Castlecary Castle stands on the brink of an escarpment dominating the valley of the Red Burn which forms the boundary between Stirlingshire and Dunbartonshire. It is 3 miles west-south-west of Bonnybridge. The 15th century tower house at Castlecary is but the latest of a series of fortifications in the immediate area which emphasise the strategic importance of the location. Few places have attracted so many historians and hence so many legends!
In the second century the Romans built a 6 acre fort on the Antonine Wall just half a mile to the north of where the tower house stands. It controlled access up and down the valley of the Red Burn and the Bonny Water to its north. Lying on a low west/east ridge along which the linear barrier ran it was able to police the traffic moving through the Wall and to resist the movement of armies from the north.
At Castlecary the wide valley of the Bonny Water narrows as the sand and gravel drumlins on the north side approach the sandstone ridge opposite. A mile to the west is the extensive tract of the Dullator Bog, which would have been impassable and to the east was marshy ground for some distance. There may well have been a pre-existing track at Castlecary overlooked by the strong native fort at Bankier, which so impressed Gordon (1726, 22). Kier is an anglicised form of the British word caer meaning fort (Reid 2009, 55). A little further west is the Iron Age hill fort of Coneypark. In the Roman period a road headed north towards the Denny Gap to Stirling, crossing the Bonny Water near Castlecary Mill. The importance of the Castlecary crossing is highlighted by the later history of roads in the area. The construction of the Antonine Wall also created a route from west to east and the medieval Muir Road from Bonnybridge followed its line.
Southward from Castlecary the Roman road is believed to have led to Clydesdale and to have continued in use into the medieval period. Its substantial embankment could still be seen at Castlecary in the 18th century. Beside it, on the hill slope to the south of the Roman fort, a small knoll is known as “Court Hill.” It is slightly higher than the surrounding hillocks and appears to have been accentuated to form the basis of a motte to support a timber tower – a type of castle associated with the twelfth century. Its location immediately adjacent to the Roman road is no coincidence. Without the linear barrier of the Roman period it made sense to place the motte back from the Bonny Valley where it also had the protection of the peat moss to the east. We know that by 1369 Castlecary was a barony and this suggests that it was an early jurisdiction.
In a writ to the Sheriff of Stirling in March 1304 Edward I of England ordered military forces loyal to him to muster at Castlecary. It was worded as follows:
“bring to Chastel Kary all the forces, both horse and foot, of his bailiwick, including the baronies in it, but excluding any part of the earldom of Lovenax (Lennox). They are to come without delay before Sir Thomas de Moreham and Alwyn de Kalentir, to whom they are to be obedient.”
The venue was probably chosen because of ease of access and its strategic value.
The name Castlecary has been translated as meaning the castle at the fort from Castle Caer. However, Reid makes a cogent case for the Castle element having been derived from castellum or fort and Cary from what may well have been the British name of the Red Burn (Reid 2009, 37). It does not therefore signify the presence of either the early castle or the later tower house as it may be harking back to the Roman fort. This might seem to fit in well with the alternative name of Walton, the settlement on the Wall, but its locus lies to the south and its early form suggests that the first element is well for a spring rather than wall (ibid 191).
We do not know who the early owners of the barony were, but by 1367 the feudal superiors were the Stratons of Midlothian and it came under the sheriffdom of Edinburgh. In that year the lands were granted to Adam Forrester, a burgess of Edinburgh. Before long it was in the possession of a minor branch of the Livingstone family. Some time before 1450 it had been possessed by Robert Livingston, the son of Henry Livingston of Manerstoun. By 1450 the lands of Castlecary and Walton had been forfeited and lay in the hands of James II. It was not long before they were restored and in 1471 Henry Livingston was in dispute with his neighbour, Lord Robert Fleming of Cumbernauld, who was accused of stealing cattle. The white cattle of Cumbernauld and Castlecary were once well regarded and of considerable importance. It appears that the raiding of the timber and turf houses of the laird and his tenants also took place. The Flemings were cited in the courts for this affray and called upon to pay reparations. The site of the devastation must have been the old motte. Probably in response to this action Henry Livingston had a tower house erected in the 1480s. The charter granted to his son, Patrick, in 1491 mentions “a tower and fortalice newly constructed by the said Henry in the lands of Weltoun.” The site chosen lay a little distance to the west of the motte at the top of the valley escarpment overlooking the lands of Cumbernauld. The tower lies a little to the north of a burn which here runs through a steep-side gulley, leaving space for an enclosure or ward in this area.
The tower was L-shaped in plan, as was normal for that date. The main west/east block had its west gable close to the lip of the steep slope and a northern wing protruded onto that slope. It was founded on the sandstone bedrock which here lies close to the surface but dips to the east. A level platform was created in the basement area for the building work and partly backfilled once the stonework had progressed to a higher level. On the east side of the tower a large ditch was dug. This was partially excavated by the author in 1995 and found to be 7.5m wide. Earlier, unrecorded, work by Hugo Millar seems to have traced it more extensively around the tower. It was closest to the castle as it ran along its east front and here the base of the tower was neatly chamfered to buttress it in a similar fashion to the talus at Castle Rankine near Denny. Undoubtedly the main approach would have been just to the north of this gable.
