Scottish Castles Association

Preserving the Past for the Future

SCA Castle Tour To Stirlingshire - Apr 2010

Although labelled as a 'Stirling' this trip did, in fact, include the counties of Stirling, Kinross and Clackmannan.

A feature of our visit was the number of buildings rescued from ruin. Menstrie 1961; Alloa 1997 and Sauchie 2000.

Finally there was the splendid restoration of Old Sauchie from a roofless shell to a beautiful dwelling by Sandy and Moira Leask, long standing members of the Association. Our visits to the castles on the Clackmannan Tower Trail were facilitated by Susan Mills and Alastair Maxwell-Irving, to whom we are very grateful.

Menstrie Castle Apr 2010

Menstrie Castle - a small L plan Tower built around 1560

Menstrie Castle

This was originally a small L plan Tower built around 1560 by the Alexander family, part of the Clan Macalister. The most famous occupant was Sir William Alexander (1577 -1644) who became a leading courtier with James V1 / 1, being made 1st Earl of Stirling. He was appointed Governor of Nova Scotia and suggested that land there should be sold for Baronetcies; unfortunately the scheme was a failure. He died penniless in London in 1644 and Menstrie was burned soon thereafter by the forces of the Marquis of Montrose.

Menstrie Castle 02 Apr 2010

It was sold to General Sir James Holborne whose family occupied it from1648 to 1719. From 1719 – 1924, it was the property of the Abercrombie family, but unfortunately it fell into disrepair as the years progressed. After the Second World War, it was restored by local enthusiasts, led by the reporter and broadcaster, Moultrie R Kelsall.

Menstrie Castle Stirlingshire

Over the years, the house was enlarged, becoming a U plan tower then eventually a 3 storey townhouse split into flats. The National Trust for Scotland has one of the ground floor flats whose three rooms commemorate the castle's history and the Baronetcies of Nova Scotia.

Sauchie Tower

Sauchie Tower - with perimeter wall in foreground

Sauchie Tower

Sauchie is a well-built tower house of the 15th century standing some 55 feet high with walls 6 feet thick. It comprises of 4 storeys with entresol and is topped by a broad, corbelled parapet with rounds. A hexagonal cap-house provides a pleasing feature.

The ground floor is vaulted and the hall is provided with a fine fireplace. One of the windows retains its grille.

Sauchie - However, the present appearance is misleading. In 2005 excavations revealed a far more extensive structure. The early 15th century date was confirmed but it also uncovered a contemporary (or near contemporary) courtyard range consisting of a great hall, kitchen and bakehouse - the whole being enclosed by a wall and ditch. Later in the century 'dumb-bell' gun loops were inserted into this wall.

Minor alterations were made in the 16th century but the year 1631 heralded a major change when a new accommodation block, known as 'Old Sauchie House', was added. This was built against the perimeter wall but did not disturb the existing ranges.

Sauchie Tower Stirlingshire
Sauchie Tower Stirlingshire

All was to change in the 18th century when a fire ravaged the tower and much of the courtyard range was demolished as circumstances changed. The 1631 addition was sub-divided into tenanted dwelling, which were occupied until the 20th century.

The Coal Board abandoned the site following the purchase in 1930. Old Sauchie House's days were numbered and its destruction followed. Fortunately the tower proved to be more robust.

Sauchie Tower was rescued from decay by the Clackmannan Historical Trust who had a steel wire tie inserted at the upper level to retain the walls and had the tower re-roofed thus allowing it to dry out. The trust does not yet have a use or an owner for the tower. During our visit many members took the opportunity to purchase copies of the DVD 'Sauchie Tower and Its Environs' made by the Friends of Sauchie Tower.

Clackmannan Tower Stirlingshire

Clackmannan Tower dates from the late 14th century

Clackmannan Tower

Occupying a prominent position on King's Seat Hill, Clackmannan is a readily visible structure. The original building dates from the late 14th century and consisted of a rectangular tower of which the lower part survives. The following century a tower with a boldly machicolated parapet was added and carried up to 80 ft giving Clackmannan its stepped appearance.

The original entrance was on the first floor of the old tower but was replaced by one at ground level. Both the ground and first floors are vaulted and the hall is furnished with a handsome fireplace.

The present appearance belies the original for in the late 16th century a splendid crow-stepped, turreted palace block was added and the late 17th saw the incorporation of a new entrance court, walled and protected by a moat. There was also a garden together with a bowling green. Of these later works not a trace remains except for a pedimented door inserted in the new tower.

