Tour Dates: 29th April - 1st May 2011
The traditional April AGM weekend brought us to Selkirk, courtesy of David and Judy Steel, who organised the weekend for us.
Unusually, because of tight access to some of the properties, we travelled in three minibuses instead of the usual coach.
First event was a reception at Hillslap Tower, by kind invitation of SCA member Philip Mercer, we thank him for his hospitality.
Hillslap is a 16th Century 4-storey L-plan tower and courtyard, dating from 1585. It consists of a main block and stair wing, with a stair-turret projecting above first floor level in the re-entrant angle. The ground floor is vaulted, with the hall at first floor level.
There is a range of other buildings within a courtyard, and a gatehouse with entrance pend has been added later. The tower is similar to Greenknowe Tower in Berwickshire, but without Greenknowe's angle turrets. The tower was reroofed and restored in the 1980s.
One of three towers almost within a stone's throw of each other (the others are Colmslie and Langshaw), Hillslap was originally a property of the Cairncross family. The tower was used in Sir Walter Scott's novel "The Monastery" where it was called Glendearg.
An old monks' bridle path passes nearby, linking Melrose to Soutra.
Saturday, and our first destination was a photo-stop at Burnhead Tower. Formerly of three storeys and a garret, within the remains of a parapet, Burnhead was originally a property of the Scotts or the Elliots, and is a 16th century rectangular tower, originally free-standing, but now incorporated as the north end of a modern house. There are two vaulted chambers in the basement, and a vaulted lobby from the entrance leads to a stair, straight at the lower end but wheeling round higher up. There is a partial parapet walk. The first floor has been totally modernised, and contains two apartments.
Next stop was a challenge for all. Accessed by a narrow, steep path through woodland, on top of Minto Crags, is Fatlips Tower.
A tough test, but well worth the effort, Fatlips is a rectangular 16th century tower of 3 storeys and a garret, with a rounded parapet.
There is a vaulted basement, and a turnpike stair in one corner, with a conical caphouse.
The castle is said to take its name from a facial feature of one of the original Turnbull owners. They were an unruly family, so much so that James IV ordered some 200 of them to appear before him with halters round their necks – then hanged a few to emphasise his point. The castle later passed to the Stewarts, and later still to the Elliotts of Minto. It was restored in 1897, but at the time of our visit was in danger of becoming derelict. More recently it has been announced that a rescue plan has been proposed.
A late addition to the programme, our next visit was Lanton Tower, an altered 16th century rectangular tower of 3 storeys and a garret, to which has been added a modern mansion. Some windows have been enlarged. It has a vaulted basement, and there are two gunloops to the west. Lanton was sacked after Flodden, in 1513. It was not immediately rebuilt, and so escaped further destruction during the Rough Wooing of 1544. In 1627, it was a property of the Cranstouns, but had passed to Douglas of Cavers by 1687. It was restored in 1989.
Arriving in Hawick, we had an opportunity to visit the Borders Textile museum housed in Drumlanrig's Tower, an altered and extended 16th century L-plan tower. It was a property of the Douglases of Drumlanrig, and uniquely survived the torching of Hawick in 1570 by the Earl of Surrey. Later a town house of the Dukes of Buccleuch, the 17th century saw part of the basement in use as a prison, and later still as a wine cellar, when the tower was converted for use as a coaching inn. After ending its time as the Tower Hotel in 1981, it was restored in the 1990s as a museum and Tourist Office.
Branxholme has been a Scott property since the early 15th century. The original castle was burned by the Earl of Northumberland in 1532, and again in 1570, by the Scotts themselves. This later burning was completed with gunpowder by the Earl of Essex.
Rebuilding commenced 1571 -76 by Sir Walter Scott of Buccleuch and continued, after his death, by his widow. Branxholme is an altered 5-storey tower, possibly Z-plan, incorporated into a mansion of 1790. There are vaulted chambers in the basement, and a newel stair, but the interior is greatly altered.
A family with reiver history, and often Wardens of the Middle March, the Scotts became lords in 1606, Earls in 1612, and finally Dukes of Buccleuch in 1667. The castle was largely remodelled in 1837 by William Burn, for the 5th Duke. It is still part of the Buccleuch Estate, though in recent years has been used as farm accommodation.
Goldielands Tower is a ruined 16th century rectangular tower, once of 5 storeys, with a courtyard, outbuildings and corner towers.
There was a vaulted basement, with an entresol floor and a turnpike stair, which now ends at the second floor. The chamber above held the hall and kitchen. Goldielands was a Scott property from the 15th century.
