The castles of the Dumfries and Galloway region are often referred to as ‘grand’. Although the region is now at the cultural forefront of the country, renowned for its writers and artists, the castles and castle ruins in the area are known to have played a vital part in the history of Scotland.
Caerlaverock Castle, Dumfries
Dating back to the 13th Century, the splendid medieval Caerlaverock Castle, with its unique, triangular-shaped red sandstone walls is located in the Caerlaverock National Nature Reserve near the English border. The castle is unusual in that it has witnessed a rather pendulum ownership – originally the English, then the Scots in 1356, the English again in 1544 and the Scottish once more in 1570. However, after some 30 years of peace, the owner Robert Maxwell converted it into a family dwelling in 1634. However, following another attack, this time by the Covenanters, the castle fell into disrepair until coming into Historic Scotland’s ownership in 1964. It now has, amongst several attractions, a children’s adventure park and wonderful nature trails.
Drumlanrig Castle, Thornhill
Drumlanrig Castle is a large ‘pink’ sandstone baroque country house near the village of Thornhill constructed between 1684 and 1691, very much so the 1st Duke of Queensberry, William Douglas, could differentiate his family’s status as one of the most influential in Scotland. It has a wonderful wide avenue approach, and internally features magnificent reception rooms and imposing staircases. Currently the home of the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch and Queensberry, it is perhaps most famous for the Buccleuch Art Collection, quite remarkable and internationally famous, counting amongst its treasures Rembrandt’s The Old Woman Reading.
Castle Kennedy (Lochinch Castle), Castle Kennedy, Stranraer
The 5th Earl of Cassilis built the original Castle Kennedy in 1607 but it was destroyed during the Jacobite Rising in 1715. Taking inspiration from France and in particular the gardens of Versailles, the 3rd Earl of Stair, into whose family the land and castle had passed, modelled the gardens at Castle Kennedy on what he had seen. Lochinch Castle was built during the 19th Century more as a self-sufficient home, with even its own gas supply, rather than as a castle with defences. The incredible gardens and ruins of Castle Kennedy still make an enjopyable day out.
Orchardton Tower, Castle Douglas
Built in 1456, and although now a ruin, the 11m high, 9m diameter Orchardton Tower still retains much of its original, if unusual, charm. It has seen a varied ownership, due, unusually, to internal domestic problems rather than conflict and battle. It was passed to the Crown in 1555 as a result of a family feud over ownership, the 1st Baronet of Orchardton has a period in residence from 1615, the 7th Baronet of Orchardton went bankrupt in 1615, and in 1785, it changed ownership to James Douglas, the famous merchant from Liverpool. It then changed hands twice more prior to falling into ruin and passing on to Historic Scotland.
Threave Castle, Castle Douglas
The unusually named Archibald the Grim, who was Lord of Galloway at the time, built the imposing Threave Castle on a beautiful outlook by the River Dee in the 14th century, where it became the stronghold of the equally unusually-named ‘Black’ Earls of Douglas. Following a siege, lead by King James II in person, the castle was rendered unfit to live in. As a ruin, it passed to the Crown, who in turn, in 1526, passed it onto the Maxwell family. It saw one more battle, lasting 13 weeks, in 1640, caused by the Maxwell family support for Charles I. However, in 1913, the then-owners of the castle passed it back to the State. The castle can only be visited by boat and from April to September.
The region of Dumfries and Galloway, with its great cliffs and miles of incredible coastline has a proximity to England would suggest castles for defence from attack both from the England to the south as well as from the west (Ireland and the western seaboard). An area steeped in history and cultural heritage.