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Thursday, 15 September 2011 15:16

Cardoness Castle

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Cardoness Castle Courtesy of Historic Scotland Cardoness Castle Courtesy of Historic Scotland
A well-preserved six storey tower house of the McCullochs dating back to the 15th century. Its battlements command excellent views over Fleet Bay.
A house of the McCullochs

Cardoness Castle is a fine example of a Scottish tower-house castle. It was built in the later 15th century as the fortified residence of the McCullochs. They were a prominent Galloway family, who rubbed shoulders with royalty. But they were also noted for their lawlessness, even against their own. In 1501, Ninian McCulloch of Cardoness was prosecuted for breaking into a barn and stealing 1,500 assorted beasts – the property of his own mother!

The McCullochs were particularly noted for their long and bitter feud with their neighbours, the Gordons. This ultimately led to their downfall. In the 17th century, they were forced out of Cardoness. They didn’t go quietly. Alexander McCulloch and his son, Godfrey, both committed murderous acts against the Gordons. Young Godfrey was eventually executed on ‘the Maiden’, one of the last to die on Edinburgh’s equivalent of the guillotine.

A family home

Cardoness Castle was built primarily as a family residence for a well-to-do Galloway family with aspirations. The McCullochs were already substantial landed gentry in Wigtownshire by the time Gilbert McCulloch acquired Cardoness, probably through marriage, around 1460.

The new lords opted to build a new residence in the latest fashion. Their lofty six-storey tower house is effectively a smaller version of the one built at Threave Castle by Archibald ‘the Grim’, Lord of Galloway a century earlier.

The dour simplicity of the tower’s exterior belies its well-planned interior and quality fixtures. The bottom two floors housed storage, as was usual; this included a grim two-storey pit-prison. The upper floors were devoted to the family’s use. The third floor comprised a large dining hall, with remarkably fine features surviving, including a splendid fireplace and aumbry (wall cupboard), where the family’s best tableware was displayed. The fourth floor was also originally one large room (the great chamber), possibly housing the great four-poster bed. It was later partitioned into two.

A family home

Cardoness Castle was also built with defence clearly in mind. The tower’s walls are 2.5m thick, and the window openings are mostly small. The ground floor walls are pierced by gunholes that look like inverted keyholes. This form of defence, for use with new-fangled hand-guns, was introduced to Threave in the late 1440s.

The entrance doorway had two doors: an outer wooden door and an inner iron yett (a cross-barred gate). The tower house and external buildings, which included a great hall where the lord presided over his baron’s court, were all enclosed within a formidable stone perimeter wall that has now largely disappeared.

Cardoness Castle is owned by Historic Scotland. For more information including opening hours and admission fees please see website.


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