In recent years Clackmannan became increasingly dangerous due to underground workings and has been closed to the public.

Historic Scotland began a major scheme of consolidation in 2001 with the intention of an eventual reopening. We were extremely privileged to see around the Tower (with appropriate safety precautions) by arrangement with HS.

Alloa Tower Stirlingshire

Alloa Tower - one of Scotland's largest tower houses

Alloa Tower

Alloa Tower is one of the largest and grandest of Scottish tower houses. This outstanding 14th century tower, with its 11-foot thick walls, rises through 4 storeys to its original oak roof. The parapet, with massive rounds, rises flush with the walls. In its original state the Great Hall was on the first floor with private apartments above and a guardroom in the roof space all reached by a turnpike stair (original slit windows) in the thickness of the wall.

At the start of the 18th century there were dramatic changes. A 'great house sumptuously furnished' was attached to the tower which, in turn, had regular rows of windows punched through its walls and its interior remodeled. Contemporary moldings adorned the entrance with the Mar motto 'Je pense plus'. This house burned down in 1800 to be replaced by another, which in turn also burned down. The remains of the latter were removed in 1959 leaving ugly scarring on the exterior walls.

Alloa was famous for its gardens designed by the Earl of Mar ('Bobbing John'), which he based upon those at Versailles. Mar should have stuck to gardening as his efforts as a commander led to the collapse of 'The 1715 Jacobite Rrising' and to his exile in France. Restoration began in 1988 by the Alloa Building Preservation Trust (now CHT) to its probable appearance of around 1712 and the Queen officially opened it in 1997. It is now administered by the NTS.

Old Sauchie Castle Stirlingshire

Old Sauchie Castle - now wonderfully restored

Old Sauchie Castle

We came to Old Sauchie for the third time in 10 years, having seen it first as a ruin, then while undergoing restoration and now as a beautifully restored towerhouse. Old Sauchie is an L-shaped tower house of the late 16th century. Rubble built it rises from a vaulted basement through 3 storeys to a turret-capped roof. The tower has a lavish provision of shot holes and a particularly handsome feature is the circular stair tower, which is corbelled out at first floor level. The entrance is at the re-entrant and rises via a scale and plat stair to first floor level where the hall occupies the whole of the main block. Later additions, including what was a kitchen, are attached to the north gable.

The site is a strong one situated above the Sauchie Burn noted for the battle of that name in 1488 where James III met his end.

The tower was inhabited until the mid 19th century after which it fell into decay until finely restored in recent years. We learned more about its history on this visit. James Erskine, 3rd son of Lord Erskine was given a charter by Robert 1V in 1528 and he built Old Sauchie in 1540.

Next year he married Christine Striveling (of the Stirlings of Keir family). She died in 1582, aged 70, followed in the mid 1590's by her husband whose tombstone is in Culross Parish Church. In 1634, the Erskines sold it to Sir George Bruce of Carnock who quickly sold it on to John Stirling of Herbertshire. In 1659, the 'lands of Sauchie with its castle and fortalise etc' were acquired by Alexander Glas of Cultinhove. His family occupied it for about 100 years but it was bought in 1753 by Captain David Cheape RN and sold on (by the creditors of his nephew and heir) to William Ramsay of Barnton in 1786. In 1865, the estate passed to Sir Alexander Ramsay Gibson-Maitland Bart of Clifton Hall and Kesie. His son, Sir James, built the baronial mansion of Sauchieburn in 1892 and his only surviving daughter, Mary, married Sir Arthur Steel Maitland PC MP in 1901. Lady Steel Maitland did all she could to preserve the old tower from the ravages of nature.

Old Sauchie was sold to the present owners in 2001.

Touch House Stirlingshire

Touch House - a Georgian house which encapsulates a 16th century Z plan castle

Touch House

Touch House is the 'most distinguished example of Georgian architecture in the county'. Of greater note, perhaps, is that it encapsulates a fine Z plan castle. This castle is of 16th century date and consisted of a main block with rectangular towers at the NW and SE angles. Of these only the SE remains - complete to the wall top together with the lower part of the opposite tower now incorporated in the later work.

The surviving tower is built of whinstone with freestone dressings and rises from vaulted compartments at ground and 1st floor levels to a parapet borne on a double course of corbels. A turnpike stair serves this tower and formerly connected with the original main block.

