The spring outing brought us back once more to the familiar surroundings of the Moorings Hotel in Motherwell. We left the Moorings at 0930 hrs on the Saturday and headed towards our first call, Mearns Castle. Mearns is an oblong 15th century tower house of 4 storeys with walls 10 feet thick at the base. The wall head had a parapet, for defence, carried on large individual corbels of 3 members widely spaced. The present modern entrance leads directly into a vaulted basement. From the entrance passage a straight flight of steps leads to the first floor and in continuation a spiral stair leads to the top. Immediately over the present entrance is a round arched doorway, which formed the original entrance to the castle on the first floor.
A licence granted by James II on the 15th March 1449 allowed Herbert Lord Maxwell to 'build a caste or fortalice and to surround and fortify it with walls and ditches, to strengthen it by iron gates and to erect on the top of it all warlike apparatus necessary for its defence'. These walls, ditches and a gatehouse were uncovered by Glasgow University in 1970 prior to the building of the present church on the site. We left Mearns and drove to the nearby tower of The Peel at Busby, which stands (like so many other Lanarkshire castles) in a strong position above a river. The original tower is of modest size and is complete to parapet level above which is an over sailing modern slate roof. The tower appears to be of the early 16th century. This now forms the northeast corner of the building with a taller stair tower, of probable early 17th century date and yet more modern wings extending south and west. The Peel has been in continuous occupation and now presents a rather confused appearance. From the Peel can be seen the earlier earthwork castle known as Castle Hill.
The bus now headed to Calderglen Country Park at East Kilbride to visit the L-plan tower house of Torrance. This is a large, plain tower of the 16th century with the entrance in the re-entrant, now hidden by a Victorian porch. Above the door is a panel depicting the royal Arms of Scotland taken from the nearby Mains Castle. Torrance has been radically altered on at least 2 occasions and ended it days as offices for East Kilbride New Town which left it in a very poor state. Its future was secured, however, by its conversion into private dwellings.
Lunch was held at the Scottish Museum of Rural Life in East Kilbride a property of the National Trust for Scotland.
After lunch we travelled the short distance to the splendid Mains Castle in East Kilbride. This property has been rescued from ruin. The current owners provided us with a lavish 'spread' immediately after our heavy lunch. However, there were no refusals.
Standing on high ground this is a well-built tower probably dates from the late 15th century. It is oblong on plan and of good ashlar. There are 3 main storeys beneath the parapet with an attic storey above. The entrance is by an arched doorway and to the left, in the thickness of the wall, rises the turnpike stair. The ground floor, which is vaulted, has formerly contained an entresol. At this level is a passage reached from the stair giving access to a vaulted pit or prison. On the first floor is the hall lit by 2 large windows with stone seats in the recesses. The second floor was subdivided and contains a mural chamber and garderobe. The parapet is reached through an attractive square, flat roofed cap house. In 1793 Mains was described as 'surrounded by a deep fosse, the chief entry was by a narrow drawbridge and strongly guarded by a beautiful arched gate'. None of this is now seen. Just a short walk uphill from Mains Castle is the 12th century earthwork of Comyns Castle. This stands on elevated ground north of the present Mains Castle, tower house, which is just visible in the photograph. It forms a D-shaped promontory protected by double ditches. This was the property of Roger de Valoins (noted in 1165) and nearby are the farms of East and West Rogertown bearing witness to his name.
After Roger came the Comyns hence its present name. Comyn was murdered by Robert the Bruce in Dumfries church. Bruce's closest friends returned to the dying Comyn to "Mack Siccar" and to share the blame. One of these was Lindsay of Dunrod and he was granted this portion of the Comyn lands when Bruce became King.
Next we pitched up at Crossbasket Castle well placed above the steep bank of the River Calder. Crossbasket is a typical oblong tower 38' x 22' dating from the late 15th early 16th centuries now dwarfed by its Victorian additions. The interior has been gutted and nothing remains of the original arrangements. The tower rises to 3 storeys and a parapet projected on individual corbels. The stair turret, by contrast, is projected on continuous corbelling.
Once owned by Charles Macintosh (of raincoat fame) in latter years it belonged to the Word of Life Church and then to Little Lambs Childrens Nursery who left (wagging their tails behind them?) and is now empty and in serious need of a new owner.
