Sunday, August 30, 2009

Rosslyn\Roslin Castle, Roslin

Rosslyn\Roslin Castle
Near Edinburgh

Apparently Rosslyn Castle is a bit of a secret as far as castles go. Its nearby neighbour, the world famous Rosslyn Chapel (the Da Vinci Code etc) is visited by thousands of visitors each year, but the castle is a relative secret, even though it is only about five hundred yards to the South East. The village of Roslin is about nine miles South of Edinburgh, and both chapel and castle lay on a high ridge above the River North Esk in the Roslin Glen Country Park.

The castle is accessed via footpaths and tracks that lead from Rosslyn Chapel, or from the car park in Roslin Glen. It is probably the relative inaccessible nature of the location, that prompted its builders, the St Clair family, to choose this spot to erect their castle.

Above. A view of the Sinclair house.

The St Clair family started building here in 1304 with the aim of strengthening their hold over their Midlothian estates. For the next three hundred years or so, the site was continually inhabited and developed. This ‘development’ included several phases of rebuilding, after the castle suffered an accidental fire in 1447, destroying much of the site, an attack from English troops in 1544, and finally, an attack from Cromwell’s troops under General Monck in 1651. General Monck laid siege to the castle using a purpose built cannon battery built some eight hundred yards to the North East (still marked on ordnance survey maps as General Monck’s Battery)

Above. A view across the bridge and into the courtyard.

This final attack signalled the end of the castle as a fortification, but not a home. The St Clair family built themselves a grand house within the confines of the old castle. This was the target of rioters from Edinburgh in 1688, who were on a rampage against all ‘Popish’ targets. The house repaired after this attack and the family continued living there.

Above. The Sinclair house glimpsed through the remains of the gatehouse.

The layout of the castle, includes a central courtyard, with a range of building built against the Northern most wall of the castle.

Above. Another view of the Sinclair house across the courtyard.

A heavily buttressed wall stands at the cliff edge, against which, at the Southern most end a keep was built (now in ruins) A significant range of buildings were built against the Eastern side of the castle’s walls, and most still stand to some degree or other.

Above. A portion of surviving wall in the courtyard.

Above. Vaulted chambers in the courtyard wall.

Above. A view towards the gatehouse ruins.

Above. The castle as it appears from the walls of the chapel.

Above. Floor plan of the buildings that make up Roslin Castle. 

Above. The ruined gateway (postcard from personal collection) 

Above. The six story North West range (postcard from personal collection) 

Above. Looking back towards the ruined gatehouse (postacard from personal collection) 

 Above. Fantastic distance view of the castle, possilbly from Roslin Chapel (postcard from personal collection)

Above. Cut away plan of the castle.

The house that the St Clair family built after the castle’s near total destruction in 1651, is now available for holiday lets, but the castle grounds are freely accessible. If you visit the chapel it's well worth also taking the walk to the castle.....which is only about five minutes down the hill. If the weather is fine and the ground dry, I would also recommend walking down to the river side, as there are fantastic views of the exterior of the castle walls from here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Stirling Castle, Stirling

Stirling Castle

Stirling Castle is really one of those magnificent sites that demands two write ups: a historical over view, and a site over view. I'll start with a historical over view, detailing the castle's many building phases and surviving (and missing) structure later on in the blog!

To start with, the location of this castle is perfect...for both defence, and for the choosy castle hunter looking for a great site to photograph. The River Forth and the River Teith merge just to the West of Stirling. The River Forth then snakes its way from West to East, meandering along the bottom of the valley. The river in its self has always been a barrier across which anyone needing or wanting to travel into Northern Scotland has had to cross. As well as the river, to the North and North East, the Ochil Hills rise to a height of 721 metres (Ben Cleuch) providing an almost impenetrable barrier.....whilst to the South and South West, the Touch Hills rise to an equally impressive 521 metres (Miekle Bin) In effect, these two ranges of mountains, with the valley and its ever present castle beneath them, have almost cut Scotland in half, both geographically and politically for as long as Scotland has been a kingdom.

