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The History of The Highland Club (Fort Augustus Abbey)

Updated: May 10, 2023

The Highland Club has a long history, far beyond its time as a monastery and Abbey. Supposedly started around 1350, our site on the southern shores of Loch Ness was originally the location of the Old Castle of Kiliwhinan, otherwise known as Kilcumein. Though there is no archaeological evidence remaining, the old plans for the barracks mark the old castle. Not much is known about the old castle other than it existed, though there is a tradition that it may have been an old fort built in the time of Cromwell.

An old map of Fort Augustus
Map of Fort Augustus

In response to the Jacobite Rising, the barracks at Kilcumein were began to be built into a fort in 1729, though the fort was not finished until 1742. It was named after George II’s third son, Prince William Augustus. The nearby town of Kilcumein, named after Cille-chumein a follower of St. Columba, was also renamed Fort Augustus in the prince’s honour. However, this fort was only used once against the Jacobite forces (who took over the fort for two months), and so the Fort was closed in 1853.

The government sold the old Fort to Thomas Alexander Lovat in 1867, who gave the land to Benedictine monks to set up a monastery in 1876. As well as St. Benedict’s Monastery, the monks also set up St. Benedict’s College. Though the fortification remained, an original bastion still present in The Highland Club today, there was not an abbey or enough buildings for the monastery. So in 1878, Peter Paul Pugin started work on an abbey for St. Benedict’s Monastery.

Black and white drawing of Fort Augustus Abbey
Benedictine Monastery

Fort Augustus Abbey

In 1882, the monastery was raised to the dignity of an abbey, thereby giving the name St. Benedict’s Abbey, better known as Fort Augustus Abbey. The Abbey also contained a printing press, publishing and printing books as The Abbey Press.

Though the abbey was started, its work was discontinued due to a lack of funds resulting in an impermanent abbey structure. The work was resumed in 1914 after an appeal raised new funds for an abbey. And in 1919, St. Benedict’s College was closed so that The Abbey School could open.

Fort Augustus Abbey during the construction phase
Fort Augustus Abbey during construction

Although many students passed through, in 1993 St Benedict’s Abbey and The Abbey School was closed. Though the monks opened up a small museum in the cloisters, this did not produce enough revenue to sustain the grounds. As a result, the final monks left in 1998.

In 2003, The Santon Group bought Fort Augustus Abbey. The Abbey Church conversion into The Highland Club was finished in 2012, turning an old castle, a military fort and a monastery and abbey into state of the art, self-catered apartments on the shore of Loch Ness.

This post was first published 24th September 2019

Ariel view of The Highland Club as it is today
Ariel view of The Highland Club
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