Illus 5: The 1995 excavation trench from the top of the tower (note the gargoyles). Bedrock can be seen in the foreground with the defensive ditch at the far end of the top right.
The stones required for the construction of the tower house were extracted from the ramparts of the nearby Roman fort and from its central range of buildings just over 800m away. They must have been dragged along the road by sledge up the 15m slope. At the foot of the south-east corner of the tower is a stone with a dressed margin and bull-nose face which must have come from a substantial internal building or a gatehouse.
Many of the Roman stones have broad diamond broaching, some with bossing, which are characteristic of Roman work. They have long been recognised by antiquarians as of Roman origin and this led to the mistaken belief that the tower house was built by the Romans and hence the false claim in the 19th century that Castlecary Castle was the oldest inhabited dwelling in Scotland.
The oblong main block of the castle measures 33ft 10in by 22ft 10in. The north wing or jamb would have extended beyond that but only the tusking that projects from the north wall of the main block can now be seen. MacGibbon and Ross did note a broad foundation extending 45ft north from the north-west corner of the main block which may once have been associated with it. The main block contains three storeys and an attic and is 42ft 5in high to the top of the crenellated parapet which projects on a continuous corbel-course of one member. The parapet has been largely rebuilt. The two stones that form the central merlon of the parapet are carved in relief, the dexter one with a shield on which no charge is now legible, and the sinister one with a human head. The tower walls are built in rubble, roughly brought to courses, with a base plinth on the west and north sides. The quoins and margins are dressed and the original openings having chamfered arrises. The north wing must have been a storey lower than the main block as the uppermost window on that side of the spiral staircase is original.
The original entrance to the tower would have been at the re-entrant angle with a short corridor leading to the spiral staircase which survives and from which now blocked doorways communicated with the north wing. A wrought iron yett which is still preserved in the building presumably occupied this location.
Illus 7: Reused stones at the base of the south-east corner of the Tower House.
It is 41ins wide and 67ins high, consisting of four vertical and seven horizontal bars interwoven in the traditional Scottish manner, though it has lost its lower frame-bar and the single bolt. It is possible that there was a door in the west wall immediately opposite to the entrance giving access to the narrow strip of land on the west side, as a doorway jamb occurs on the corner of the main block at this point.
When the north wing was demolished the doorway to the stairwell in the north-west corner of the main block would have taken its place as the main entrance. Millar notes having seen an image of the castle in the Scots Magazine of 1813 showing the reduced remains of the north wing still in place and these may have provided an entrance hall of sorts.
Illus 8: Shield and human head on the central merlon.
The stair now leads to the three upper floors, the attics, and battlement, where it is finished with a caphouse having a high pitched roof, the gables being crow-stepped like those of the main block.
In the north wall of the tower, at ground-floor level, there is an original loop in the shape of an inverted key-hole. The two windows on the third floor on the south face are also probably original, but many of the openings have been enlarged over the centuries. A detailed description of these may be found in the RCAHMS account.
The ground floor of the main block contains a barrel-vaulted room. A sink in its east wall suggests that this may have been used as a kitchen. The first floor housed the hall with a handsome fireplace in the east wall. The fireplace has been much altered, but the original moulded jambs remain. At the east end of the north wall there is a stone laver, and in the south wall two aumbries. The corbels are quite plain except for the second pair from the end on the east side of the room which have carved human masks, now unfortunately badly damaged.
Illus 9: Floor Plans of the 15th century Tower House. The north wing is conjectural and is shown in grey.
It is possible that the west end of this room was partitioned off to provide a server with a hatchway to the basement at the window in the wall there. The main item of interest on the second floor is the mural garderobe in the north-east corner which has a lamp recess. Above it, on the third floor was another garderobe which had an external chute, falling uncomfortably close to the main entrance. It is possible that this machicolated projection was intended as a defensive feature to cover that route rather than as a latrine. The attic floor contained a single apartment lit by a window in each gable. At the head of the stair a door to the east leads on to the parapet; a second door, to the west, allowed a complete perambulation of the rampart walk without the need to retrace one’s steps, but is now blocked.
Illus 10: Corbel in the Hall
Illus 11: Fireplace in the Hall.
Upon its completion around 1491 the tower house provided ample comfortable accommodation for the family. Defence, however, also appears to have been important as indicated by the location of the tower in relation to the enclosure with its large ditch. That enclosure was entered through the guard room on the ground floor of the north wing, but this would have been unsuitable for horses or carts and so there must have been a secondary crossing of the ditch further to the south. Perhaps it took the form of a wooden bridge which could be dismantled if the need arose. At the highest point within the suggested enclosure the depression left by two of Millar’s excavation trenches could still be seen until recently.
Illus 12: The Tower at Castlecary Castle looking south-west with the later crow-stepped gable on the left. The machicolated “garderobe” can be seen at the top left of the tower and the tuskers of the missing north wing are conspicuous.
