'English Spy' drawing of 1563
Castle taken 2010
The ruins of the once grand Cruggleton Castle are located high on a rocky promontory above the Irish Sea close to Whithorn in Wigtownshire. A coastal path from the little seaside town of Garlieston constitutes the only approach. The remains consist of a ruined barrel vault upon a motte, the site is cut off from the mainland by a deep ditch. The name Cruggleton (or Craggy Town) derives from the rugged nature of the site. It did not stand in isolation for with the castle existed a village and church of which only the latter remains. Cruggleton was the residence of the Earls of Galloway who raised the motte in the 12th century utilizing an Iron Age site. In the 1290s it was occupied by John Comyn, Earl of Buchan, who obtained a license from Edward I of England to dig for lead in the Isle of Man to roof its 8 towers. Held in the English interest it was taken by the Scots in 1307 and following their usual practice was demolished. Hereafter its history was one of destruction and rebuilding.
In 1424 Cruggleton was granted to the Prior and Canons of Whithorn. At the Reformation Lord Robert Stewart grabbed the Priory with its lands and ensconced himself in the castle. This did not suit Lord Fleming who had his eyes on those particular properties for himself. He promptly besieged Stewart in an attempt to make him hand over his ill gotten gains – typical of the climate of the times.
Vault reinforced with metal bands
The castle was abandoned in the 17th century and by 1684 was described as "wholly demolished and ruinous."
We are fortunate in that we have a depiction of Cruggleton as it was in 1563. A report was prepared on behalf of Elizabeth I of England with reference to the possibility of the occupation of that portion of Scotland by an English army. Spies had checked out Cruggleton, Wigtown, Cardoness and Kirkcudbright – all sites that could be reached by the sea. Nothing came of it except that they bequeathed us some magnificent drawings.
Regarding Cruggleton they stated that an attempt to take the castle of ‘Crukilton’ could be launched from the English ports of Whitehaven and Workington. ‘It had been English in the days of Edward III and since that time it is now kept but with 2 men only but when the Prior of Whithorn lies there then under 20 men without artillery.’
The coloured drawing is worthy of scrutiny. A high central tower with a corbelled parapet and cage grilled windows dominates the site. This is enclosed by a lofty curtain wall standing upon the motte edge. Inside are crowded crow-stepped buildings characterised by their many chimneys. The curtain is particularly interesting. The parapet would appear to have sloped merlons similar to those at Tantallon Castle and Carberry Tower. This type of wall head was to protect from incoming artillery fire and was widely used by Henry VIII in his coastal defences. The long loops could be either for firearms or crossbow depending upon their date. The door is protected by a drawbridge and portcullis. The outer bailey and ditch are clearly depicted together with gate and bridge. The sea dominates the background.
The bailey with shallow depression of ditch clearly visible
The ditch may be part of the 13th century castle but without excavation it could even be earlier, perhaps that of an iron age promatory fort.
The 12th century church - all that remains of the village of Cruggleton
In the late 19th century the Marquis of Bute repaired Cruggleton. At the same time he restored the delightful little Romanesque church, the keys of which can be obtained from the nearby farm.
It is pleasing to report that Cruggleton has recently been put in order by the authorities and features in a coastal walk from Garlieston to the Isle of Whithorn. The empty church is available for wedding hire and events but as it has no electricity your are obliged to bring your own candles!
Article by SCA member Brian McGarrigle