Walter Scott of Goldielands, with his kinsman at Branxholme, was one of those involved in the rescue of Kinmont Willie Armstrong from Carlisle Castle in 1596. The last laird of Goldielands was hanged from his own gate for treason.
The OS map indicates that nothing is left of Salenside Tower, but a closer look reveals that that Salenside Cottage, on a knoll by the farm, may actually be the converted base of an earlier tower or hall.
The cottage was remodelled in the 1990s, with the addition on the SW side of a modern 3-storey tower, complete with projecting stair-wing.
First visit of the day on Sunday was Newark Castle, a massive rectangular 15th century keep of 5 storeys, standing in a strong defensive position above the river Yarrow. Two corners of the castle have 16th century caphouses, and there are remains of a large courtyard.
The Basement is vaulted. The original entrance was at first floor level, above the present ground floor entrance, which may have been a separate way into the basement. Two newel stairs, in the NW and SE corners, give access to the upper floors. There was a gatehouse, and a barmkin wall. There is no trace of the "Auld Wark" which this building replaced.
The castle was acquired by Archibald, Earl of Douglas, around 1423.
After the downfall of the Black Douglases, it came into Crown ownership and was used as a Royal hunting lodge. The Scotts of Buccleuch were hereditary keepers of the castle, which is located within the grounds of Bowhill, home of the present Duke of Buccleuch.
Blackhouse Tower is a ruined rectangular 16th century tower, with a ruined stair tower at one corner, near the entrance. There may have been an earlier tower on the site at the time of The Bruce. The land was probably owned by the Douglases from the 13th century, was sold to the Pringles in 1509, and had passed to the Stewarts of Traquair by the end of the 16th century.
Blackhouse is said to be the location where various suitors fought for the hand of the "Flower of Yarrow", in the old Border Ballad, "The Dowie Dens of Yarrow". Elspeth Smellie, accompanying herself on the harp, entertained us with a rendition of the ballad.
Although there are various versions of the ballad, the net result seems to be that all the suitors died – but not the lady.
The lady in question was Mary, or Marion, Scott, whose family home was at Dryhope Tower, not far from Blackhouse.
In 1535, King James V decreed that "each man with £100 of worth must build a barmkin". Many powerful Border families built towers as well, and Dryhope is one of the best preserved. It is a plain 16th century rectangular tower of 3 or 4 storeys, with a turnpike stair leading up to the first floor hall. Both the basement and the hall were vaulted.
A curtain wall enclosed ranges of buildings around a courtyard. The Scotts of Dryhope were as active as their neighbours at the time, both in raiding and politics. As a result, on the orders of and following a treasonable plot against King James VI, the tower was slighted in 1592 by a kinsman, Scott of Goldielands, but was rebuilt by 1613.
The tower has recently been consolidated and made safe for visitors by the current landowner, Sir Michael Strang-Steel, who was kind enough to meet us on site, and outline some of the problems he encountered during the project.
Mary Scott, after the carnage at Blackhouse, went on to marry Walter Scott of Harden, known as Old Wat, and a well-known reiver, and went to live at Kirkhope Tower. This is a simple rectangular tower of 4 storeys, with a garret above the parapet, a bartizan on one corner and a caphouse on another. The tower dates from around 1535, and there was also a courtyard, with outbuildings.
There are substantial remains of the outer defences. An entrance below the original first floor entrance, gives access to a vaulted basement, and there is a turnpike stair in the south-east angle leading to the upper floors. The hall is at first floor level, now accessed by an external wooden stair. The hall was occupied until the middle of the 19th century, and was restored in the 1990s by Peter Clarke.
Old Wat of Harden was also associated with the final castle of this visit, Aikwood Tower, across the Ettrick valley from Kirkhope.
Until recently, Aikwood was home to David and Judy Steel, who purchased the tower from the Buccleuch estate and restored it in the early 1990s. It is now in the hands of their son Rory and his wife, who were kind enough to host this visit. Here and at Kirkhope we were entertained to more ballads from Elspeth Smellie, providing an interesting and different bonus to the weekend.
The lands of Aikwood had been in the Scott family since the early 16th century, and the tower was probably built around 1535.
Similar to Kirkhope, but larger and without the parapet, it is a rectangular 4-storey tower with an attic. Again, the hall is on the first floor, with private chambers above. Unoccupied for about 200 years, used largely as a store, it is a striking example of what can be achieved in the preservation of Scotland's architectural heritage.
This tour was one of the best ever attended, and we were fortunately blessed with sunshine for the whole weekend.
Our grateful thanks go to David and Judy Steel for organising an excellent and varied tour, to Elspeth Smellie for her music, to all our hosts for their generosity of time and spirit, and to our minibus drivers.
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