During the 17th century the NW tower was largely rebuilt and extended while in the 18th century the main block of the original Z plan was replaced by the superb building that we now see. The lands around Touch were owned initially by the Fraser family, but were acquired in 1408 by the Setons who continued to own them for many centuries. Bonnie Prince Charlie stayed at Touch on the night of September 13th 1745 on his way to the Battle of Prestonpans.

Touch House Tower

Touch House - The surviving tower

The owner at that time, Hugh Seton, began to drain the Carse of Stirling and he built the magnificent south façade we see now. However, he got into considerable debt, which was eventually cleared by his son, Archibald, who made his fortune with the East India Company. He died on his way back home to see the Georgian mansion and the estate passed to his sister, Barbara.

She was the wife of Sir Henry Stuart of Allanton, an arboriculturalist who improved the grounds of Touch. They took the name of Seton-Stuart and the house continued in that family till 1928 when it was bought by the Buchanans. They engaged Sir William Lorimer to carry out improvements, some of which were modernisations e.g. to bathrooms, heating and lighting, but many were designed to restore much of the Georgian character of the building.

Inchmahome Priory

We stopped at the edge of the Lake of Menteith to look over to Inchmahome and its priory a slight diversion from our usual visits

Cardross House Stirlingshire

Cardross House - parts date from the mid 1500s

Cardross House

Menteith was one of the five great districts into which Scotland was divided. Cardross means 'fort on a promontory' in old gaelic.

The Erskine family owned these estates for much of its history. The first tower was built in the middle ages, and the main part of the house around 1598 by David Erskine, commendator (lay governor) of Inchmahome Priory. There is lintel above a second storey window with the initials D.E. and M. H. (his wife Margaret Haldane) dated 1598. James V1 created the lordship and barony of Cardross for John Erskine (2nd earl of Mar) who was responsible for some of the fine plasterwork on the present Drawing room.

The fortunes of the Erskines of Cardross declined in the 17th century and in 1746, Cardross was bought by John Erskine, an Edinburgh lawyer. He married Anne Stirling of Keir in 1747 (their wedding stone is above another window) and this family developed and extended the house over the next century and a half.

In 1920, it was bought by the Orr Ewing family (who previously owned Ballikinrain castle near Killearn).

The original building appears to have been a small L-plan castle with a circular tower in the re-entrant dating from the mid 1500s.

Cardross House Later in the century a 3-storey extension was added and at the same time the tower was heightened. Both the tower and the addition were provided with turrets.

The 18th century, inevitably, saw major changes. An entirely new front was added, windows widened and the roofline altered. Window lintels bearing the dates of 1598 and 1747 give some clues as to when all these alterations were going on.

The original entrance is now walled up. The ground floor of the extension is vaulted, but not, strangely, the tower - perhaps removed.

A circular staircase leads from basement to the top floor and finishes with a conical roof. The hall on the first floor has a handsome, wood panelled room with plaster ceiling.

Cardross, with its ancient walls and decorated interior, now offers itself to the public as a luxury venue.

Arnhall Castle Stirlingshire

Arnhall Castle - built in 1617

Arnhall Castle

Arnhall stands in the grounds of Keir House. This is a ruined, 3 storey tower which was built of rubble in 1617. On our visit, it was possible to discern some important features and, from them, deduce some others.

Arnhall Castle

The lower courses are of large grey boulders and rise to different levels. The higher courses are made of sandstone, suggesting that a later building sat on an older one. The tower was L plan but the re-entrant angle is ruinous so it is impossible to say if the original door was in this, the usual, place. There is a door on the south wall which may be a later insertion. An inverted V cut into the stones above this door suggests that there may have been a roofed entrance hall / lobby. Corbelling at the bases is the only evidence of two bartisans on diagonally opposing corners. High up on the west wall, there are two vents – one round, the other diamond shaped – which may represent shot holes. One stone on the south wall may be the only remaining evidence of a string course. Some windows have obviously been enlarged while others have evidence of holes for iron bars. The ruins of a long narrow building on the east side may be the remains of outhouses.

Kier House once played host to Chopin and it is the birthplace of Sir David Stirling founder of the SAS. However, this is quite eclipsed by the fact that Arnhall (along with Doune and Stalker) was a location for the 1975 cult film: ' Monty Python and the Holy Grail'.

Our many thanks to John Hunter who organised this trip.

Added: 09 May 2010 Updated: 18 Apr 2022
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