Castle hunting in war-ravaged Southern Scotland
Not since I was in primary school have I seen its like before. Upon arrival at Caerlaverock Castle way down in the south of Scotland I’m faced with a brief documentary by none other than the wonderful Tony Robinson. That’s Baldrick from Blackadder, you remember. I can still recall the school TV room smell and those awful wooden-blocks-held-up-by-metal-bars-with-some-sort-of-plastic-coating seats that we had to perch on. The house lights would be dimmed (the vertical blinds were yanked to a semi-shut state), the TV is wheeled in (yes, wheeled, and by today’s standards it looks like something that might be seen orbiting the earth) and all of us little people tussle over who gets the front row. Today, I re-live the dream.
The accompanying video for Caerlaverock is a little cringeworthy, but it raises a smile. Poor Tony running around outside the castle all dressed up pretending to attack it. On his own no less, with just war sound effects for company. My morning amusement aside Caerlaverock Castle is one of the most impressive in Scotland. It’s been on my to-do list for years but this is actually my first visit.
The structure dates back to the 13th Century and, being Southern Scotland, has had to endure more than its fair share of conflict. It’s most significant period was during the Wars of Independence. King Edward of England’s army laid siege in the year 1300. Astonishingly, the mere 60 defenders were able to withstand numerous assaults before eventual surrender. Tony tells us that the 60 were spared and even rewarded with lovely new clothing. I think not. Many were believed to have been promptly hanged.
Even centuries after this tumultuous period in British history the castle was not spared from conflict and was besieged again in 1640. The owning Maxwell family’s Catholic leanings did not go down well with the Protestant Covenanters and they assaulted the structure for a brutal 13 weeks! It almost seems as though the castle was just too good-looking to be left standing.
Caerlaverock is to be found around 20 minutes south of Dumfries. I love this part of Scotland. Not as dramatic as the north but endlessly serene and picturesque. Caerlaverock Castle itself is able to boast of a moat and a fantastic triangular design that even today makes it very easy on the eye. The castle was abandoned after that final 17th Century siege. Today the nearby area includes Caerlaverock National Nature Reserve and is home to a variety of birdlife. The Caerlaverock Wetland Centre’s nature reserve is also a nice add-on to your castle visit.
You can read more about my exploration of Scotland’s south west on my Dumfries and Galloway history tour, picking out some of the best historical attractions to build in to your itinerary.