The remains of many castles can be found throughout southwest Scotland, a testament to the area's turbulent past and its often violent relationship with Scotland's larger and more powerful neighbour south of the border. Most castles were built in Scotland between the 12th and 15th centuries and although most of the decorated stonework and painted interiors are gone, we can still get a sense of the strength of these buildings and imagine just how much a symbol of Lordly power they presented to the population at large.

The remains of many castles can be found throughout southwest Scotland, a testament to the area's turbulent past and its often violent relationship with Scotland's larger and more powerful neighbour south of the border. Most castles were built in Scotland between the 12th and 15th centuries and although most of the decorated stonework and painted interiors are gone, we can still get a sense of the strength of these buildings and imagine just how much a symbol of Lordly power they presented to the population at large.

Castles built in the medieval era in southern Scotland were primarily constructed as fortresses and as the bases of power for important noble families. These strongholds provided shelter and comfort in peace time and protection in war. They were also army barracks, which could be used to organize and launch raiding parties into unprotected districts of Northern England in order to undermine the English authorities in those areas and terrorise their tenants, or to quell unrest in the local area itself. They were family homes and business headquarters where rents could be collected, law was enforced and estates were administered. Above all else, castles had to be easily defendable, and the rocky coasts of Ayrshire and the rugged countryside of Galloway provided adequate scope for this. Castles such as Portencross have all but one side protected by the sea, while others like Greenan are perched on top of coastal cliffs. Where it wasn't possible to use the surroundings, artificial defences were constructed like Caerlaverock's moat and the man-made mound of earth that Dundonald castle sits upon. Many castles in Scotland were of the square tower house or Keep design, far smaller than most of their English counterparts certainly in the south of England. There are several reasons for this: in a large part of the medieval period the English tended to fight away from home (barring Baronial revolts), in France, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, which afforded them the luxury of building showpiece, comfortable castles over a long period of time, many of which needed to be strengthened during the Wars of the Roses to actually withstand attack. The castles in southwest Scotland, however, were fighting castles to counter the English threat, built quickly but with defence in mind. Also, many of the Scottish nobles were not as rich as the English landowners and could not afford to spend large amounts of money on their houses to make them anything other than functional. It was a policy which helped Robert the Bruce in his campaign against England - he often had Scottish castles dismantled as he retreated, as well as burning surrounding crops and slaughtering livestock. This gave his enemies no foothold with which to remain north of the Border, thus forcing them back south with the onslaught of winter. They did exactly the same, making it a rough existence for the ordinary people who lived in these border regions.

Earlier castles had been built out of earth and oak and have left little trace of themselves save a few grassy lumps, bumps and ditches showing the position of their ramparts, but by the 12th century it was stone which was the main material. Luckily, in south-west Scotland, building stone did not have to be carried far. Local quarries of sandstone and granite were plentiful. It is still possible with some castles, such as Dean Castle in Kilmarnock, to see the remnants of the quarry near the castle from where the stone was brought. Castle construction was overseen by a master mason and employed hundreds of craftsmen and labourers. It took years of training to develop the skills of a mason. Boys would work as apprentices before becoming journeymen, when they would receive daily payment and have to submit a detailed piece of work for appraisal to the mason's guild, which governed the profession, before being considered good enough to become a mason.

