When we were planning our visit to Scotland, we knew we were going to Edinburgh. But that was it. We’d have parts of a couple of days to consider driving north into the country, possibly visit the Highlands, or maybe spend some time in the Borders region near England. I knew if at all possible I wanted to visit at least one castle, other than Edinburgh Castle. And after looking at pictures of castles throughout the country, I knew I found the one in Caerlaverock Castle.
Just across the Solway Firth from England is one of Scotland’s great medieval fortresses. One technically can’t see England from the castle’s walls; a patch of forest sits between the water and the castle. But as I researched numerous castles in the months leading up to our trip to Scotland, I couldn’t get over how powerful this castle must’ve been at one time.
When I first discovered Caerlaverock Castle I fell in love with its unique triangular shape. Apparently, this is a rarity in British castles. Looking at it from the north, the castle looks formidable.
Aerial views on the Historic Scotland website gave me a feeling that this would be a castle in the truest sense of the word with its moat surrounding the structure.
Our visit to Caerlaverock Castle was supposed to be just a quick morning stop on our drive from Scotland to York, England, with an afternoon detour to explore the Haworth home of the Bronte sisters. That detour is its own story, but part of the reason for our delay and ultimate skipping of the English authors’ home was our extended visit at Caerlaverock.
Caerlaverock Castle is a short drive south of Dumfries, a city in the south of Scotland not far from the England border. The drive is pleasant enough along a two-lane road through farmland. I’m not sure if the castle ever gets too crowded, but when we arrived shortly after its opening on a Thursday morning, there weren’t too many people milling around. We bought our tickets in the gift shop and then were free to roam the property, which includes a nice playground. But for us, it was straight to the castle, which loomed large just across an open field from the shop.
According to Historic Scotland, around 1220 the estate was granted to Sir John de Maccuswell, the chamberlain of Alexander II of Scotland. Maccuswell (Maxwell) built the original castle, but within 50 years, his nephew, Sir Herbert, had moved to the new castle located a couple hundred yards to the north. The Maxwell lords remained there for the next 400 years.
The castle has unique architectural features that date from various eras. The tops of the three towers date from the late 14th/early 15th century.
Inside the castle walls is the Nithsdale Lodging, which was built in the 1630s by Robert Maxwell, 1st Earl of Nithsdale.
The three walls are connected at the corners by high towers. The north tower – what I would consider the front – is the twin-towered gatehouse, where the Maxwells had their private rooms.
While the castle is a perfect triangle, one of its exterior walls is in ruin.
The crumbled south wall comes not from neglect but war. During a siege of the castle in 1640, the castle was surrendered after 13 weeks. The south wall was demolished so that it could no longer be a defensive stronghold against England.
The siege – the second in the castle’s history – was brought about by Lord Maxwell’s adherence to Charles I in the monarch’s struggles with religious dissenters.
I’m not sure what kind of damage to the castle – if any – happened during the first seige in 1300 that apparently involved Edward I of England, who brought his army against the castle. It surrendered within two days, according to Historic Scotland.
Walking around the interior of the castle was a peaceful experience. We had the property to ourselves for most of our time inside.
After we explored the interior at our leisure, Stacey and Colby went back to the gift shop to buy him a knight costume he had seen when we first arrived. While they did that, I took advantage of the free time to explore the south side of the castle just a bit.
I explored into the woods south of the castle where I found the site of the original castle, which is marked off as seen below.
Oh, and what about that knight costume? Well, it was a little awkward to pack in our luggage for the return home. And I’m sure our bags were searched when body armor and a sword showed up on the scan. But it did make it home, and was Colby’s Halloween costume.
Caerlaverock Castle is a wonderful experience for families. However, I’m not sure we would’ve visited if it would have been out of our way on such a tight schedule. But it was easy to get to on our way south from the Highlands to York. We spent a couple of days in Edinburgh before driving an hour west to Glasgow and then a couple hours north into the Highlands. Since we were driving down into England, stopping off at Caerlaverock Castle made perfect sense. If we would’ve been departing for home from Edinburgh or Glasgow, though, I don’t think it would have made much logistical sense to visit Caerlaverock Castle. But it was on our way, and was very affordable. Colby enjoyed it and it was one of my favorite experiences in the United Kingdom.
Dumfries DG1 4RU
Phone: +44 131 668 8800
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