Scottish Castles Association

Preserving the Past for the Future


The Castle Studies Trust awards grant for Tibbers Castle

scottish norman warrior statue

Tibbers Castle, Dumfries has been awarded a cash grant by the Castle Studies Trust. Tibbers is a large motte and bailey castle near Thornhill, consisting of a 'headland' cut off by a deep ditch and fronted by no fewer than 2 baileys. A 13th century 'English' castle was later built on the site only to be destroyed in the Bruce wars. The motte is now a mass of fallen masonry and tangled vegetation fenced off from the bailey which lies adjacent on open ground.

"Tibbers is one of the most important castles in Scotland"

The work will consist of a Geophysical Survey to understand the function of the 2 baileys. Professor Richard Oram, president of the SCA, states that Tibbers is one of the most important castles in Scotland.


Motte and Bailey Castles in Scotland

The classic motte and bailey castle in Scotland Is known from the 12th century onwards but mottes had existed in Normandy and England almost a century earlier.

Scottish kings, including Macbeth, had employed Norman mail clad mercenaries. These warriors required payment either in coin or in land. King David I awarded them land - but in return for feudal service. Given land, these knights sealed the bond by the construction of castles - marking their intention to stay.

Tibbers Castle

Tibbers Castle: Outer bailey foreground. Figures on edge of inner bailey.
Motte far end in the trees. 

That these early castle were of 'wood' should not distract from their effectiveness as fortresses and to see just how effective the feudal system was is proved by King John Baliiol. He posessed great castles in Picardy (all of them mottle and bailey) namely Helicourt (his favourite) Dompierre-sur-Authie, Hornoy and Bailley-en-Vimeu.

Bailley-en-Vimeau consists of a motte still some 20 feet high, together with 2 baileys. No less than 32 castles were dependent upon Bailley-en-Vimeau. King John could therefore call upon the service of 32 knights together with their retainers from this castle alone in addition to his other castles in Picardy, Scotland and England.

Tibbers Castle

Tibbers Castle - Motte to left Inner Bailley to right

Like Bailey-en-Vimeau, Tibbers Castle can sport 2 baileys so we can look forward with anticipation to the unlocking of its secrets. Meanwhile a look at some other Scottish mottes might not be out of place.

Carnwath Motte - Lanarkshire

Carnwath Motte - Lanarkshire

Carnwath Motte, Lanarkshire

Writer enjoying the climb with grandson!

A fine motte 120 feet in diameter and 18 feet in height surrounded by a well defined ditch.

This motte did not have had a long life as it abandoned for Couthalley Castle, mentioned as early as the middle of the 12th century.

Little of the latter castle remains whereas the motte stands proud in the middle of a golf course which should secure its survival.

Tarbolton Motte - Ayrshire

Tarbolton Motte - Ayrshire

Tarbolton Motte, Ayrshire

This site demonstrates how mottes can blend with the landscape and are easily missed.

Tarbolton is an usual structure. Like Tibbers it appears to have had 2 baileys but one of these is partly covered by the motte which must, therefore, be a late addition.

If was the 'fee' of Gilbert, son of Richer about 1136-77.

Unfortunately Tarbolton is not in good shape and lies neglected at the edge of the town which itself has seen better days.

Motte of Urr - Galloway

Motte of Urr - Galloway

Motte of Urr, Galloway

No problem finding this castle! Its central motte is surrounded by extensive earthwork defences which dominate the landscape.

Urr was built between 1130 and 1160 and destroyed in 1174 but rebuilt and strengthened. After around 1300 it is no longer appears in records.

Situated in open farmland and in good condition.

Druchtag Motte - Galloway

Druchtag Motte - Galloway

Druchtag Motte, Galloway

Demonstrates just how hard it can be to reach the top even today!

Mottes proliferate in Galloway which indicates Norman 'infiltration' of the region.

Other parts of Scotland can have few, if any, mottes. Berwick, for instance, has only one motte and one ringwork identified to date.

In care of Historic Scotland.

Auld Hill - Ayrshire

Auld Hill - Ayrshire

Auld Hill, Ayrshire.

Here a hill has been scarped to the shape required. The same process was adopted at Tibbers.

An Iron Age fort preceded the motte which in turn was followed by a hall house.

Like many sites it was abandoned in the early middle ages and replaced by a stone castle, in this case Portencross which lies below at sea level.

The latter is open to the public but the motte is neglected.

Lumphanan - Aberdeen

Lumphanan - Aberdeen

Lumphanan, Aberdeen.

Famous as the site of the death of Macbeth but before the days of the castle.

Lumphanan is of a type known as a 'ring work' ie there was never any motte but only a fortified enclosure.

Though not common ringworks appear to have been popular in the SW for example The Bishop's Castle (or Palace), Glasgow and Crookston Castle, Renfrew. In care of Historic Scotland.

Abington Mote - Lanarkshire

Abington Mote - Lanarkshire

Abington Mote, Lanarkshire

This part of Scotland was settled by Flemings and their mottes dot the country. Names such as Flemington (Fleming's Town) and Roberton (Robert's Town) bear witness.

Some of the Clydesdale mottes are on 'marginal land' so not all land grants were of the same value.

This particular example must have come low down in the pecking order of knights.

In open farmland and unprotected.

Cruggleton Castle - Galloway

Cruggleton Castle - Galloway

Cruggleton Castle, Galloway

Like many mottes Cruggleton adopted a pre-exiting site in this case a promontory fort.

A tower house later crowned the top. Many mottes were so adapted such as Duffus in Moray and Polnoon in Renfrew.

This is a remote castle high on the cliffs above the Irish Sea.

In total neglect.

Sorbie Motte - Galloway

Sorbie Motte - Galloway

Sorbie Motte, Galloway

Sorbie demonstrates that not all mottes followed the classic design.

It was rectangular, like Sir John de Graham's Castle, Stirling, and one wonders why more were not of this type.

Looking across the flat top of the motte one can just make out the 16th century tower house of Sorbie hidden by the trees.

Under care of Clan Hannay.


Article by SCA member Brian McGarrigle



Added: 08 Aug 2014 Updated: 20 Apr 2018
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