Castles and Abbeys
There are many castles and abbeys scattered throughout Dumfries and Galloway, both ruined and inhabited, which tell fascinating stories about the history of Scotland, sometimes romantic, sometimes bloodthirsty. Our region was at the heart of the Scottish Wars of Independence lead by Robert the Bruce, against the “Auld Enemy” England.
Caerlaverock Castle is an amazing medieval castle which stirs the imagination of all who see it. It is a triangular structure situated in a moat. This castle was the stronghold of the Maxwell Family and played a huge part in defending the Scottish border from the threat of the English. It changed hands many times during the centuries.
Drumlanrig Castle is the home of the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch and Queensberry. It is a magnificent building which has been added to throughout the centuries. It played a reluctant host to Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) on his retreat to the Highlands after his unsuccessful attempt to regain the throne for the Stuarts from the Hanoverians. He and his Highland clans were defeated at the Battle of Culloden near Inverness in 1746, the last battle on British soil and a battle which changed the Highland way of life resulting in many Scots leaving their native land for North America and further afield. The castle houses some amazing antiques and works of art. A whole day could be spent at Drumlanrig exploring the castle and the magnificent gardens and grounds.
Two ruined castles which give an insight to the lives and times of 15th century Scotland are Threave Castle near Castle Douglas and McLellan Castle in Kirkcudbright. Threave Castle was the stronghold of the Black Douglases, one of the most powerful families in South Scotland and supporters of Robert the Bruce and his claim to the Scottish throne. When a bell is rung a boatman will row visitors over to the castle which is situated on a small island. McLellan Castle was built as a town house by Thomas McLellan in the lovely harbour town of Kirkcudbright.
Cardoness Castle, near Gatehouse of Fleet, was the stronghold of the McCulloch family. They were a lawless, bloodthirsty lot and a visit to this castle gives you an insight to the less than romantic lives and times of 15th century Scotland. The ruined Lochmaben Castle was the stronghold of the family of Robert the Bruce who were lords of Annandale. Robert the Bruce raised his standard at Dumfries in 1306 in his attempt to claim the Scottish throne during the Scottish Wars of Independence, culminating in the Battle of Bannockburn, near Stirling, in 1314 where he defeated the English and Scotland became an independent nation. Although Dumfries Castle in Castlebykes Park has been razed to the ground, there is an information plaque marking its original site. There are many other castles and towers which will give visitors an insight into the fascinating history of Scotland.
There are also many abbeys in Dumfries and Galloway which played an important role in Scottish history.
The jewel in our crown is the ruined 13th century Sweetheart Abbey which is situated in the picturesque village of New Abbey, approximately 7 miles from Dumfries. The abbey was founded by Devorgilla daughter of the Lord of Galloway and wife of John Balliol who founded Balliol College, Oxford. She was descended from the Kings of Scotland, her grandfather being King David 1. Devorgilla was so distraught at the death of her husband that she had his heart embalmed and put in an ivory casket bound with silver which she carried with her for the rest of her life. She and the casket were buried with her husband in the abbey, a truly romantic tale. The Balliol Family was one of the most prominent families of the times and their son, also called John Balliol, was the “puppet” King of Scotland for a short time, put there by King Edward 1 of England, fondly known as the “Hammer of the Scots!” King John Balliol was known in Scotland as “Toom Tabard”, literally “empty coat.”
Dundrennan Abbey, near Kirkcudbright, was built by King David 1. The tragic and beautiful Mary Queen of Scots spent her last night on Scottish soil at Dundrennan Abbey before sailing across the Solway to England. She was imprisoned by her cousin Queen Elizabeth 1 for 19 years at Fotheringhay Castle before being beheaded as she was a real threat to Elizabeth's claim to the English throne.
Whithorn Priory and Glenluce Abbey, which are in the west of our region, are also worth a visit. Whithorn Priory was founded in 397AD by St Ninian who brought Chrsitianity to Scotland. Whithorn became a place of importance for pilgrims. The 12th century Glenluce Abbey was visited by Robert the Bruce, the great Scottish freedom fighter, King James 1V and also Mary Queen of Scots. Bruce also made a pilgrimage to Whithorn.
There are many other places of historical interest throughout our region, including the town of Dumfries. To give you a taste of this history, Hospitality Plus Scotland can arrange historical tours of our region which may include visits to castles, abbeys, towers and museums. We can also arrange tours of the Solway Coast which may include places of historic interest. All tours will be arranged to suit the requests and interests of our visitors.