It is surmised that the huge volcanic outcrop upon which Stirling castle is built, would, at one time, have been occupied by the Romans, the Votodani or the Picts, purely on the basis that this piece of high ground over looking the river, would have been of valuable military importance to any one needing to occupy this part of Scotland. There is evidence for a small fort on a rocky outcrop to the North East of the castle, on a hall called Gowan Hill. No evidence has been found of early occupation on the site of Stirling Castle though....perhaps the building of the castle in the early 1100's obliterated any signs of early occupation. The first record of a building of any sorts here, dates from 1110, when King Alexander I built a chapel in Stirling, probably on the castle's mount. With the death of Alexander in 1124, and the succession of King David I Stirling found itself as a Royal Burgh. The castle became the centre of local administration, probably extending its administrative and military control over the whole of the kingdom, until it was forfeited by King William I, under terms of the Treaty of Falaise, the English King, Henry II. It is thought that the castle was not garrisoned by English soldiers during this period, and it was returned back into Scottish hands when Richard I (Richard the Lionheart) effective 'sold' the South of Scotland back to the Scots to raise money for a Crusade to the Holy Lands.

Stirling and its castle were favoured by Alexander III up until his death in 1286. The period of his reign is widely regarded as a golden era for Scotland, figuring heavily in European arts and politics, and becoming a strong independent kingdom. When he died however, there were no immediate heirs, and with the assistance of England's Edward I, the country was plunged into a succession crisis. Edward used this period of unrest to fuel divisions within Scotland, arbitrating between the rival factions with the sole aim of installing a 'puppet' king on the throne of Scotland. Edward demanded that all Scottish castles be placed under English control, including the Royal castle of Stirling....and with this in mind, he came North to take over Stirling in 1291. Edward judged that John Balliol had the strongest claim to the Scottish throne, and he was crowned at Scone on the 30th of November 1292. It appears that Edward's idea of a 'puppet' king backfired, as King John eventually chose to stand against Edward, effectively kick starting the 60 years Scottish Wars of Independence.

In 1296, recognising both the military and symbolic importance of Stirling and its castle, Edward invaded Scotland. He found the castle empty and abandoned and immediately set about occupying it. In 1297 however, the thorn in Edward's side, William Wallace and an accomplice, Sir Andrew Murray defeated the English garrison at the battle of Stirling Bridge. It is thought that William and Andrew meted out a devastating defeat to the 9000 to 12000 strong English army, with as little as 2500 men....bottle necking the English army as it attempted to cross Stirling Bridge and slaughtering all who attempted to cross. The rest of the English garrison retired to the castle, where they were besieged for a short while before surrendering. The castle only remained under Scottish control for about a year. It was abandoned by the Scots after they were defeated by the English at the battle of Falkirk in July 1298. Edward, in turn, only held the castle for a year, when it was besieged by Robert the Bruce in 1299. The garrison did not receive promised reinforcements and were forced to surrender to the Scottish forces.

In 1303, the English invasion and occupation of Scotland were gaining momentum, and with Stirling castle the only Scottish castle still occupied by Scottish forces, Edward laid siege to it....this time employing a new siege weapon, the Warwolf, a huge trebuchet that could be used to demolish castle walls. The very sight of the Warwolf is said to have intimidated the Scottish garrison into surrendering before it had even been used. The English ordered part of the Scottish garrison back into Stirling castle so that Edward could see his new weapon used in anger. (A scale mock up of the Warwolf can be seen at Caerlaverlock Castle) It is thought that the gatehouse was destroyed as a result of this onslaught.

