A mid-April weekend in Motherwell has never been high on my wish list. A hotel named "The Moorings" added to my apprehension when Motherwell is inland. How wrong. The Moorings was recently refurbished and ideally situated close to Strathclyde Country Park. The prospects of another excellent weekend rapidly improved.
For those who have not been on an SCA tour, members often arrive on the Friday. With members travelling from many parts of Britain the opportunity of meeting up with old friends over a lengthy drink and meal is irresistible.
For Lanark, the schedule of visits was intense and the prospect of a Saturday evening AGM required stamina and preparation. So at 9.15 on Saturday morning members gather in the hotel car park. The coach arrives and an assortment of perhaps 25 people embark on the 49th SCA weekend tour.
The importance of Bothwell Castle is reflected in the glut of information available from a diversity of sources. MacGibbon and Ross produce copious freehand sketches of the castle, its wealth of detail and - following detailed survey work and analysis - a proposal for how a restoration might look.
Of the ten or so castles on the itinerary only two are featured by MacGibbon and Ross. Likewise Nigel Tranter only has studies of the same two castles. This is a common feature of Scottish Castles, well recorded or barely acknowledged. An objective of the SCA is to address this issue within the Information Centre, to collate detailed and accurate information on this important aspect of our built heritage. Although MacGibbon and Ross have excelled in their study of Bothwell, Historic Scotland have trumped with their interpretation and historic material.
The painting above illustrates the scale and majesty of Bothwell which dates back to the 13th century. The massive courtyard is surrounded by a curtain wall some sixty feet in height and defended by towers. There are similarities to Covy Castle in France. The dominant round tower or "donjon" being the focus where the garrison would retreat when hard pressed. The entrance to this tower was by way of an arched doorway, accessed by a drawbridge. This is well illustrated in the sketches of MacGibbon and Ross.
The original structure was built in the 13th century by the De Moravia (Murray) family but was taken over by the English and deployed as the Governor's House for the area up until 1337 when the Scots stormed and destroyed it.
Following the Wars of Independence the castle changed hands on several occasions. It was rebuilt around 1400 by Archibald the Grim!
Craignethan Castle, like Bothwell, is extremely well documented, having been taken into state ownership in 1949, and is now managed by Historic Scotland. Craignethan is built on an isolated outcrop with steep embankments on three sides - curiously the approach is from high ground defended by a dry ditch some thirty feet deep immediately in front of the inner courtyard. The first impression of the dominant keep is one of a squat and narrow tower. However, this deception is created by a series of subterranean vaults dating back to the 15th century. James, Lord Hamilton, is credited with building the keep and the building remained in Hamilton ownership until 1665 when it was sold.
Again we see a large curtain walled configuration with corner towers, gatehouse and lean-to building. Within the courtyard, these buildings have been commissioned for comfort rather than defence. MacGibbon and Ross published measured plans of the buildings and courtyards, supplemented with detailed sketches illustrating the dilapidations in the mid 19th century.
From the massive scale of Bothwell and indeed Craignethan, Hallbar Tower is the absolute opposite at 24 feet 9 inches square externally. It rises to four storeys, and has been restored for holiday accommodation. Hallbar is possibly an early 16th century keep. The ground floor is vaulted and has modern kitchen and toilet facilities. The first floor has a hall with vaulted fireplace. The second floor contains the upper hall. The vaulted third floor houses bed chambers, as does the roof space. The tiny plan footprint dictates some unusual features. There are no spiral stairs, only straight flights within the thickness of the outer walls. The battlements occur on two sides only. There is also a dovecot in the north gable which was protected by a wooden hoarding or brattice supported on projecting wooden beams. The dovecot is an important feature of many fortified houses, providing fresh food but also producing the raw material for gun powder.
The tower was originally in the ownership of the Douglas family up until 1581. Thereafter it changed hands on three or four separate occasions. Hallbar was studied both by MacGibbon and Ross and Nigel Tranter, but with minimal reference to its history.
An imposing William Adam hunting lodge dating back to 1732 dominates the 500 acre site. This lavish building was commissioned by James, 5th Duke of Hamilton. However the focus of our visit was Cadzow Castle (It was originally know as 'The Castle in the Woods' so as not to be confused with Hamilton Castle which later became Hamilton Palace. The castle dates back to the 12th century but is now reduced in essence to an archaeological site. The site is not accessible to the public and significant shoring works have taken place to consolidate the remains. The visible battered walls illustrate an early construction designed to withstand artillery.