From Crossbasket it was to Gilbertfield Castle, Cambuslang standing beside the farm of the same name. Gilbertfield is a L-plan tower house of the early 17th century (one of the dormers bears the date 1607). The basement level was vaulted and contained cellars and a kitchen with a large fireplace and oven.
A service stair connected the basement with the hall above which was also served by a magnificent, square, turnpike stair. The hall itself had a fireplace as well as large windows with gun loops in between. Above the hall were 2 further floors, each with 3 rooms; 2 in the main block and one in the wing. At the highest-level 2 round turrets projected at the southeast and northwest corners. Of these only the corbelling of one remains. There was no parapet.
It was here that William Hamilton of Gilbertfield transcribed the text of Blind Harry's epic poem 'Wallace' which became the inspiration of 'Scots wae hae' by Robert Burns. The castle is a neglected ruin, (the east wall having collapsed in the 1950s) although a scheduled monument and a category B listed building.
After breakfast we piled into the bus for Glasgow and Provan Hall amidst its urban surroundings. Provan is thought to date from the late 15th century and consists of a house on the north side of a courtyard with walls closing the other sides. An arched gateway, protected by a gun loop gives access to the court. A flight of stairs leads from the court to a little lookout above the gate. The original house consists of a single floor upon 3 vaulted chambers the largest of which forms the kitchen. The upper floor was originaly reached by a stair in the circular tower. In 1938 Provan Hall was acquired by the National Trust for Scotland and subsequently leased to Glasgow City Council.
From Provan it was to the large castle of Bedlay. Those of us who had eaten too much at breakfast had cause for regret for we were welcomed with a magnificent feed by its hospitable owner who could not have made us more at home! Bedlay stands on a natural defensive point, protected on 3 sides by watercourses. The original castle, built soon after 1580 was s simple tower house of 2 storeys and an attic.
The tower had a square stair tower protruding from the northeast corners. At the ground floor are 2 vaulted cellars with a hall above. The stair tower was later modified by the addition of an extra storey.
The second phase of building at Bedlay took place in the late 17th century with a large extension added to the west. Round towers finish off both western corners of the extension. A linking block of 2 storeys was added to the north side in the 18th century. The 19th century interior is especially attractive and very much of its time. Tearing ourselves away from the tables our next stop was for Lunch. Enough said!
After lunch it was Glasgow and the Provand's Lordship. This name dates only from Victorian times and simply confuses. A proper name would be St Nicholas Manse as it was the house of the chaplain of St Nicholas Hospital of which it was a part. This was an almshouse for the support of 12 poor men and was founded in the latter half of the 15th century. The hospital was cleared away in 1780 but the manse remained occupied until present times. What we see is only a fragment of a larger complex and its only real claim to fame is that it alone has survived of all the buildings that one stood in the cathedral precinct.
We now headed for what was to be the last stop of the trip the long anticipated Dalzell Castle to be welcomed with – guess – a large spread courtesy of our wonderful hosts! Dalzell is a immense pile situated (once again) on the steep bank of a burn which runs in a deep and rocky gorge. The buildings which are of 3 periods form a courtyard dominated by a massive tower of the 15th century. This tower is 39' x 32' and 48' high to the parapet carried on a double corbel course. Above this level is 19th century restoration. It is entered by a modern door at ground level but the original entrance, at the west end, seems to have been protected by both a portcullis and a drawbridge. The basement is vaulted.
To the north, south and southwest of this tower are 17th century additions while the northwest (and much else) belongs to the Victorian area courtesy of the famous architect Billings who was quite severe in adapting the older works to modern taste. In the hall Billings enlarged the windows, put in a new fireplace, took out the entresol floor and renewed the corbels. The result, it must be confessed, is nothing short of magnificent as we were able to witness as we walked from room to room. Two kitchens occupy part of the south wing and below them is a range of vaulted cellars. Above first floor level is a large circular stair turret, corbelled out, giving access to the 3 upper floors. This 17th century work is well provided with shot holes and window pediments one of which is dated 1649 and flanked by the initials IH for James Hamilton who purchased the property in 1647. In recent years the structure has been rescued and renovated for use private flats.
Well that was it. Back to the Moorings we made our separate ways home after a really superb 2 days (not counting the food!). We in the SCA are fortunate to have been given access and hospitality by so many castle owners. This is what makes the SCA unique. We cannot thank them enough.