Here it is said he found traces of timber buildings, but unfortunately he left no records.The owners of the barony and its tower have been summarised in the following list:
|1491||Patrick Livingston (son)|
|c1520||Archibald Livingston (son) killed|
|Pre 1590||Alexander Livingston|
|1631||Henry Livingston (son)|
|1657||John Livingston (son)|
|1685||Patrick Baillie of Shirhill|
|1710||Alexander Baillie (son)|
|1732||James Dundas (marriage)|
|1756||Earls of Zetland|
Meanwhile the superiority moved from the Stratons to the Livingstones of Dunipace in the early 16th century and in 1672 to John Brown, writer, of Mungal. It was acquired by the Earls of Zetland in the mid-18th century.
In 1489 James IV spent much effort in suppressing rebellions in the west of Scotland, laying siege to the castles at Crookston and Dumbarton. On one of these occasions Castlecary was nominated as the assembly point for his artillery train. This, much later, gave rise to the legend that amongst the visitors was Mons Meg from Edinburgh and that two of her 20ins diameter cannonballs or “eggs” were left behind and decorated the garden for many years.
That campaign against the Earl of Lennox was led by the Duke of Argyll, but in the following century Castlecary Castle is said to have had a royal visitor in a rather accidental way. After the death of the Dauphin, Mary Queen of Scots returned from France with her Four Marys in 1561 and that winter visited the home of one of them, Mary Fleming, at Cumbernauld Castle. Mary’s brother, Lord Fleming of Cumbernauld had been one of the commissioners responsible for arranging the queen’s marriage to the Dauphin. They were joined by Mary Livingston who travelled the short distance from Callendar House. On 26 January 1562, whilst the queen and her party were out hunting, the great hall at the castle collapsed and seven or eight men were killed. She is said to have visited the nearby village to speak to the relatives of those who were injured or killed. As a result the queen and the two Marys spent a little time at Castlecary Castle which was the nearest castle to Cumbernauld. It was possessed by a distant relative of Mary Livingston. Whilst there, they are said to have planted two yew trees, which are still living. A high branch from one of the trees came down in the great gale of January 1968 and, upon examination, over 300 annular rings were noted. Oddly enough, even though Gillespie mentions the trees in his book in 1879 he does not connect them with Queen Mary. He was impressed by their age:
“At the top of the garden – a plot of ground alleged to have been at one time the bowling-green of the Castle – is a fine English yew, which taken a yard above the soil, measures eight feet three inches in circumference. Another rare specimen of the same tree stands on the north bank of the Caledonian Railway, some ten yards south-east of its more stately companion.”
Another visitor, in 1904, calculated them to be two thousand years old! (Falkirk Herald 3 August 1904, 5). Queen Mary is also associated with two yew trees in the courtyard at Craigmillar Castle and with one at Cumbernauld.
About 400m north of Castlecary Castle, John Reid noted a linear bank of earth about 0.5m high and 2.5m broad, retained by stone drystone dykes, riding over the contours (Reid 2003). The function of this unusual feature is now lost to memory and appears to be shown on Roy’s map in the 1750s. It may therefore belong to the period from the 15th to the 16th centuries. One possibility is that it was a pillow mound to provide a warren for rabbits, known as a coneygarth. At the time these animals were valuable commodities and enjoyed the same exclusive protection as the pigeons in a laird’s doocot. They allowed such poor quality heathland to be economically exploited. Coneypark, already mentioned as the location of a hillfort near Banknock, is presumably named after such a feature. The 1558 charter confirmed John Livingston in “Castlecary with mill and moor, with parks, woods and rabbit-warrens (cuniculariis).”
Minor alterations were carried out to the house over the centuries following its construction. The single windows on the first and second floors of the south face were enlarged and given roll-moulded arrises some time in the 16th or 17th century. The stone used is more orange in colour than the grey sandstone reused from the Roman fort. At ground-floor level in the south wall a horizontal gun-loop which incorporates a central oillet of unusual design, is made of the same stone and was presumably contemporary.
Little remains of the internal features but a rare survivor was noted in 1956 when traces of painting were seen on the wall plaster over the fireplace in the hall. The colours discernible were black, red and white, and could be made out to be a heraldic achievement, apparently representing the Royal Arms as used in Scotland after the Union of the Crowns.
Illus 14: The Gun-Loop and 17th Century Window in the south wall of the main block at Castlecary Castle. Note the broached Roman stones.
The middle years of the 17th century were tumultuous for Scotland and the unfolding events engulfed the area around Castlecary. On 15 August 1646 a large Covenanting army under General William Baillie was defeated at Kilsyth by Montrose at the head of the Royalist army. Fleeing soldiers headed off in all directions and Baillie was escorted southward by some of his cavalry. Many got stuck in Dullator Bog, but it is said that Baillie managed to reach Castlecary Castle that night. He left at first light just before his pursuers arrived and as a reprisal they burnt the castle. Baillie continued on to Stirling Castle, presumably calling in at his family home of Letham House or Torwood Castle on the way. How far we can trust this traditional account is difficult to say, especially as it holds that Castlecary was in the possession of his cousin at the time and yet that family only came into its ownership in 1685. Millar believed that the damage was confined to the north wing which consequently had to be reduced in height and the lower storey or storeys re-roofed to act as outhouses and servants’ quarters.
