Monday, September 10, 2012

My Scotland ~ Her Castles ~ A Little History cont' by Allison Butler


In April I started a series about my first dream trip to Scotland. This post is my next treasured memory as my husband and I continue our journey ~

After leaving the magnificent Caerlaverock Castle, we headed west to Threave Island, situated on the river Dee 14km's from the burgh and port of Kirkcudbright.

Threave Castle and Island

In medieval times, access to the island was either by boat from the west side into the harbour or via the hazardous dog-legged ford at the south end of the island. Today, you have to sit back, relax and allow the ferryman to take you across.

Legend tells that Threave Island was the home of the ancient rulers of Galloway a thousand and more years ago. Today there is no trace of their fortress. The tall, forbidding tower house that now dominates the island was built for Archibald Douglas, better known to history as Archibald 'The Grim', soon after he became Lord of Galloway in 1369.

Forbidding Threave Castle

This tower house was one of the first to be constructed in Scotland

Archibald's castle was much more than just the tower house we see today. There are lumps and grassy bumps where the foundations of other buildings lie buried.

Excavations in the 1970's revealed what some of these buildings were likely to be. A great hall, guest lodgings with chapel, kitchens, bake houses, brew houses, stables, workshops and yards. The conclusion drawn from the artefacts and debris found was that this was once a thriving, self-sufficient community boasting wood-turning, iron-smithing and lead-smelting. They also made their own shoes and other leather items, spun wool, maintained a good standard of animal husbandry, ate well and played board games much as we do.


The tower house was designed to accommodate the family and immediate household of Black Douglas alone. It was a self-contained residence fully capable, when the occasion demanded, of being defended by a modest number of men temporarily stationed within its massive walls.

The ground floor and stairs leading to the next level

The tower house comprised five storeys of accommodation with battlements at the top. It had only one entrance, on the east side.

The spiral staircase leading to the upper storeys

The basement at ground level served as a cellarage, and included a well that was reached from the kitchen via a ladder and hatch.

Threave well was built inside the tower house

A dark, dank prison occupied the basement beneath the reception hall. Adam Crossar, a petty thief, was held prisoner here in 1579.

No, that's not my husband playing the part for the photo.

But he would if asked:)

By the time of his death at Threave in 1400, Archibald Douglas was the most powerful magnate in southern Scotland.
When James II took steps to overthrow the Black Douglases a half century after Archibald's death, it was at Threave that the final act in the drama unfolded. The island fortress withstood a two-month siege in the summer of 1455 before the garrison surrendered. The Black Douglases were finally destroyed, their estates forfeited.

Threave reverted to the Crown and thereafter played an insignificant role in Scotland's history. Following the surrender of its garrison to the Covenanters in 1640, the castle was partially dismantled and the island abandoned.

The ruin was taken into state care shortly before World War I - one of the first great ruined castles to be so protected.

Thanks for dropping by and I hope you'll return to see where we stop next in our Scottish adventure ~
Information care of Historic Scotland


Cheryl Leigh said...

Allison, thanks for another interesting peek into Scottish castles. Threave sounds fascinating!

Allison Butler said...

My pleasure, Cheryl:)

Threave is fascinating and I think deceiving, too. It doesn't appear to be so big on the inside when viewed from the outside.

Thanks so much for popping in:)

Anonymous said...

Alison, always a pleasure hearing all about your travels.
Loving your detailed journey. :))
Great interior photos. The stair wells really amaze me. I can hardly imagine getting up and down them like they did, in the gowns and with food, etc etc.
Fascinating. Thanks for sharing.

Allison Butler said...

Thanks so much, Maryde:) I love sharing our Scottish adventure.

Yes, the stairwells ARE amazing. Both in the construction and the skill needed to scale them everyday without taking a tumble. And imagine how fit we'd be!

Thanks so much for dropping by:)

Christina Phillips said...

I love your Scottish posts, Allison :-) I get all nostalgic when I look at ruined castles and wish I could go back to the UK and visit them all again!

Venetia Green said...

A lovely post, Allison! You gave us a great summary of the castle's history - now I want to read (or write!) a historical novel set there. Do you know of any?

Allison Butler said...

I'm so pleased you're enjoying my Scottish posts, Christina:)

Oh, yes! I too would love to go back and revisit every castle we explored and then travel to all the ones we never saw *sigh*

Thanks so much for popping in:)

Allison Butler said...

Hi Venetia,

It's lovely to see you here:)

Threave Castle would make a fabulous and dramatic setting for a historical romance. Unfortunately I don't know of any stories set there. YET! But if you wrote one, I'd definitely read it.

Thanks so much for dropping in:)

Catherine said...

Hi Allison,
That was a lovely post, thank you.

I don't know if Threave Castle was the inspiration for Sophia James' Lady with the Devil's Scar but your post made me think of her story.

Thanks for sharing your photos. They're gorgeous.


Allison Butler said...

Thanks, Cath:) I'm glad you enjoyed the post and my photos.

Threave Castle could well have been the inspiration for Sophia's, Lady With The Devil's Scar. And what a beautiful and powerful story it is.

Thanks so much for popping in:)

Suzi said...

Thanks so much for sharing another place from Scotland. Love these castles!
Suzi Love

Allison Butler said...

You're very welcome, Suzi:)

The castles are gorgeous. I love them too. I want one! LOL

Thanks so much for dropping by:)

Anonymous said...

Oh, what a beautiful location for a castle and yet what a hard life it must have been to live.

Great post Alli! I'm looking forward to your next one.

Tam :D

Allison Butler said...

Thanks, Tam:)

It is a gorgeous setting, isn't it? And yes, I think everyday life would have been a challenge.

Thanks so much for dropping by:)

Alissa said...

Hi Alli,

Yay!! More fabulous castles and more interesting facts:) So wish Australia wasn't so far away and could visit Scotland again. Can't wait until your next post:):)


Allison Butler said...

Hi Alissa,

I'm with you. It'd be fabulous if Scotland was closer to Australia. Think I'd be there every other weekend:)

Thanks so much for stopping by:)