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Orchardton Tower

Orchardton Tower

Circular towers have been built in Scotland for millennia as brochs such as Mousa and Glenelg prove. Medieval masons also knew that rounded towers deflected missiles better than angular ones. It is surprising then to note that Orchardton Tower overlooking the Rough Firth on the Dumfriesshire coast is the only circular tower house in Scotland. There are however similar towers in Ireland and Orchardton is a reminder of the strong trading links between south west Scotland and nearby Ireland. Over thirty feet high, Orchardton enjoys commanding views of the locality. The walls, tapered like a broch and machiolated for the dropping of missiles, are nine feet thick while the parapet is reached by one of the narrowest spiral staircases in Scotland. The Tower and its adjoining courtyard buildings were once protected by a generous barmkin wall, since quarried by local builders.

Built in the late 1450s on the site of an earlier Douglas stronghold, its first owner, John Cairns, was given the surrounding lands of lrisbuitle by James II for his part in overthrowing the house of Douglas. Cairns probably assisted at the royal siege of Threave castle in 1455. The Cairns held Orchardton uneventfully until 1600, although one scion, William Cairns, was involved in the fracas in 1527 that led to the murder of McLellan of Bomby by Gordon of Lochinvar at the door of St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh. The succession to Orchardton was disputed in the late sixteenth century when the family ran out of male heirs and the property was divided between several daughters and their husbands. It took the wealth of Sir Robert Maxwell to reunite the estate in 1615 and Orchardton remained in Maxwell hands until the bankrupt 7th Baronet Orchardton sold the tower and the land to the Douglasses in 1785.

Sir Walter Scott visited Orchardton and heard the tale of its most famous owner. Sir Robert Maxwell. As a boy Robert was cheated out of his rightful inheritance by conniving relatives and sent away to France. Enlisting at 15 in a French regiment, he distinguished himself at the battles of Dettingen and Fontenoy in the 1740s. After sailing to Scotland in November 1745, Robert was wounded at Culloden. His status as a French officer saved him from the butchering meted out to most of the defeated Jacobites left on the moor. Some years later while back in France, he learned of his claim to the Orchardton estate and pursued it in the Scottish courts, finally becoming Baron Orchardton in 1771 when the House of Lords decided in his favour. Robert's tale subsequently inspired the plot of Scott's Guy Mannering.

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