Four years later, Edward I was dead, and it seemed that the English occupation of Scotland was beginning to crumble. Robert the Bruce was now Robert I of Scotland, and Edward's successor, his fourth son Edward (II) lacked the motivation and ability to maintain English rule in Scotland, especially against an ever strengthening Scottish uprising. By 1313, only three Scottish castles were still being held by the English. Stirling was one of these castles, and it was besieged by King Robert's brother Edward Bruce. Realising the severity of the situation, the garrison's commander, Sir Philip Mowbray agreed that if he did not receive English reinforcements by the 24th of June 1314, he would surrender the castle to the Scots. Edward Bruce agreed to these terms and withdrew the seige. Edward II set out with an army of around 25000 men, with the intention of relieving the garrison in Stirling castle. On the 23rd of June, he was met by Edward's army (totalling some 9000 men) at Bannockburn to the South East of the castle. Over the course of the 23rd and the 24th of June, the Scots systematically slaughtered the English army, causing the death of an estimated 11000 English soldiers, and causing Edward II to seek refuge in Stirling castle. However, Sir Philip Mowbray decided that he had to keep to the terms of his agreement with Edward Bruce, and he duly left the castle to the Scots, forcing Edward and his surviving soldiers to flee. Edward and his personal bodyguard left and made their way to Dunbar Castle in East Lothian, where he then sailed back to the safety of England. Those English soldiers that tried to make their way back South to England on foot, were harried and chased down by the Scots, and slaughtered in their hundreds. Not only was Bannockburn a decisive defeat for the English, but it was relatively bad news for Stirling Castle. King Robert ordered that the castle be prevent it being used by the English again should they make moves North again.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Stirling Town Walls

Town Walls

The old town walls of Stirling form part of a walk running the full circuit of the old town. The major part of the walk follows about a mile of almost continuous surviving wall...much of it original and intact. This one mile portion of the walk runs from the Tourist Information Centre on Dumbarton Road, all the way round to Ballengeich Road, just North of the castle. At Ballengeich Road you can leave the footpath, and follow the road round the base of Castle Hill, or you can continue along the footpath that eventually takes you to Gowanhill\Mote Hill. The whole walk constitutes the Wall Walk, and the Back 'o The Hill Walk.....well worth it.

The old town walls are, where they are intact, immense...both in height and apparent thickness. Mainly built between 1547 and 1548 and prompted by the threat of English aggression, they probably represent the most extensive surviving example of a Burgh fortification in the whole of Scotland.

Parts of the wall are peppered with gun ports...some only a few inches across, others around two feet wide.

Where possible, it seems that the builders managed to place the town's wall on top of rocky outcrops, thereby giving the wall a much better stable foundation.

The photo above, just off Dumbarton Road, clearly shows two gun ports in what could be the base of a reduced round tower.

The Woodside Guest House has even had its facade built into the wall. At various points along the Southerly surviving portions of the wall, house owners have, over the years, knocked through gateways through the wall. At various points along the route of the wall, heavily defended gates were built. The main gate was the Barrasyett gate, and lay at the junction of Dumbarton Road and Port Street. There were also gates at Upper Bridge Street, Friars Street and near the Thistle Centre.

Mars Wark, Stirling

Mars Wark
Castle Wynd

Built between 1569 and 1572, Mars Wark is an enigmatic ruin that stands at the head of Castle Wynd with its back facing into the grave yard of the Holy Rude. I've included this building on the blog for one specific reason. All along the facade are a number of gun loops....I counted about four in in each wing, and one in each of the octagonal towers flanking the arched doorway. Just as MacClellan's Castle in Kirkcudbright, which also sports a large number of gun loops, demonstrates the transition from fortified residence to more comfortable 'peace time' high status manse, it is likely that Mars Wark also demonstrates the inclusion of gun loops for show, rather than for defence.

The remains suggest a large two storey building, though it is likely that it was originally three storeys tall....the top storey possibly being removed to enable the ongoing preservation of the ruins. It was built by John Erskine, 1st Earl of Mar. John was the hereditary keeper of Stirling Castle and became Scottish Regent in 1571. It's likely that much of the stone used to build the mansion here, came from Cambuskenneth Abbey. Mars Wark was also home to the 6th Earl of Mar, another John, who led the 1715 Jacobite rebellion. When this rebellion failed, the building was commandeered and turned into barracks. During the second Jacobite rebellion (1745/46) the building was badly damaged by canon fire, gradually falling into ruin from then on.

The ruins can be seen at the top of Castle Wynd, and also from the grave yard of the Holy Rude.