Many surviving castles in the area now have slate roofs; these would probably have originally been thatched, making them vulnerable to fire as Dean Castle found out to its cost in 1735 when it burnt down. The stone steps built into the gables of buildings for the thatchers to use became part of the architectural style known as Scots Baronial which became very popular in the 1800's. Some later medieval castle roofs were tiled with stone slabs. Castles often had walls which were several metres thick, making them practically impregnable until the introduction of gunpowder from China (which was in the late 14th century, but not used successfully in siege warfare until much later). Before this the usual way to topple a castle tower or breach a wall was to undermine it by digging a time consuming (and dangerous) tunnel underneath it and setting a fire under the foundations. A castle was built to survive being besieged for several months, so had to have large storerooms for grain (and sometimes a mill), areas for livestock, and was often built around a well to protect the water supply. A stockpile of weapons such as crossbow bolts would be kept along with a permanent garrison (who were sometimes press-ganged in to work as unskilled labourers along with prisoners to aid in the construction of castle buildings!) Other defensive features were small windows (some were enlarged later) and the original entrance doors for many of these castles were on the first floor, reachable only by ladder or removable bridge. The battlements were not the only castle top defences; wooden structures, known as warheads or machicolations were built around the top of the castle walls, so that crossbowmen could shoot straight down or masonry or quicklime could be heaved onto the heads of anyone unfortunate enough to get underneath. The only ways in were to either storm the front door - which was of heavy oak and usually protected by an iron grill called a yett, and just big enough to enter one at a time - or to climb a 60 to 100 foot ladder (without getting pushed off or shot by the defenders), climb over the battlements, fight to the top of the spiral staircase and then fight your way down the stairs, bending through a series of low doorways. It was much easier to camp your army outside and wait for the defenders to run out of food or strike a deal with you. If a castle was properly stocked, this siege process could take a long time and may not be worth the wait as the besieging troops would mostly be farmers needed back home to bring in the harvest.

In a strange twist the castles built by Edward I of England in Wales may have been the saving of the Scots. After his victory over the Welsh, Edward was determined to build an infrastructure of massive castles which would prevent the Welsh ever rising in revolt again. He employed so many of his troops and spent so much money on this project that he almost left himself and his country without the resources with which to mount a military campaign as large as a full scale invasion of Scotland. These castles were not just a statement of absolute superiority over a subjugated nation by one of British history's most pugnacious rulers; they remain some of the most impressive and fiendishly devised medieval strongholds anywhere in Europe. Even in death however, Edward was determined to bring Scotland under England's heel. He ordered that the flesh be boiled from his bones and that they should be carried at the head of an all conquering army into Scotland!

Although castle life was far removed from the single room existence endured by most of the population in their small earthen floored thatched village houses, it was not convenient or comfortable. To combat the cramped, austere rooms, castles grew as more halls and outhouses were added to provide more luxurious accommodation or to reflect the growing position of the Lord and his family within society. Dean Castle is again a good example of this, with a comfortable 15th century Palace (or Place) sitting next to the earlier defensive building, the Keep, which was built a century earlier. Lord Boyd built the Palace to celebrate both his achievement in becoming Regent of Scotland (governing the state in place of the Monarch), and the marriage of his son, the Earl of Arran, to the sister of King James III, Princess Mary.

Within the confines of a castle's courtyard wall (sometimes called the curtain wall or barmkin), there could be included stables, laundries, forges and workshops, not to mention brew houses and large bread ovens to keep the garrison and servants fed and watered. A particularly finely preserved doocot (dove cot) can be seen at Dunure Castle near Ayr. Pigeons were kept as their eggs were eaten more commonly than chicken's eggs, and baby pigeons were made into sought after pies. Larger castles could incorporate whole orchards, gardens (early castle gardens were called meads and were used for growing medicinal and other useful herbs by monks), fishponds, livestock pens and training grounds for the soldiers.

The interiors of castles were not the cold bare walls that we now see, most were plastered (some had the outside walls plastered white also) and painted. Ceilings were decorated with signs of the zodiac or stars representing the night sky, wood was richly carved and painted. The walls were hung with rich tapestries that also helped to keep out the draughts and the halls and passageways were lit with tallow lamps or small pine torches, while the rooms were heated by large fireplaces and braziers of hot coal. The Lord and Lady had separate apartments from everyone else; these halls were often called Solars as the windows were slightly bigger than elsewhere to allow more light in. Most influential families also took mass in their own private chapels within their chambers. Garderobes (early lavatories) were built into the design of castles. These consisted of no more than a recess (possibly enclosed by a wooden screen), around a hole which ran down the inside of the wall with the shaft emptying out at the foot of the castle. These created a weak point in the walls of a castle and were often used as an enemy's point of attack. Bed for most of the castle inhabitants usually meant a straw mat on the rush strewn floor of the great hall; beds were reserved for the Lord and Lady who would normally sleep in separate chambers.

