Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Caerlaverock Castle

It can take a leap of imagination to bring medieval warfare to life. There were lice, and fleas, and rats, rudimentary medical help and disgusting sanitation - but that was the lot for everyone, not just castle-dwellers. What today we would probably see as the true horrors of war would have been, to the medieval mind, life as usual. And then the folk in the olden days go and do something unexpected, something that draws you up short. Perhaps life was not so bad in these castles? Perhaps, even, it was refined and delightful? Certainly the name Caerlaverock suggests such an existence. Caer Laverock. Lark Castle. It sounds more like an idyllic country cottage than a key bulwark against English invasion.


Its part-Welsh name hints at a very old origin, and it was first mentioned in a charter of 1160. However the current castle is much newer than that - 13th century.

It was completed in time for Sir Eustace Maxwell, with 60 men, to hold out for several weeks in the summer of 1300 against Edward I and 87 barons of England, Brittany and Lorraine. He supported John Bailliol as king in preference to Robert Bruce, but switched to Bruce's side on Bruce's ascendancy, at which the English had another (this time unsuccessful) siege. However, following Bruce's own policy of slighting castles so they could not fall into the hands of the English, Eustace slighted his own castle, and was rewarded well by Bruce for his sacrifice.

Caerlaverock in its moat:

Caerlaverock is everything a medieval castle should be: accessed over a moat by a drawbridge, it has a strong gatehouse, and towers and living accomodation to explore once inside. In the surrounding parkland, life-sized replicas of siege equipment await the volunteers who re-enact seige scenes each summer.

The newest part was built in the early 17th century, but by then the days of the castle were numbered. Held by the Catholic Maxwells, it was partially demolished by the Covenanters in 1640 after a 13 week siege. It has remained a picturesque ruin since.

17th century accommodation block:

In its heyday, the castle was surrounded by the creeping waters of the Solway saltmarsh, difficult of access except by one route and thus well defended. Today the Solway marshes are half a kilometre away, and Caerlaverock's situtation - moat notwithstanding - is firmly on dry land. The marshes are preserved today as a bird reserve - we waited, and listened, but time was getting short, and we had to leave before hearing any larks. I hope they still sing their sweet song over the ruins of Caerlaverock.

Solway firth:


blueskyscotland said...

It's an imposing building. That third photograph is inspired. Thinking out the box, angle wise.

Robert Craig said...

Thanks. Needed a swan but I took what I could get!