including squares, straight lines and right-angles in street layouts.
A final glance at the Kenmuir Hill Temple reveals it is constructed on strict north, east, south and west alignments. These correspond with human birth, life, death and resurrection. The sun rises at dawn in the east, reaches its zenith in the south at mid-day, sets in the west at dusk and journeys through the northern darkness before its oriental rebirth the next morning.
These patterns of humanity's spiritual odyssey from the darkness of ignorance to the radiant rays of intellectual illumination are reflected on a daily and seasonal basis at the old Temple on Kenmuir Hill. More than 250 years after its completion, it still proclaims the everlasting and eternal truths which have inspired the just man and woman since the beginning of time.
It symbolises the quest for our higher selves in a materialistic world whose pleasures are shallow, fleeting and transient.
Such is the sermon in stones at the Temple on Kenmuir Hill. May it be forever more a Rock of Ages
Derek Parker worked as a countryside ranger at Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park, Lochwinnoch, from 1985 to 1999.