Towering over the Avon Water, the castle would originally have been an imposing sight but there is little information readily available. It was not recorded by MacGibbon and Ross or Nigel Tranter. Martin Coventry is our prime source, albeit he outlines the historic context rather than details of the building. Perhaps the dominance of the hunting lodge has enabled Cadzow Castle to assume an insignificant role within the Country Park, having been ruined for over 400 years and displaying little sign of its origins as a Royal residence. However, Historic Scotland has documented the recent archaeological works, a three year programme of excavation and survey. The findings are available within the RCAHMS data base, NMRS no. NS 75 SW 8.00, along with useful references. An academic account is given in "Chateau Galliard".
Located within a complex of old farm buildings, Eastshield is a 16th century tower house in ruin. As little recorded information is readily available for most of today's visits interpretation of the visible remains is the order of the day. Eastshield is accessible with care and there is sufficient evidence to allow speculation on the original building form, the footprint, spatial arrangement and massing.
The benefit of MacGibbon and Ross's approach in measuring and sketching… they were architects… is obvious and arguably the easiest way to understand how the building might have looked. The loss of masonary, presumably incorporated within other farm buildings and structures, does not help in trying to piece together the original appearance of this tower house.
A collection of boulders is virtually all that remains of Couthalley.
Martin Coventry refers to the remains of a block to the east of the site, but there is no apparent visible evidence remaining. For this reason, I include Martin Coventry's description.
"Little remains of Couthalley Castle, a 16th century L plan tower house with a courtyard and further towers and a gatehouse. It incorporates a 14th century castle and had a series of shallow ditches so that access was only by a drawbridge. There were significant remains in 1815.
It was the main stronghold of the Somervilles from the mid 12th century and was burnt by the English in 1320 although soon rebuilt. The family became Barons Somerville in 1430 before they removed to Drum in Midlothian in 1583. The castle had been besieged in 1557, but was rebuilt and then remodelled n 1586.
James V visited, as did Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1563, and James VI. James, 13th Lord, was a Hanoverian and an aide-de-camp to Cope at Prestonpans and Hawlay at Falkirk during the 1745 Jacobite Rising. This branch of the family died out in 1870. A short distance to the east are the remains of a broch.
There is mention of significant remains in 1815. With the remoteness of the site and the poor accessibility, it is surprising that there is not more remaining. Other refs: Cowthalley Castle.
Shieldhill is a country house hotel reputedly incorporating a massive square keep dating back to 1199. Archive information relates primarily to the "Grey Lady" ghost. We could find, albeit with limited visual inspection, no compelling evidence of the keep!
Within the curtilage of a working farm, much of Covington Castle remains intact, albeit in a ruinous condition.
It is four storeys in height and contains a vaulted basement, single turnpike stair and pit dungeon within the walls. The castle dates back to 1442 and is attributed to the Lindsay family in whose ownership it remained until it was sold to the Lockhart family some 200 years later.
Excavation works in the 1980s produced relics now displayed in the Biggar Museum. Beyond the scope for restoration perhaps, in need, however, of serious preservation, at a cost this is like so many of our castles, a ruin whose fate is unfortunately predictable.
A small detour near Chatelherault allowed us a glimpse of BARNCLUITH set in pleasant landscaped gardens. A quickly snatched photograph was the best we could manage but perhaps a stop in a future visit.
Later, having settled down for a final refreshment on the sun drenched Mooring Hotel decking, we were persuaded by our forceful Chairman to abandon drinks and head over to DALZELL. Saved from demolition and passed over to Classical House Ltd by the then Local Authority with strict legal requirements for this grade A listed building to be restored and converted. Dalzell has been comprehensively restored into an imposing flatted development by Architects, LBG Waterston. This without doubt saved Dalzell House from demolition and a piece of Lanarkshire's heritage. Was it worth saving? Let the picture above tell the story.
Afterwards we all headed off in our separate directions, looking forward to the baking summer ahead, culminating in the September visit to Aberdeenshire.
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