The occupants of a castle made up a community, much like that in a small town. Physicians and priests shared the confines of the castle walls with workmen and servants of all types such as blacksmiths, weavers, cooks and grooms, who in turn rubbed shoulders with musicians and soldiers. An army of clerks would attend to a wealthy Lord's estate. As a Lord often had several castles, (some used only at certain times of the year as hunting lodges), and moved between them, he left a steward to run his household in his absence. (The Fitz-Allan family became the hereditary Stewards of the Scottish Royal family, eventually becoming known as the Stewarts, as a result of holding this position; they became so powerful that they ultimately inherited not only the throne of Scotland but that of England too.) The Lord's rents were collected and his farms organised by reeves and bailiffs. Noblewomen also learned how to manage the day to day running of castles and estates, taking charge of the household's accounts and even the building's defence when the Lord was away, which could be for several months or even years if the King had duties at court for him or asked him to serve a term of military service. Warfare was of the utmost importance to noblemen - it was how they gained lands and titles. Refusing to serve in one of the King's campaigns would disgrace their family name and may even lose them their estates and privileges. Similarly, he had the right to ask rent and taxes from the peasants on his estate, but the King also charged him with the duty of protecting them by force of arms.

As a result, many towns and villages sprang up around castles, taking advantage of the protection they offered, some taking the name of the Lord on who's castle's lands they were situated, like Stevenson and Symington (after Steven and Simon Loccard) . This gave the Lord a supply of servants and a handy labour force to work his fields. In fact, in return for the protection of living on the Lord's estate you would have had to work part of the year for him, give him a portion of your crops, and grind the grain from your own on his mill (which he charged you for), pay a toll on any goods that you sold in the village, serve some time in his garrison as a soldier, and pay him rent! Brigands and criminals were treated harshly; many castles had dungeons to hold people until they could be brought before the Lord and put on trial. The dungeon at Dean Castle is completely restored and is of the 'bottle' type which means it has narrow neck like a bottle, opening out into a vaulted chamber. Prisoners would be thrown in (quite a drop) or lowered in a rope where they would wait in utter darkness save for a small ventilation hole in the wall. Criminals would be punished in the town square or the village green where people could see justice being done. The crime of poaching typically carried the penalty of having a hand cut off but could result in the perpetrator being hung.

Poaching was treated as such a serious crime due to the fact that hunting was a guarded birthright of noblemen only, and they took a dim view to peasants stealing what they saw as their property. The types of animals which were hunted in the forests of southwest Scotland in the medieval period included boars, bears, deer and even wolves. The rivers too, were full of salmon. Another popular pursuit of noblemen was hawking which was also enjoyed by ladies. The meat was brought back to the castle to be prepared in the kitchens; nobility ate little in the way of vegetables, considering them unhealthy. Boar, swan, pheasant, venison and hare would all be cooked in thick, spicy sauces to be served to the Lord and his guests that night in the Great Hall. Large stores of food had to be preserved and kept too - mushrooms were dried, fruit was pickled or in the case of apples, kept in cool attic spaces, milk was churned into butter or made into cheese and meat and fish, if not smoked or dried, were salted. Massive quantities of salt was kept for this purpose and salt cellars can still be seen above the ovens (to keep it dry) in several castle kitchens. The Ayrshire town of Saltcoats got its name due to it being a centre for salt panning, the process of evaporating sea water in shallow pools to leave the salt. One of the reasons for the spicy sauces containing herbs, onions and honey was to hide the taste of stale food. The church in Medieval Scotland was Catholic and insisted on fish being eaten on Wednesdays and Fridays in place of meat. Bread was baked in large brick ovens fuelled by charcoal, although it was not eaten as commonly in southern Scotland as it was in England. Instead, bannocks (large barley or oatmeal scones) were cooked on flat griddle plates above open fires, the coal for which was plentiful and collected locally with ease. Bannocks could also be enjoyed toasted if they were stale. Throughout Scotland, oatmeal was included as a large part of the diet for rich and poor alike, whether in bannocks or porridge. It was more common for wine and beer to be drunk (even by children) than water, as many water-borne parasites caused people to become sick. In Scotland it was sometimes the custom to feed beggars for holding a light for the cook, they were replaced by 'puir-man' stands which were portable candle holders.