Caerlaverock Castle, Near Dumfries

Caerlaverock Castle
Near Dumfries
Dumfries and Galloway

Caerlaverock is one of the three Royal castles of Dumfries and Galloway (the others being Threave and Kirkcudbright Castle Dykes) and lays about 12 miles South of Dumfries. From the centre of Dumfries, the B725 takes you along the banks of the River Nith, until it flows into Blackshaw Bank in the Solway Firth. It is at this point, that the Scottish coast is a mere twelve or so miles from the North Cumbrian coast. I would suggest walking around the bank that tops the moat firstly, as this will enable you to get a good look at the gatehouse, the surviving Western tower, the curtain wall and best of all, where the Southern portion of curtain wall has been destroyed, an almost sneak preview of the courtyard and its impressively decorated Nithsdale Lodgings.

Caerlaverock is one of those castles that is instantly recognisable, with its twin towered gatehouse and triangular form, set in a wide water filled moat and surrounded by earthworks, ditches and embankments, and only a few hundred yards from the sea. This castle was built, no doubt, to replace the smaller castle set back in the trees, and was probably erected by Aylmer Maxwell in the 1260’s. In 1300, the castle was besieged and eventually captured by Edward I of England. The siege involved around 3000 English troops and 87 knights, and included the use of several siege engines (examples of which have been reconstructed nearby). The castle’s occupants withheld the siege for a while until they decided to surrender the castle to the English. It must have been a surprise to see only 60 men walk out of the castle!! The English held the castle until 1312, when its keeper, Sir Eustace Maxwell decided his loyalties would be better off laid at the feet of Robert the Bruce. The English tried to retake the castle again, but this time failed. King Robert had the castle virtually dismantled to prevent it falling into English hands again (as he had done elsewhere in Scotland). Hence….what we see today at Caerlaverock, dates mainly from a rebuild of the 1330’s. The only original parts are the foundations of the whole castle, most of the West curtain wall, the South West corner tower and the Western tower of the massive gatehouse.

The castle was besieged once more by the English in 1544, and again in 1570. During the 1630’s, Robert Maxwell, the 1st Earl of Nithsdale converted Caerlaverock into a high status home, building the Nithsdale Lodgings against the Eastern curtain wall, and introducing much of the fine decorative stone work that can still be seen today.

During the Civil war of the 1600’s, the Maxwells sided with King Charles I, and subsequently came up against the Scottish Covenanter’s army in 1640. The castle was besieged for a total of thirteen weeks before it was finally surrendered. The results of the siege, and the Covenanter’s ransacking of the castle can still be seen today, the Southern curtain wall was demolished, and the South Eastern tower was reduced to chest height.…none of the damage has ever been repaired. The castle was already popular with visitors to the area by the end of the 18th century, when the Duke of Norfolk handed it to the Ministry of Works, its future seemed secured. Today, Caerlaverock Castle is managed by Historic Scotland.

A view of the castle looking towards the now demolished curtain wall at the Southern end of the castle. The South Western tower is still intact, and does not contain any fire places...suggesting that this structure was built purely as a military tower. The corbels visible at the top, would suggest that a wooden structure would have been mounted here. The footings of the demolished South Eastern tower can be seen to the right of this photo.

The above photo shows the Western wall of the castle. Most of these structures, including the tower of the gatehouse (at the left of the photo) and the South Western tower (at the right of the photo) are original, and probably all date from 13th century.

The Nithsdale Lodgings are shown in the photo above, complete with piper and rather bored looking dancer (there was a wedding at the castle the day we visited) The lodges were built in 1634 by Robert Maxwell, 1st Earl of Nithsdale, and would have provided accommodation to replace the suites in the gatehouse.

A view of the complete South Western tower from the site of the demolished South Eastern tower. Apparently there are otters in the wife thinks she may have seen one....and not a glass of wine in sight!!!

An excellent view of the castle from the South....clearly showing the standing tower, the Nithsdale Lodgings and the footings of the demolished curtain wall.

Another view of the South Western tower.....and below...a photo of all that remains of the South Eastern tower.

