Hermitage Castle – Interesting Inside and Out

Hermitage Castle has a forbidding appearance and oppressive atmosphere, partly due to its history of treachery and partly the stories written about it. The bleak fortress, set high in the valley next to the beautiful Hermitage Water is surrounded by open moorland. Its strategic location was the key to the control over Liddesdale and the border area during the wars between Scotland and England. It changed hands between the two several times. Its unusual architecture allowed wooden fighting platforms to run the length of the outside of the tops of the walls.

The original wooden castle was built in the 1240s by Nicholas De Soulis. It stayed with the De Soulis till 1320 when it was forfeited because William De Soulis was accused of conspiring to kill Robert the Bruce. This treachery was followed by several other incidents involving subsequent occupants from both sides of the border.

After its owner William Douglas was killed in 1353 for defecting to the English side, the new owner, Hugh De Dacre replaced the timber castle with a stone one. That ground floor and courtyard can still be seen today.

In 1371 Hermitage Castle was inherited by the first Earl of Douglas who rebuilt it as a much stronger stone tower house. The third Earl of Douglas added four great stone towers to the corners of the castle in 1390 to result in the castle we see today.

Intrigue and treachery continued and in the late 1400’s the 5th Earl of Douglas sided with the English. He was ordered to exchange Hermitage with the less strategically located Bothwell Castle, belonging to the more trustworthy Earl of Bothwell.

Hermitage Castle fell into disuse in the early 1600s. Its fame as a mysterious place grew through the 1800s. It was rebuilt in the late 1800’s by the fifth Duke of Buccleuch mainly because of the interest generated by Sir Walter Scot and his contemporaries. The legends they wove around the castle mingled with reality till none could tell fact from fiction. However the extensive repairs undertaken then helped the exterior wall to survive until the castle was placed in state care in 1930.

Located near Newcastleton, Hermitage Castle is currently overseen by Historic Scotland with exhibits of exceptional 17th century ceilings, restored picture collections, and a collection of historic toys.

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