Banquets and feasts took place in the Great Hall. Most people would sit at one or two large tables lengthways in the hall, but the Lord, Lady and special guests would sit at another table raised up on a dais, possibly with their backs to the fireplace. Someone would be appointed Lord of the Feast; this would normally be the Lord or his most esteemed guest, but would sometimes simply be a member of the household celebrating their birthday. The high table was served first and got better food than the soldiers and servants. Food was eaten with fingers and knives, although forks were adopted in Scotland far sooner than in England. This was a result of the close relationship that Scotland had with France. There were so many important French guests visiting the court of James IV that he insisted that his nobles should eat with forks like the French so that they didn't think the Scots ill-mannered. During the meal guests were entertained by minstrels who performed music, songs and poems from galleries custom-built into the design of the hall. In the lowlands of Scotland the most common instruments played were harps and small pipe instruments similar to flutes. Minstrels were also an important source of news as they travelled from town to town playing all the village fairs and great halls and it is not impossible to believe that even the most powerful barons would watch their tongues near these men in case their other Lordly neighbours were to find out what they thought of them. Perhaps this was the reason that some castles had separate accommodation for minstrels, or there may be a more sinister reason: around 1450, when many castles were built in the area, the Black Death was sweeping through Europe, eventually to wipe out nearly a third of the population; strangers and travellers would all have been treated with an element of trepidation. Some minstrels gathered reputations and wrote songs and poems which are still remembered today. The most famous in Scotland being, Henry the Minstrel, or 'Blind Harry' who wrote much of what we know about Scotland's national hero, in his poem 'The Wallace'.

By the Renaissance period of the 16th Century, gunpowder had rendered the protection factor of a castle less important and comfort was far more of an issue for a Lord when considering building a house. Huge houses with many large windows (commonly in Scotland being half shuttered and half leaded glass) and wide doors replaced the thick-walled, grim strongholds of the past. Many existing castles were added to with new wings and gateways in the new style, so much so that the original Keep was almost totally obscured, others simply being used as a ready source of building materials for rich gentlemen's new plush townhouses from where it was far easier to mix in society and control their business interests. The great period of castle building had came to an end leaving us with the many ruined shells which pepper the countryside of southwest Scotland to remind us of far less certain times.

Castles in East Ayrshire

Dean Castle

Loch Doon Castle 

Loch Doon or Balloch Castle is an eleven-sided curtain-walled castle designed to defend its original island site at the southern end of Loch Doon. The ashlar stonework is regarded as exceptional. The original castle dates from the 13th or early 14th century, but it is known that a much earlier settlement was sited on a small island to the south end of Loch Doon. In 1826 several ancient canoes, an oak war-club and an axe were discovered near the site. 
It is known that the castle was owned by the Kennedy family and was taken from them by William Crauford of Lefnoris in 1511. The castle was destroyed during James V's reign. 
In the 1930s the water level of Loch Doon was raised as part of a Hydro-electric scheme and the castle had to be dismantled but was re-erected in 1935 on the shore near Craigmulloch Farm, where it can still be seen today. When the level of the Loch is very low it is possible to se the top of the island upon which the castle used to stand which still shows remnants of the castles original foundations.

Barr Castle, Galston 

Barr Castle was built in the 15th century for the Lockhart family. The building is five storeys high and was purchased by the Campbells of Cessnock in 1670, and is now used as a Masonic hall. 

Caprington Castle, Nr. Kilmarnock 

This castle dates from the 15th or 16th centuries. After 1780 however the Cunninghame family, who have always lived there (and still live there today) had it remodelled in a Georgian style, then again around 1830 in Scot's baronial style. 

