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Caerlaverock Castle

Caerlaverock Castle

Situated on a sloping shelf of sandstone overlooking the estuary of the River Nith, the general appearance of the structure is one of stark desolation.  According to some sources the ruins of this castle date from 1220, but the official guide suggests that a more likely date would be 1290. Certainly there was a castle at Caerlaverock in 1299 though no one knows by which side it was built. It is generally agreed that because of its situation, close to the shore of Solway and guarding a landing-place it was built as an English bridgehead for the invasion of Scotland. In 1300 Edward I of England laid siege and badly damaged the structure and in a rhyming account of the siege, written in French, there is a description of the castle buildings: "In shape it was like a shield, for it had but three sides round it, with a tower at each corner, but one of them was a double one, so high, so long and so wide, that the gate was underneath it, well made and strong with a drawbridge and a sufficiency of other defences. And it had good walls and good ditches filled right up to the brim with water. And I think you will never see a more finely situated castle, for on the one side can be seen the Irish sea, towards the west, and the north the fair moorland, surrounded by an arm of the sea, so that no creature born can approach it on two sides, without putting himself in danger of the sea. On the south side it is not easy for there are many places difficult to get through because of woods and marshes and ditches hollowed out by the sea where it meets the river."

This description fits the plan of the castle perfectly. It is three-sided in the shape of a shield of 1300, with a tower at each angle except at the north where two towers flank the gateway. There is also a wet moat and. to the south, several gullies, now overgrown. Inside the castle are still some visible remains of the original building. These are in the gatehouse, the outside of the west tower up to twelve courses of the parapet, and in the masonry in the inside at the base of the eastern tower. It is probable that Murdoch's Tower is also of this date plus the first few courses of the curtain from this tower to within about twenty feet of the gatehouse.

The English held Caerlaverock until 1312 by which time Edward I, "Hammer of the Scots", had died and been succeeded by his son, Edward II. At this time Sir Eustace Maxwell was keeper of the castle for the English, and he had a difficult task keeping both English and Scots masters happy. In 1312 he was repaid a debt of £22 by the English king, who thought this would gain his allegiance but almost at once he declared for Robert the Bruce, King of the Scots. The castle was instantly besieged, but held out, and later Maxwell dismantled it on Bruce's orders, the Scots' policy was to destroy buildings rather than leave them to be taken over by the enemy at a later stage.

In 1607, despite Lord Maxwell's renovation Caerlaverock Castle was described as a "weak house of the Barons of Maxwell". Nevertheless Robert Maxwell, the first Earl of Nithsdale, added a fine new block of buildings in the Renaissance style beside the east-curtain in around 1634. The Maxwells lived here peacefully until 1640, when after a thirteen-week siege the castle was handed over to a man named Finch. In the inventory for the furniture he counted eighty beds, proof of the splendour of the estate. The ruined castle was no longer habitable, and was left abandoned.

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