I would highly recommend visiting this castle. It's a bit of a drive out of Dumfries, but once you're there, it's stunning location makes for a good few hours of exploring....and don't forget to visit the old castle!

Check out Simon Ledingham's aerial photos of the castle:

Caerlaverock Old Castle, South of Dumfries

Caerlaverock Old Castle
South of Dumfries
Dumfries and Galloway

Caerlaverock is one of those great sites that not only offers you a beautiful medieval castle, in the most dramatic settings you could imagine, but also springs a surprise on you….a second castle, hidden a few hundred yards away, whose remains represent the original fortress built here.

The old castle can be found to the South East of its larger cousin, hidden in the wooded walks that lay behind the main castle. The remains have been excavated, consolidated and labelled so it is easy to see what you’re looking at.

It is thought that this castle was built some time between around 1225 and 1250, by John Maxwell, and consists of several periods of building, ending with its abandonment in (probably) the late 1250’s. The castle’s footprint is somewhat irregular, with four corner towers which would originally have measured around six metres square, a ‘lozenge’ shaped courtyard measuring some twenty five metres by twenty five metres, a large hall in the west end of the courtyard and a gatehouse facing North.

The footings, excavated and consolidated stand at ground level, and it’s almost like walking around a diagram, a floor plan of a building. The wooden footbridge passes over the single but wide ditch, slightly to the left of the footings of the gatehouse. The site of the walls and the towers are plain to see, as are the hall and a range of buildings set against the Southern part of the castle’s wall.

Before the castle was excavated (in 1998) all that could be seen of the remains, was a grassy knoll lying in the center of a well defined moat. Over time, as the top soil was removed, the castle's curtain wall, inner buildings and corner towers were gradually uncovered, as well as a small harbour to the South West closer to the Solway Firth.

I can’t find much more information on this castle, the reasons it was abandoned for example…but as I find more information, I’ll include it here.

Airthrey Castle, Near Stirling

Airthrey Castle
Near Stirling

A bit of a 'faux' castle really, but as its such a beautiful building, and in a fantastic stretch of Scottish countryside, I'd say it earns its place on this blog. Situated about three and a half miles North East of the city of Stirling, just off the A91 to Bridge of Allan, the castle sits in a vast estate consisting of open grass lands and a man made loch (around which now stand, buildings belonging to the University of Stirling)

The name, "Airthrey" is thought to originate from two possible sources: firstly, Ard-rhedadie, meaning 'a high road' and possibly relating to the old road leading to Sherrifmuir nearby, and secondly, Airthrin, meaning a 'sharp point' or 'conflict', and possibly relating to a battle fought on or near the site of the present day castle in 839, when Kenneth McAlpine (King of the Scots) defeated the Picts. The estate surrounding the present day castle, are mentioned in Royal documents as far back as 1146, when the lands belonged to the keeper of Stirling Castle, Sir John Herice. The lands are then documented as passing to William, 3rd Lord Graham of Kincardine in 1488, given to him as a reward for bravery demonstrated on the battle field at the battle of Sauchieburn (during which King James III was killed) The estates stayed in the Graham Clan's hands, until they were sold in 1678, to John Hope of Hopetoun. From John Hope, the lands then passed to Charles Hope, 1st Earl of Hopetoun. By 1759, the estate had once again been sold, this time to Captain Robert Haldane of Plean (a small village just outside of Stirling) Captain Haldane commissioned Thomas White to design the 360 acre grounds and the man made loch, and subsequently, Robert Haldane his son, commissioned Robert Adam to design and build the castle in 1791. The castle was built, and then promptly sold in 1798 to Robert Abercrombie.

The Abercrombie family held the castle until 1889, at which time, Donald Graham purchased it. He made some changes to the building, and added some large additions to its fabric. During the Second World War, the castle was used as a maternity hospital, with this function being continued right up until the 1960's. At this stage, the castle and its grounds were earmarked as the first brand new Scottish University since Edinburgh University (1582) In 1967, the University of Stirling was opened, and the School of Law based in the castle. The castle is said to have retained many of its original late 18th century features, despite a serious fire in 2000.