Thursday, 21 April 2011

Threave Castle

My last post was on the coast at Kirkcudbright. On the way back we visited Threave Castle as well.

Threave panorama:

Threave was built by the norsely-named Archibald the Grim, 3rd Earl of Douglas in the 1370s on a small island in the River Dee, using the river as a natural moat. This gives a very pleasant approach: after a walk of a mile from the car park, you get ferried over to the island.

Threave ferry:

The island was Archie's family's sanctuary. They needed one. His ancestor the first Earl of Douglas, James, had been Robert the Bruce's indispensable right-hand man (to the extent that English nursemaids crooned to their bairns "hush pet, the Black Douglas shall not get ye") but the Black Douglas family has grown so powerful in the intervening years that the Stewart kings, and their regents, had decided to cut them down.

The moat - the River Dee:

A couple of extra-judicial murders brought the king and the Douglas family into open warfare. In 1455 James II brought his artillery to bear and James Douglas, the 9th Earl, hastily erected a defence - but the castle was abandoned after the assault and the fall from power of the Douglas line.


With no Douglas left, and its naturally awkward to reach site, the great keep of Threave was left preserved in mid 15th-century amber, and this spot is now one of the loveliest and most peaceful of all Historic Scotland's properties. The keepers certainly seemed content with their lot - no doubt the sunny weather helped.

The keep:

Threave detail:

Strolling along the riverside after visiting the castle, we saw a giant nest with a pair of ospreys in attendance. I'd no idea there were ospreys in this part of the world, and we hadn't brought binoculars. But a fellow with a telescope turned up and let us have a look. "Six mating attempts already," he said, "this is the seventh." So that's what they were doing! As we weren't experienced bird watchers, it had not been possible to tell. It felt a bit voyeuristic. Whenever I see a very large lens, I can't help thinking of Princess Diana and the paparazzi. But these ospreys were oblivious, doing what comes naturally. Spring is in the air.

Osprey nest:

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