In September 1650 Cumbernauld Castle was garrisoned by Scottish forces opposed to Cromwell, but was taken by siege, as was Callendar House. Parliamentary forces criss-crossed the area on their marches and counter marches and having subdued it they left garrisons at Linlithgow, Falkirk, Cumbernauld and Kilsyth. They must have visited Castlecary Castle, but as it presented no opposition it was left undisturbed. In 1926 a hoard of 134 silver coins dating to c1650 was found at “Castlecary” and deposited in the National Museum of Scotland. The majority were English issues of the Tower Mint, of Elizabeth I, James I and Charles I. In addition there were three Scottish coins of James VI as well as four of his Irish shillings. The face value of the English and Irish coins was £7 6s (Sterling) or £87 2s Scots. When the three Scottish coins are added to the latter the total it comes to £90 8s 8d Scots. This would have kept an infantryman in the field for up to eight months at the English rates of pay of 8d per day during the Civil War. Just who hid it and why is unknown. Unfortunately so too is the exact find spot.
The bounds of the barony of Castlecary were clearly marked by a series of water courses set in conspicuous valleys. It was bounded on the north by the Bonny Water, on the west by the Red Burn, the south by the Walton Burn and the east by the Skipperton Burn. The low-lying land beside the river held arable land. Around the castle was good pasture, emphasising the early importance of cattle to the barony. To the east was peat, then a valuable fuel. Much of the south-eastern part of the barony was latterly given over to woodland. Stone was readily available and there were a number of small quarries. Limestone was also present and had been exploited by the Romans. The place name Pig Holes (north of Allandale) suggests that the clay too was used for the manufacture of pottery (Reid 2009, 139), especially as its alternative name given on an estate plan of 1758 was Green Kiln Park. The names on the estate map are instructive. “Lang Tath Park” refers to the practice of placing cattle on the field and allowing them to fertilise it so that it could be ploughed the following year (Reid 2009, 210). “Had Hill Park” appears to be a corruption of Herd Hill and would have only been used for the cattle in the summer months (ibid, 128).
Most of this economic activity is implicitly acknowledged in the 1670s sasine:
“lands of Over and Nether Castellcarreys, Over Easter and Wester Walltownes with the milne milnelands and multures with the castell, toure, fortalice, manour place, houses, biggings, yeards, orchyeards, woods, fishings, coalles, coallheughes, lyme, limestone, mosses, mures, medows, tofts and crofts.” .(Reid 2003, 61)
In 1679, during the occupancy of John Livingston, the tower house was extended eastwards. The base of the old defensive ditch had slowly silted up and the upper section was now deliberately levelled up. To the south of the extension the area was metalled to provide a courtyard.
Illus 16: Mid 17th Century Tobacco Pipe Bowl.
In the thick silty clay layer in the ditch below the cobbling a number of 17th century pottery sherds, the bowl of a tobacco pipe dating to the period 1640-70, bone fragments from cattle and pieces of building waste were found in 1995. The layer was quite rich in humus, including small pockets of peat. Lumps of plaster, mortar and slate were found throughout the layer. Together with a pierced stone roofing slab they reflect the construction of the 1679 extension and suggest that at the same time the old tower was being renovated, its stone roof replaced by slates.
The new east wing was a rectangular block, 30ft 6in by 19ft 9ins, some two storeys high plus an attic. A rectangular stair-tower containing the main doorway projects from the west end of the north wall across the previous entrance track. The masonry also incorporates a number of re-used Roman stones, but they may have come from the downtakings in the tower which were required to provide communication between the two buildings. It is of random rubble with dressed quoins and margins and has been harled. There is an ogival-moulded eaves-course and the gables are crow-stepped with moulded skewputs. The entrance-doorway has a bolection-moulded surround and above there is a stone panel which bears the incised date 1679. There is a small lozenge-shaped light or pistol hole in the east wall of the stair-tower. The south frontage of the wing has two windows on each floor placed one above the other, those in the attic being dormer windows. The large room on the ground floor was the kitchen and contains a large segmental-headed fireplace in the east wall with a later brick oven to its north.
Illus 17: Floor Plans of Castlecary Castle with the 1679 Extension shown in red.
The 1995 excavation showed that the original floor here has been of flagstones set on a bed of lime mortar. Each storey of the wing has a doorway into the tower house, but the internal partitions are of a later date.
Filling in the ditch allowed the grounds to be remodelled and it would have been at this time that the walled enclosure to the south of the house was put in place. It stretched down to Queen Mary’s yews, enclosing an area of about half an acre. Two beeboles were incorporated into its wall so that bees could be overwintered there in straw skeps. They pollinated the flowers in what was probably a formal garden laid out at the foot of the tower – the parapet walk providing a grand viewing platform from which to look down on its geometric shapes. Within a few years the lands and barony were sold to Patrick Baillie of Shirhill who received a charter in 1685.
