Castles and Towers

The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were turbulent times for the Scottish Borders when reiving and mayhem were rife. Peels, towers and castles were necessities to protect life and property. Four examples of these keeps survive in a ruinous state around Innerleithen and Traquair. The walls themselves cannot speak so I have turned to Innerleithen &Traquair, Past and Present, with an Angler’s Guide to the Tweed and its Tributaries (Second Edition – 1867), commonly called Smail’s Guide as it was published by Innerleithen printer Robert Smail.

Elibank Castle c.1900

Elibank Castle

“About a mile east of Bold is Juniper Bank, near which – a considerable way up the hill – is the ruin of Elibank Tower, the ancient seat of the Murrays of Elibank, and famous for the story of Muckle-mouthed Meg, in which young Scott of Harden figured so conspicuously.” (Smail’s Guide, p. 96)

Cardrona Peel Tower 2006

Cardrona Tower

“. . . Cardrona was for many ages . . . the property of a family of the name of Govan, chiefs of the name, one of whom, Laurence of Govan, was Sheriff of Traquair in 1358. They resided in the old Tower on the hill, which is now in ruins. The Govans continued in possession of Cardrona until the latter end of the seventeenth century, when it was purchased by Mr Williamson, writer in Peebles, and Town Clerk of that burgh.” (Smail’s Guide, pp. 104 – 105)

Horsburgh Castle c.1960

Horsburgh Castle

“Accordingly, as it was then uninhabited [1775], and, from its condition, not likely to become again a family residence, he [an unnamed neighbour who wished to buy the castle] requested permission to improve it according to his taste. This was granted, and the work of demolition was soon begun. The roof was taken off and the chambers filled with earth, and in the course of a short time the effects of the weather made themselves apparent. The walls cracked in every direction, and large masses of the building fell. Next the crowbar was applied with great success; and to make the appearance of an ancient ruin as near perfect as possible, a cartwheel was fixed in one of the largest rents, that the effect at a distance might be that of a venerable abbey.” (Smails’ Guide, pp. 15 – 16)

Nether Horsburgh Castle - 2008

Nether Horsburgh Castle

“ . . . we find that the lands of Easter Horseburgh, then called Schelynelaw, together with lands of Traquair and Innerleithen were, in 1634, in the hands of John Stewart of Traquair, who in that year was served heir to his brother Robert. The tradition in the family [Horseburgh] is that this part of the property was sold to defray the expenses of a lawsuit which had arisen between two brothers.

At Nether Horseburgh there are the remains of an old tower or keep, which used to be called Shillinglaw Tower. Tradition is silent respecting it, but it was probably built about the time the lands came into the possession of the Stewarts [sometime after 1550].” (Smail’s Guide, pp. 11 – 12).

Smail’s Guide is a treasure trove of local history but long out of print and very rare. An electronic copy can, however, be purchased online.