The castle is on an island in the middle of the River Dee; even getting to it is an exciting and romantic experience in itself.
From Kelton Mains farm it is a ten minute walk through fields until you arrive at the shore of the River Dee.
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Galloway, the south west corner of Scotland, is an area that is often overlooked, people rush past without stopping, in a hurry to get to Glasgow, Edinburgh and The Highlands .It’s a shame because theres a lot to see and do amidst some glorious countryside in this region. This review is about one of those attractions – Threave Castle which stands a couple of miles outside the market town of Castle Douglas. Built at the end of the 14th century, this medieval tower has been uninhabited and lain in partial ruins for 100s of years. It is well worth a visit, as much for the setting as the historical interest. Clearly signposted from the A75, up a short farm road, you’ll find a carpark next to the farm buildings at Kelton Mains. One of the outhouses has been converted into The Bothy Tea-rooms, where they serve lunch and teas – all kinds of home-made soups, baked potatoes and sandwiches are on offer. Postcards and some souvenirs are also on sale. Round the corner, next to the log cabin that houses the toilets, is the entrance to the walk that you have to take to reach the castle. Don some good walking shoes, or at the very least some old trainers that you don’t mind getting filthy because the path is often muddy. If you have kids, stick ‘em in wellies. Then you’re ready for the loveliest walk through the country, nothing too taxing, just a 10 minute stroll past fields of cows, as the path meanders its way through sloping meadows and farmland. All you can hear are sheep bleating and the birds singing and the wind rushing through the trees. The castle is hidden from view behind trees, until you turn a bend and suddenly there it is – a stout, square block of grey weathered stone, still an imposing fortress, even in ruin, sat on its island in the River Dee. Another 100 yards up the path and you come to a small jetty. If it’s a slow day you may have to ring the bell to alert the boatman and he’
ll come across the river in his little motor boat, to take you across to the island. Not so very long ago it was still a rowing boat but now, especially in peak season, they have so many visitors that the motor boat is kept busy toing and froing all day long, ferrying visitors back and forth. Hop in and the boat takes you across the dark, brackish waters of the River Dee and in little more than a minute you’re out of the boat again and on the island, where a small hut that is both ticket office and shop (well, there’s some history books and Highland toffee for sale), stands in the shadow of the castle. “Welcome to the home of Archibald the Grim!” intones the custodian, as he takes your money. Archibald the Grim, one of the Douglas clan, and Lord of Galloway, built Threave Castle in the late 1300s and lived there until his death in 1400. I’m not sure what it was he did to earn the name of “Grim” and subsequent history surrounding the castle is also somewhat patchy but gives an idea of those turbulent times. Here it is, now pay attention: “Grim Archie” was succeeded by his son , also Archibald, who was appointed Regent in 1437 when King James II was crowned, just six. When he Archibald died two years later, two men, Sir Alexander Livingstone and Sir William Crichton fought to take the place of the Douglases. They invited the new Earl of Douglas to dine with his brother and a friend at Edinburgh Castle. At the end of the meal the head of a black bull was brought to the table, and at this sign all three were murdered. King James, now 21, resented the power of the Douglases who at that time were one of the strongest noble clans in Scotland. In 1452 he invited William, the 8th Earl of Douglas to Stirling to negotiate their relationship. During this meeting James drew his dagger and stabbed William to death. The Douglases were then defeated at Arkinholm, mear Langholm and the 9th Earl was
exiled. James began the systematic destruction of all the Douglas strongholds, culminating in a two month siege of Threave Castle in the summer of 1455. In spite of heavy bombardment including shots from a massive siege gun, the castle held out. Evidence suggests that the garrison commanders only surrendered to bribery. The castle then remained annexed to the crown until it was given to Lord Maxwell and was eventually abandoned in 1640 after a siege by the Covenanters who ordered it was made uninhabitable, which is when the upper floors were taken down and all iron and wood was removed. The castle was subsequently modified to house prisoners from the Napoleonic Wars. You enter the castle by a drawbridge over a now empty moat. There is an outer wall that was erected in readiness for the siege that stretches around three sides of the castle, on the fourth side is the river, and a small harbour that would’ve been used when the castle was inhabited. You enter the main castle by a short flight of stairs .Look upwards and see the original gallows stone where the Douglases hung their victims. Inside, to your left down some more steps is a large cellar with a high roof, and large stone walls. This would’ve been the kitchen area, and a large stone well still sits in one corner. Directly under the stairs is the prison, you can’t enter it, but you can look down into it, it looks dark, and dank and claustrophobic. Up a very steep and uneven staircase is the Great Hall, which is open to the elements with only the outer walls of the upper floors remaining. Despite the hall being utterly empty and without a roof, it’s not hard to imagine what it would’ve been like to live there, back in the medieval days. When you look out of the windows, in any direction there’s little to suggest that you’re in the 21st century, the surrounding landscape has changed little in the last 600 years. If you have any sens
e at all of the past, its immediately apparent here, the atmosphere is evocative of those turbulent times; the rough weathered stone holding so much history, witness to so many stories. There are some story boards set around the site, indicating some of the history, and if you have any questions the staff will do their best to answer them. The castle is now in the hands of Historic Scotland and is open from April to September. You can find out more from www.aboutscotland.com and www.caledoniancastles.co.uk.