This peaceful scene was disturbed once again in 1715, or so it is said. Rev Hugh Baird of Cumbernauld in 1861 claimed that Castlecary Castle was burnt by a party of Highlanders, and this claim was repeated in 1868 by Robert Gillespie. Irving in 1879 noted that Cumbernauld Castle was burned to the ground by “a party of Highlanders during the rebellion of 1715,” which sounds like a case of mistaken identity because John Fleming, the Sixth Earl of Wigton, was a staunch Jacobite and had consequently been incarcerated in Edinburgh Castle for the duration. It is possible that his brother, Charles, who returned from France to participate in the 1715 might have revived the old neighbourly rivalry, but that had been with the Livingstone family. It also seems rather far south for a Highland raiding party to be operating. Alexander Baillie was the owner of Castlecary Castle in 1715. He was a keen historian and yet he does not mention the incident in his writings. Tension certainly existed in the area. Colonel Henry Hawley was stationed at Falkirk that December and after the Jacobite failure at Sheriffmuir on 13 November he was busy confiscating the estates of the Livingstons of Callendar and Kilsyth. James Campbell of Ardkinglass appealed to him not to beggar his neighbour, Viscount Kilsyth’s, tenants, by confiscating all their draught horses (National Archives of Scotland, GD 220/5/1913/7).
There may well have been a fire in the east wing, for some time in the 18th century it was gutted and fine wooden panelling fitted along with new partitions. The refit extended to a couple of the smaller rooms on that side of the tower. More service buildings with crow-stepped gables were added to the east on the same alignment as the east wing, but separated by an open passage. The cobbled surfaces to the south of the east wing were covered with imported soil during the early 18th century, presumably when the yards were moved further east into the area previously occupied by the village.
Illus 20: A fanciful depiction of the 1715 burning of Castlecary Castle (Reynolds 1908, 161).
By this time the villagers had moved down the hill to the site of the present settlement and this allowed the grounds of Castlecary Castle to be extended to the east and a new public road constructed along this boundary.
A Highlander also features in one of the most celebrated stories of the time which appeared as a ballad. Lizzie Baillie, who was presumably a daughter of Patrick, was the pride of her parents and they determined that she would marry well. Her good looks, and the promise of a sizeable dowry, meant that when she came of age she had many suitors and yet she scorned them all. Her father became suspicious and recalled that her correspondence had increased just after her return from a visit to her cousins near Loch Lomond some months before. One version of the story says that he opened one of her letters and discovered that whilst she had been away she had fallen in love with Donald Graham, a bonnet laird with only a few acres to his name. He forbade her from communicating with Graham. Needless to say, she did not obey his wishes and on one occasion met Donald Graham in Castlecary Glen. Rev Hugh Baird account of this encounter is wonderfully flowery. This meeting was also discovered and as a consequence Lizzie was locked in a room in the tower until she came to her senses. However, through a friendly servant she smuggled out word of her plight. One night soon after Donald Graham arrived at the castle with three retainers or farm servants. He had been informed which room she was held in and called up to her. He and his servants each held a corner of a thick plaid and Lizzie launched herself towards it. She was caught and held safely. The small party, now of five, disappeared into the night.
Her father was heartbroken and it is said that it contributed to his early death. Lizzie too worried herself into an early grave. So much for tradition! The story was evn put into ballad:
SONG - LIZZIE BAILLIE My bonnie Lizzie Baillie, I’ll row you in my plaidie; And ye maun gang awa’ wi’ And be a Highland) laddie. I’m sure they widna ca’ me wise, Gin I would gang wi’ you, sir; For I can neither card nor spin, Nor yet milk ewe or cow, sir. My bonnie Lizzie Baillie, Let nane o’ thae things daunt ye; Ye’ll hae nae need to card or spin, Your mither weel can want ye. Now she’s cast aff her bonny shoon, Made o’ the gilded leather, And she’s put on her Hielan’ brogues, To skip among the heather. Now wae be to the Lowland lads, That dwell near Castlecary, To let awa’ sic a bonny lass, A Hielan’man to marry.
