Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Caerlaverock castle

A few weeks ago I had to go to the dentist in Dumfries. Not wanting to waste an afternoon, I drove down the coast road for a few miles to one of the areas more interesting castles. The triangular fortress of Caerlaverock that you see today is actually the second castle to bear that name.

The first castle sits in some woodland 200m behind the castle you see above. As you can see from the artist's impression, it was a square castle built in 1220 of stone by Sir John de Maxwell (or Maccuswell) when Alexander II granted it to him. There had been a wooden fort on this point since the 10th century. It had a harbour that led out into the Soway Firth but in the intervening 800 years the sea have moved  and is now about 800 m away.

There's not an awful lot left of this castle now. There appears to have been quite a problem with the damp conditions round about it and in 1277, the then lord, Sir Herbert de Maxwell, had had enough and relocated the castle to where it is today.

In 1882 the great painter J M W Turner painted Caerlaverock on a tour of Scotland. If you're passing Aberdeen, this painting can be seen in the art gallery there. The fishermen in the foreground are a piece of artistic licence - indeed with a net that size they could have had the moat emptied in a day or so (if there was anything to catch in there in the first place)

The gatehouse of the castle. This would have been the most heavily fortified part and in medieval times would have been the main building of the castle. The lords main hall is directly above it. The castle was besieged in during Edward I of England in his campaigns against the Scots, by 87 knights and 3000 men. I'm not sure of the details of the siege. Wikipedia says it was some considerable time and the castle defenders under Sir Eustice Maxwell repelled the attacks several times. The guidebook says it lasted two days (doesn't seem long to me) and his lordship was not at home. Either way when the castle was captured, the English were surprised to find it defended by only 60 men, most of whom they allowed to go free - hanging just a token amount.

Between the siege and other rumpuses due to the wars of Independence, it was about 1370 by the time the castle was properly repaired. But as with all buildings of any age, alterations carry on throughout the ages and Caerlaverock is a particularly good example of different styles of architecture. Below is the building they call the West Range which was a two story lodging built within the castle sometime after 1450.

Just across the courtyard from it is the much more decorative Nithsdale lodging. It was built in 1634 by Robert, the first earl of Nithsdale, and would have provided accommodation much more comfortable and suitable to somebody of his status that the castle had before.

Two illustrations on a board at the castle demonstrate well what the castle would have looked like in the middle ages and the what it would have grown into, effectively a very grand mansion, by the 17th century.

In 1295

 and in 1635.

Alas, Earl Robert's fine mansion was not to last, for in 1640 it fell to a siege by the Covenanters, who in order to make it indefensible thereafter, tore down the back wall. It seems the castle never quite recovered from this and was soon abandoned.

In a completely unhistorical moment but most delight one, I spotted some fledgling swallows sitting on the ruins of one of the corner turrets. Mother and father were flying back and forward with insects they'd caught over the moat. I tucked myself away in a corner for a few minutes to watch them and managed to grab these pictures.

One last shot of the castle from the rear.


Light-In-A-Box said...

An amazing piece of history indeed!
I can understand the dampness problem with the castle being totaly surounded by water!!
Great photos Sandy, Nice capture of the swallows too!

Sinbad and I on the Loose said...

That is a pretty neat castle, by my thinking. I am not that well educated on castles. All we have here in California are few wineries with their idea of a castle type look, and of course Disneyland. I like the nature shots you included. Anyway, I keep watching your blog, learning more about castles. Just don't have a quiz sometime down the road.

ruthie said...

Hi Sandy, i love this castle, especially the carving above those windows. Last time i was there i was surrounded by a battle re-enactment, great fun.

Shundo said...

"The wars of Independence" - I don't remember being told about those at school in England...what happened - was there some unpleasantness between the English and the Scots? Surely not...

Sandy's witterings said...

Michael,I think for the first castle it was probably more than the moat that was the problem - I would imagine that being so close to the sea the ground might have been quite marshy anyway.

Sinbad and I - Don't worry no quizzes - to much chance of me not knowing the answers.

I think they quite often have battle reinactments their Ruthie. I think the backdrop and that wide open space in front of it makes it perfect. Not that I've ever caught one there.

Shundo - there most certainly was some. briefly. Alexander III fell of his horse in 1286. His heir and granddaugther, Margaret, who was betrothed to Edward I of Englands son (I imagine Edward II), died shortly after landing in Scotland from Norway. There were then 13 contenders for the throne and Edward I was asked to help pick one. He, not surprisingly, picked the one who was most likely to do what he wanted rather than the best man for Scotland, leading to decades of battles, bloodshed, the whole William Wallace thing,until it all came to a head in 1314 with the Battle of Bannockburn. A Scottish victory, not the most common comodity but it was just when it mattered, and Robert the Bruce managed to make his position as Scottish king much more secure. I expect this is one period in history where the Scottish emphasis and the English emphasis at school are slightly different.

The Glebe Blog said...

When my dad lived along the Bankend road,this was a popular visit for him,me and the kids while the women gabbed.
The Maxwell's have some lineage and all traceable right back to those days.
Did you get to see the Country House Rescue episode on Monreith House.It was shown just after we'd walked the estate.Sir Michael Maxwell's certainly a character,I hope they show a follow up.

Shundo said...

Some of that rings a bell - Bannockburn, Robert the Bruce and all, though it does get glossed over a bit. And Edward II was the one who wouldn't have been very interested in a wife, wasn't he, and met a painful end because of it.

Crafty Green Poet said...

Excellent, looks like a very interesting castle. We love the nature reserve at Caerlaverock but have never visited the castle. Lovely swallow photos...

the paranoid toothbrush said...

in the north-western tradition of 'king arthur's ours so sod off you soft southerners' merlin was born at caerlaverock...fort of the larks..

Chip "Rocket Man" Allen said...

Always enjoy your tours of these old buildings and learn the history of them. Just last night I was watching something on the magic box in the corner when one character, an Irishman just arriving in the States asked his host how old the homes in his area were and the guest replied some are recent construction but others date back to when the area was originally settled 150 years earlier. The Irishman replied that the NEW homes in his town were more than 150 years old!

Sandy's witterings said...

Shundo - history is such unreliable source of information from the past. Not as unreliable as a certain Mel Gibson movie though. There is no information from the time about how Edward II met his end although it was rumoured he was suffocated. He'd been gone at least 25 years before somebody decided that and overlay warm fireside implement may make a better story. He fathered 4 children to his wife and at least one other illegitimate child.

Juliet, seems a shame to come so close and not see it.

Miss Toothbrush - I shall pluck Excalibur from the Lochmaben Stane (providing there are no cows in the field) and be heading southwards. I came, I saw, I blogged.

Chip - certainly I live in a house well over 200 years old.

Anonymous said...

My first thought's were "that's a pretty castle"
It must have looked very picturesque in the old day's.
Great pictures of the swallows, those chicks are so sweet.

Janet at New Moon Glass said...

Ah, another wee lesson in Scottish history! Love it. The only castle I know of here in Colorado is Bishops Castle, which a crazy guy has been building for years and years. It is also a tourist attraction...kinda cool, but still not the real thing.

Poppy said...

Wonderful photos as ever Sandi, of the castle and the swallows. That's one thing about photography, you have to go lovely places to take the photos!!

Laoch of Chicago said...

That castle gives off foreboding vibes.

Sandy's witterings said...

Thank you Janet, Laoch and Poppies two. Jim too as I missed you out on my last comment.