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Turnberry Castle

 

 

Turnberry Castle
Castle reconstruction by Andrew Spratt
Click image to enlarge
Turnberry castle and King Robert the Bruce of Scots.

Today between Ayr and Girvan the mysterious rubble remains of Turnberry castle surrounding the modern lighthouse appear a confused muddle of mounds. However in the late 13th century it was the great coastal stronghold of the Bruce family of Annandale, Earls of Carrick.

This stone castle was perched on the rocky promontory protected on three sides by the sea and defended on the landward side by a great dry ditch (still evident today).

Inland sat the original village of Turnberry, with the usual collection of wood and wattle constructed buildings with thatched roofs. Containing houses, storage barns, stables, brewhouses etc. Further still inland this castle-town would have been surrounded by a wooden palisade and protected by a second dry ditch with wooden gate house and fixed bridge.

Turnberry Boathouse
Castle reconstruction by Andrew Spratt
Click image to enlarge
The stone castle itself astride its rock stacks was reached by a drawbridge with portcullis and was divided into two parts. A lower gatehouse/keep and courtyard but also an upper Keep with D-plan tower and an unusual lean-to boathouse with seaward access for supply vessels, guarded by a huge Seagate portcullis. In theory if the castle-town and castle courtyard fell during a siege, this boathouse could be used as a means of escape for the castle garrison if all else failed.

Strangely the reverse is true of this defensive feature. When in 1307 King Robert the Bruce of Scots (1306-1329),entered Turnberry by way of this boathouse taking the unwelcome English garrison totally by surprise.

The ancient site of Turnberry was originally held by the old Celtic Lords of Galloway,early Earls of Carrick during the reign of King William I of Scots( 1165- 1214). The castle may have been started by Duncan or his son Neil, who died in 1256. Neil’s daughter ‘Marjorie’ or ‘Margaret’ married ‘Robert de Brus’ (father of king Robert). Thus Turnberry passed to the Bruces, who added to the site. It should also be noted that Turnberry may be the birthplace of King Robert but other accounts claim he was born at Lochmaben castle (the wooden motte not the stone castle).

Rather oddly Turnberry was burnt in 1297 by William ‘le hardy’ Douglas. The young Earl of Carrick (later King Robert) retaliated by burning the lands in Douglasdale and capturing Douglas’ wife and young son James. Who ironically became the legendary ‘Good Sir James’ the ‘Black Douglas’ who carried King Robert’s heart to Spain at the battle of Teba in 1330. Where Douglas died but the heart was returned to Scotland and buried at Melrose Abbey.

In 1301 the English invaders seized Turnberry but were unable to stop the Scots in Carrick revolting and fled to King Edward I’s (Hammer of the Scots) camp at Linlithgow, leaving token garrisons at the castles of Ayr and Lochmaben.

In Oct 1301 the Constable of Ayr complained in a letter to King Edward that the Scots of Carrick were ‘before the walls of Turnberry, with 400 men-at-arms and within these eight days wanted to attack Ayr’. In Feb 1302 Ayr castle was besieged by the Scots but with little success. Sadly Robert Bruce had already surrendered to King Edward, before revolting again later. And in 1307 he took Turnberry presumably slighting it preventing it and all other castles taken in the lowlands from being used as footholds and staging posts for the invading English.

This policy paid off when in 1314 a massive overstretched English army snaking its way to Stirling were defeated at the battle of Bannockburn by King Robert the Bruce of Turnberry.

Andrew Spratt
12/01/2011

 

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Last modified: Saturday, 18 March 2017