“Shame light on the loggerheads That live at Castlecary, To let awa’ the bonny lass The highlandman to marry!” (Nimmo 1817, Vol 1, 502)
Lizzie’s fame was perhaps longer lasting than that of her nephew, Alexander Baillie, the well-known antiquary and genealogist. Curiously one of his sisters, Mary Baillie, also ended up with a Scottish song written about her! “Mary of Castlecary” was written by Hector McNeil and was first published in 1791 in a periodical entitled “The Bee” and should be sung to the tune of “Bonnie Dundee.” Mary married James Scott, the son of a neighbouring estate. Before they were married she wanted to test his courage, faithfulness and temper. At a suitable time she disguised herself in male clothing. She knew the road he would use, so she left home wearing a blue bonnet and belted plaid. When she met him she suggested that his lady friend was courting another, the one he was speaking to. This aroused his jealousy and he was about to fight his supposed rival when Mary threw off the bonnet and plaid and revealed who she was. She had satisfied herself that his love was brave and true. It was a happy surprise which helped to strengthen the affection of both of them:
Saw ye my true love down on yon lea? Cross'd she the meadow yestreen at the gloamin'? Sought she the burnie whaur flowers the haw-tree? Her hair it is lint-white; her skin it is milk-white; Dark is the blue o' her saft rolling e'e; Red, red her ripe lips, and sweeter than roses:— Whaur could my wee thing hae wandered frae me? I saw na your wee thing, I saw na your ain thing, Nor saw I your true love down on yon lea; But I met my bonnie thing late in the gloamin', Down by the burnie whaur flowers the haw-tree. Her hair it was lint-white; her skin it was milk-white; Dark was the blue o' her saft rolling e'e; Red were her ripe lips, and sweeter than roses: Sweet were the kisses that she ga'e to me. It wasna my wee thing, it was na my ain thing, It wasna my true love ye met by the tree: Proud is her leal heart! modest her nature! She never lo'ed ony till aince she lo'ed me. Her name it is Mary, she's frae Castle Cary: Aft has she sat, when a bairn, on my knee:— Fair as your face is, were't fifty times fairer, Young bragger, she ne'er would gi'e kisses to thee. It was then your Mary; she's frae Castle-Cary; It was then your true love I met by the tree; Proud as her heart is, and modest her nature, Sweet were the kisses that she ga'e to me. Sair gloomed his dark brow, blood-red his cheek grew, Wild flashed the fire frae his red rolling e'e! Ye'se rue sair this morning your boasts and your scorning: Defend ye, fause traitor! fu' loudly ye lie! Awa' wi' beguiling, cried the youth, smiling:— Aff went the bonnet; the lint-white locks flee; The belted plaid fa'ing, her white bosom shawing, Fair stood the loved maid wi' the dark rolling e'e! Is it my wee thing! is it my ain thing! Is it my true love here that I see! O Jamie forgi'e me; your heart's constant to me; I'll never mair wander, dear laddie, frae thee!
Illus 21: Mary of Castlecary’s Tomb.
A small walled family burial ground near Greenhill, Bonnybridge, has the following inscription on the coping stones of the south wall: “Erected by James Scott, owner of the lands of Greenhill, Glenyards, Bogside, Lochdrum and Lochgreen“. On the lintel above the entrance below it are the words “The Burial Place of James Scott, Janet Scott, William Hannah, and Mary of Castlecary and Others.” High on the wall to the right side is the date 1756.
At the time of the events just recounted, the wooded glen at Castlecary and the cultivated enclosures around the castle contrasted sharply with the bleak muirs to the east, lending an air of romance to the setting. Just why the stories of Lizzie and Mary should have caught the spirit of the Georgian and Victorian periods is a mystery. Mary’s sisters, Elizabeth and Bethia also made suitable marriages. Her eldest sister, Elizabeth, married James Dundas of Breastmill near Kirkliston in 1722. In 1723 he sold Breastmill to the 2nd Earl of Stair and moved to Castlecary. When Alexander Baillie died without issue the couple inherited the estate. James Dundas was constantly in financial difficulties and died in July 1758 in Edinburgh. James and Elizabeth also had no issue.
Bethia married Thomas Dundas of Fingask in 1730, and they had two sons – Thomas and Lawrence. From the latter the Marquess of Zetland was descended. With the death of James and Elizabeth the Castlecary estate fell to Bethia and her husband. The Dundas family owned Kerse House and it became their principal estate in Scotland – Castlecary Castle was not needed.
“TO be LET, THE MANSION-HOUSE of CASTLECARY, with the Offices and Gardens, lying between six and seven miles south west of Falkirk, near to the great Canal, and within 1 ½ miles of the village of Cumbernauld, where there is a weekly flesh-market.
The house consists of a dining-room, 7 bed-rooms, kitchen, and other conveniences. The gardens are very extensive, and the tenant may be accommodated with as much ground adjoining to the house was he shall incline.
The premises to be entered at Martinmas first, or any other time agreeable to the tenant, and possessed for such a term of years as shall be fixed upon by the parties. For further particulars, apply to Mr Longmoor factor for Sir Lawrence Dundas, Bart., at Kerse, near Falkirk.”(Caledonian Mercury 16 October 1779, 4).
In the 1840s the setting of the castle changed radically with the construction of the Castlecary Branch of the Caledonian Railway which opened on 7 August 1848. It ran in a deep cutting along the south side of the walled garden to the south of the house and as a consequence the public road was again re-aligned.
Grassom, on his map of Stirlingshire in 1817, annotates the castle as “in ruins.” By contrast, the New Statistical Account and “A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland” in 1846, state that the building was in tolerable repair and inhabited by the Earl of Zetland’s forester. The apparent difference was probably due to the fact that the old tower was largely abandoned. Shortly thereafter the east wing was renovated and put up for let annually:
“TO BE LET, with Entry at Martinmas next, and for such period as may be agreed on, THE DWELLING HOUSE at CASTLECARY, known by the name of “Castlecary Castle.” It consists of two Public Rooms, five Bed-Rooms, Kitchen, Milk-house, and other Conveniences. There is attached to the Residence a Four-stalled Stable, with Byre for two Cows, and a House for a Man-servant, besides an excellent Garden, and 1½ imperial acre of Pasture. The Premises are about 7 miles distant from Falkirk, and 15 from Glasgow; and the Castlecary Station of the Edinburgh & Glasgow Railway is within an easy walk from the House.