Carnell Castle, Nr. Craigie 

Originally built in the late 15th century the tower house has been incorporated into a later Scottish baronial style mansion house (c.1845). The first owners were the Wallaces of Carnell (probably descendents of the family of Sir William Wallace's family). 

Cessnock Castle, Galston 

Cessnock castle possibly dates from the late 13th century, but alterations were made in the 16th century. The 17th century saw further alterations, a circular stair-tower and an octagonal tower. Restored in the late 19th century for the Duke of Portland, the castle was then bought at the end of the Second World War by Baron de Fresnes. 

Craufurdland Castle

A simple tower house, Craufurdland Castle's date has been estimated as being built between the 14th and 16th centuries but gothic frontage is from the 19th century. 

Kilmaurs Place 

Kilmaurs Place was built in the 17th century as a replacement for Kilmaurs Castle, nothing of which survives today. Previous owners include the 9th Earl of Glencairn and the Montgomeries of Eglinton. 

Kingencleugh Castle, Nr. Mauchline 

This castle was built for the Campbells around 1600. Only one wing of the building survives today. 

Loudoun Castle

Loudoun Castle stands just outside the town of Galston. It was the ancestral home of the Campbells of Loudoun. The earliest tower (square with a battlement) dates to either the 12th or 13th century. Around 1811 the castle was redesigned by Archibald Elliott for the Countess of Loudoun, and her husband the Second Earl of Moira. At this time it was one of the grandest mansions in the West of Scotland. In 1941 a fire left nothing of the castle except an empty shell. A Yew tree near the south front of the castle is said to be over 800 years old. Many castles have ancient yews nearby as their wood was traditionally used to fashion long bows from. 

Mauchline Castle 

This tower-house was built in the 15th century as a monastic residence for Melrose Abbey. It is also the site of Robert Burns wedding to Jean Armour. 

Newmilns Tower 

Located in the centre of Newmilns, this tower once had impressive gardens and orchards surrounding it. It was built in the 14th century for Hugo Campbell of Loudoun. Although now in a ruinous state there have been recent efforts to preserve the building. 

Rowallan Castle, Nr. Kilmaurs 

The present castle at Rowallan was constructed at the beginning of the 20th century, but lies next to the ruins of an earlier 16th century castle, itself with earlier parts of a 13th century stronghold. The 16th century building was the home of the Muirs (or Mures), whilst the most recent castle was built for the Corbett family. It was the home of Elizabeth Muir, wife of Robert II, the first Stewart King, and of William Mure the 17th century poet. 

Sorn Castle 

The earliest part of Sorn Castle, the tower, was built in the 14th century (possibly earlier). The Castle inhabitants held a favourable defensive position atop on a cliff on the River Ayr. The tower was extended in the 15th century and a corbelled parapet was also added. 
Other additions were made in the late 18th century (parodying the Adam design of Culzean Castle) The Somervell Family remodelled the castle in 1864 on a Scots Baronial design by the architect David Bryce of Edinburgh. The design and interiors were altered by a new owner, Thomas W. McIntyre, in 1908. 

Terringzean Castle, Nr. Cumnock 

Ruins of the castle lie within the grounds of Dumfries House, the oldest parts being from about 1400, although there are earlier foundations from a 13th century building, the entire castle stands on a raised banking, surrounded by defensive ditches. 

Dalmellington Motte 

This motte can be found in the middle of Dalmellington. Mottes, or motes were originally fortified sites on which timber castles would sit. Wooden castles pre-dated stone-built castles. These earlier constructions date back to the late 11th or early 12th century when powerful Anglo-Norman Barons were invited into Scotland from England by King David I in order for them to help introduce the feudal system which became Scotland's first real form of organised Government. Another similar Motte can be seen on the outskirts of Tarbolton in South Ayrshire. Dalmellington Mote has now been officially classed as an Ancient Monument which will aid its preservation. 


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