The House may be seen any lawful day between 10 and 4 o’clock; and farther particulars will be learned on applying to Mr ROBERT P. NEWTON, at Kerse, by Falkirk.
Kerse, 5th July, 1860”(Falkirk Herald 5 July 1860, 3).
The first tenant was Thomas Farmer. He and his wife assumed the role of local lairds and in August the following year gave permission for the Band of Hope to visit:
“The members of the Bonnybridge Band of Hope visited Castlecary Castle on the afternoon of Saturday the 3d curt. They mustered about 70, and headed by the Camelon Band they marched through Dennyloanhead and Roadside on the way to their destination. About a dozen of appropriate banners were borne in the procession. On their arrival at the castle the children were treated to a plentiful supply of gooseberries, and at a later period they were supplied with bread. The game of football was engaged in by both juvenile and adult males, and kept up with great spirit, while the girls naturally engaged in less boisterous pastimes. There were from 400 to 500 visitors present, a good many of whom were privileged with the magnificent view obtained from the top of the castle, and not a few viewed with interest the adjoining ravine and cascade. The couple of ancient yew trees, the rude but once useful iron door, the window from which “Mary of Castlecary” leaped, not into the boiling flood nor on the “cruel” ground, but into her lover’s plaid; and last, though not the least possessed of interest, the dungeon, which, contrary to report, has not been used as a place of incarceration during the present century. Mr Farmer, the occupant of the castle, was unremitting in providing for the enjoyment of all, as were also the ladies of the castle, Mrs and Miss Farmer…”(Falkirk Herald 15 August 1861, 3).
After Farmer’s death his household goods at Castlecary Castle were sold off in 1865:
“ADJOURNED SALE. ELEGANT HOUSEHOLD FURNITURE, PICTURES, BOOKS, & c, & c. at Castlecary Castle, on Monday, 30th January.
MR JAMES NEILSON begs to announce that he has been instructed by the Trustee to Sell, by Public Roup, on Monday the 30th January, 1865, at Castlecary Castle, the Whole of the very Elegant and First-Class HOUSEHOLD FURNITURE, PICTURES, BOOKS, and other EFFECTS, belonging to the Sequestered Estate of Mr John Williamson, Oil Merchant, comprising 2 Mahogany Dining Room Loo Tables on Pillar and Block, 6 Mahogany Dining Room Chairs, Beautiful Mahogany Sofa in Haircloth, Mahogany Easy Chair in Haircloth, richly carved; also Easy Chair in Leather; and Elegant Mahogany Duchess Bedstead with Crimson Damask Curtains, Feather Bed, Mattresses and Bedding, Mahogany Canopy French Bedstead with Curtains, Hair and Wool Mattresses, Bedding, & c.; a most superbly finished Four-Doored Mahogany Wardrobe, Mahogany Drawing Room Loo Table with Carved Pillar, Mahogany tea Table, Paper Mache Do., Drawing Room Easy Chair in Crimson Damask, and other Drawing Room chairs; 2 Bohemian Glass Vases, Engraved; Set of Crimson Damask Window Curtains with Gilt Cornice and Rods, Crimson Damask Window Vance, & c.; Green Damask Table Cover, Splendid mahogany Double Washing Stand, with White Marble Top, and White and Gilt China Ware complete; Mahogany Toilet Table and Glass to match; Mahogany Pillar Bedside Stand with Marble Top; Large Mahogany Press Washing Stand, Brussels Dining Room Carpet; also, New Drawing Room and Bed Chamber Carpets, with Hearth Rugs, Lambskin Mats, & c.; 5 Large and Beautifully Painted Family Pictures, in Gilt Frames; as also, 18 other Pictures, Oil Paintings and Engravings, in Handsome Gilt and Rosewood Frames, & c.; Unique Lobby Table, Large Waxcloth, Umbrella Stand, Tea China, Gilt and Burnished; Silver-Plated Candlesticks, Ivory-Handled Knives and Forks, 2 Dinner Sets of Stoneware, Burnished Drawing Room Grate, with Fender and Fire-irons, and other Grates with Fenders and Fire-Irons; also, Kitchen Furniture, Cooking Utensils, Block-Tin Dish Covers, & c, & c. Likewise, 40 Volumes of Books.
Sale to begin a Half past Eleven o’clock.”(Glasgow Herald 25 January 1865, 8).
The next resident was John Hay who stayed until the beginning of 1872 when he moved to Glenbo. He was briefly followed by James Marshall (c1872-1877), J Chisholm (c1877-1880), Gavin M Buchanan (c1880-1888) and Hew Mackenzie WS (1888-1900) who presented a baptismal font to Haggs Parish Church. The Marquis and Marchioness of Zetland paid a rare visit to their property in August 1894.
The Castlecary Castle Curling Club seems to have been established during the residency of John Hay and continued until at least the First World War. The team’s home pond is shown on the valley floor north of the castle on the 1896 Ordnance Survey map.
Dr John Stuart Nairne of the Glasgow Samaritan Hospital for Women was in residence in 1903. In September that year he issued a booklet entitled “Castlecary Castle, a sketch” which was published by J M Duncan of Kilsyth. Some of his artistic Glasgow friends made four drawings of the castle. He often opened fundraising events for Haggs Parish Church and his wife and daughter helped with stalls. In 1919 his eldest daughter, Sister M Stuart Nairne, was awarded the Medaille des Epidemics en Argent by the French Government for her services as a member of the French Flag Nursing Corps. She had worked as sister and matron at Talence in the war zone under fire. Dr Nairne had already died and in 1912 Mr Filshill, a Glasgow businessman, and his family occupied Castlecary Castle. They were there until April 1930 when they left the district and the house was again advertised, the accommodation consisting of: “Three public rooms, four bedrooms, maid’s room, and kitchen.” (Scotsman 1 March 1930, 6).
In a lecture to the Falkirk Archaeological and Natural History Society in 1938 J Davidson, the president of the Glasgow Archaeological Society, mentioned two stone prehistoric sites in the Falkirk area. These were the standing stones at Glen Ellrig and a 10ft diameter stone circle just north of Castlecary Castle. The standing stones were actually part of the early 19th century landscaping and it is almost certain that the same is true of the stone circle. The Falkirk society visited the castle in June 1947 and was told its history by one of the leading architectural historians of the time, Dr W Douglas Simpson of Aberdeen University.
By the 1950s Castlecary Castle was in a perilous condition and there was a grave possibility that it would be neglected and demolished. Hugo Millar took it over and with the assistance of his wife, brother and friends, brought the east wing back into habitable condition and stabilised the tower. On the ground floor of the east wing the original red flagstone floor had slumped into the earlier ditch as its fills consolidated. This had been overlain by grey slabs, larger in size and often exhibiting fossilized beach deposits in its laminations. Now Millar put a concrete floor over them. During the 1960s it became apparent that there were structural defects which could not be remedied without the backing of greater financial resources. He therefore entered into a sale/leaseback transaction with Doreen Hunter who shared his interest in local history and castellated architecture. As well as spending her own money on the building she was able to get grant aid from the body now known as Historic Environment Scotland. The work was carried out under the supervision of James Simpson, architect. When Miss Hunter died in 1986 the castle passed to her brother who continued Hugo Millar’s lease and placed the building under the general supervision of Thomas Pollock of William Cadell, Architects, who had built up a reputation for the care of historic buildings. After Millar died in 1993 Doreen’s Hunter’s nephew, Robert, took on the project of bringing the building up to modern standards. With Thomas Pollock, and generous grants, the whole building was renovated and is now lived in.
During this work two clay marbles with glazed surfaces having bands of yellow, white and pale blue crossed by black lines were found under one of the hearth stones of the kitchen fire in the east wing – part of a ritual deposit and a reminder that these buildings are about more than mere stone and brick.
Today the site is a private residence with no public access.
Sites and Monuments Records
|Court Hill||SMR 1046||NS 7900 7775|
|Castlecary Castle Doocot||SMR 1047||NS 7868 7748|
|Castlecary Limekiln||SMR 83||NS 7883 7777|
|Mary of Castlecary’s Tomb||SMR 531||NS 8151 7845|
|Castlecary Coin Hoard||SMR 1313||NS 78 78|
|Castlecary-Clydesdale Roman Road||SMR 455||NS 791 776|
|Caledonian Railway (Castlecary Branch)||SMR 1782||NS 7847 7726|
|Baird, H.||1861||The History of Castlecary and the Roman Wall.|
|Bateson, D.||2007||‘The Castlecary Hoard and the Civil War currency of Scotland,’ The British Numismatic Journal 2007.|
|Buchan’s Ballads of the North|
|Christison, D.||1888||‘Additional notices of yetts, or grated iron doors, of Scottish castles and towers,’ proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 22, 286-320.|
|Gillespie, R.||1868||Round About Falkirk.|
|Hunter, R.||1993||Castle Cary (privately published)|
|Irving, J.||1879||The Book of Dunbartonshire.|
|MacGibbon and Ross||1887||Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland. Vol. 1.|
|MacNeill, H.||1897||‘Mary of Castlecary,’ in Harvey, W. 1897 The Harp of Stirlingshire, 85-86|
|Millar, H.||1980||The History of Cumbernauld and Kilsyth from Earliest Times.|
|Millar, H.||1978||‘Castle Cary: a brief account,’ in Hunter, R. 2002.|
|Nimmo, W||1817||History of Stirlingshire.|
|RCAHMS||1963||Stirlingshire: An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments.|
|Reid, J.||2003||‘The Baronies of Seabegs and Castlecary,’ Calatria 19, 57-78.|
|Reid, J.||2003||‘Linear feature at Castlecary,’ Calatria 19, 107.|
|Reid, J.||2009||The Place Names of Falkirk and East Stirlingshire.|
|Reynolds, W.||1908||The Beauties of Scotland: North British Railway Official Guide.|
G.B. Bailey (2020)