15 Fantastic Fortresses You Must Visit in Dumfries and Galloway

Written by Kathleen Cronie of Mostly Ghostly Investigations  (more details at the end of this article)

We love castles and tower houses; be they crumbling ruins or grand edifices, to explore an old castle is to time travel, learning how people once lived.

Scattered across our region, you’ll discover a fine collection of stony sentinels, varying dramatically in shape, size and condition. All of them, in their own way, have played a key role in our region’s history and indeed, some are considered of great national importance.

We’ve chosen a selection of interesting castles in Dumfries and Galloway, lesser-known and famous, ancient powerhouses and crumbling ruins.

We hope this inspires you to learn more about our region’s history and discover Dumfries and Galloway!

Mostly Ghostly Investigations are a local group of award-winning paranormal researchers, tour creators and guides. To discover more about their tours, haunting tales and legends, or indeed if you’d like to share a story to add to their collection, please contact the Mostly Ghostly team!

1. Comlongon Castle

Towering at around 80 feet in height, with walls up to 14 feet thick, you can understand why nobody wanted to attack this jaw-dropping keep. Another defensive feature was the strong iron yett, which thanks to Sir Charles Murray, survived a 1606 purge by the Privy Council.

Built by the Murrays in the 15th century, this beautifully preserved castle is best known today as a romantic wedding venue.

It is also famous for the tragic death of Lady Marion Carruthers in 1570. Against her will, Marion was betrothed to a man she didn’t love by Sir James Douglas, but before the marriage could take place, she threw herself from the battlements – others firmly believe she was pushed. Her weeping ghost – The Green Lady – is still said to haunt Comlongon, often accompanied by the crisp scent of apples…

Image Credit: Mostly Ghostly


2. Torthorwald Castle

Perched on a hill just outside Dumfries, the 15th century Torthorwald Castle stands proud; a crumbling yet spectacular ruin.

One interpretation of its name is ‘hill of Thorold’. The first recorded owners of the castle were the de Torthorwald family, who probably built a motte and bailey castle on or near to the site. It was passed to the Kirkpatricks and Carlyles through marriage, and the last known occupant was Archibald Douglas, 1st of Dornock.

Creator of Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie, is believed to have hidden secret messages here…

Image Credit: Mostly Ghostly


3. Amisfield Tower

Amisfield Tower is often described as the best preserved of all Border tower houses.

Its features include; two fine heraldic symbols displaying the arms of Sir John Charteris and his wife, Agnes Maxwell, a beautiful winding staircase and original wooden beams.

The Charteris family held the lands from the 13th century and built the Tower, although there was probably a stronghold here from the 12th century.

It’s alleged that James VI of Scotland stayed here while en route to England.

Haunting activity includes; the ghost of a servant girl, strange odours and unexplained voices. Another story concerns a tunnel adjoining Amisfield Tower and its nearby neighbour at Torthorwald…

Image Credit: Mostly Ghostly


4. Castle of St. John’s, Stranraer

Once the town jail and now a museum highlighting the castle’s history, this old fortification was built by the powerful Wigtownshire laird, Adair of Kilhilt. It has been passed through the Kennedy family and also the Dalrymples of Stair in 1680.

The infamous John Graham of Claverhouse, with his two contrasting titles – ‘Bloody Clavers’ and ‘Bonnie Dundee’ stayed here during The Killing Times, when Covenanting persecution was at its height

Image Credit: R.B. Photography


5. Repentance Tower

Situated in an elevated position and boasting fantastic views across the Solway, Repentance Tower has a curious history.

Built by John Maxwell, Lord Herries in 1569, the tower is ideally situated for its key purpose as a watch-house.

It is said that Maxwell carved the word ‘Repentance’ above the lintel as a means of seeking forgiveness for dark deeds, including the deaths of twelve kinsmen following a betrayal.

The tower is surrounded by a fascinating old graveyard and interesting mausoleum dedicated to the Murray family…

Image Credit: Allan Devlin – South West Images Scotland


6. Wreaths Tower

Wreaths Tower is a ruined 16th century tower house that stands near the village of Mainsriddle.

Despite its fragmentary remains (including a turnpike stair and doorway), the tower cuts a striking silhouette.

It was said to have been built by James Douglas, fourth Earl of Morton, whose story has a rather grim twist. Douglas introduced the Scottish version of the guillotine to this country. Known as The Maiden, Douglas had no idea that one day; his own head would be on the block! James VI had him executed in 1581…

Image Credit: Mostly Ghostly


7. Threave Castle

No list of castles would be complete without Archibald the Grim’s forbidding 14th-century fortress of Threave.

Featuring dark remnants in the shape of a gallows knob and airless pit-prison, Threave Castle’s remarkable beauty sits at odds with a horrible past.

Just a short boat journey across the picturesque River Dee, the formidable keep is the subject of many photos and paintings. Threave has links to a number of dark events in history; hangings, treachery and siege as well as a beheading! James II murdered one of the Earls of Douglas and later placed the castle under siege. Surrender came after three months with more than a hint of bribery.

Threave is said to be haunted; given its history, you can understand why!

Image Credit: R.B. Photography


8. Sorbie Tower

Originally known as the ‘Old Place of Sorbie’, Sorbie Tower stands a little off the road and is close to the site of a Pictish wooden fort.

A real historic gem, the tower was built in the late 16th century and is ancestral home of the Clan Hannay. There was much unrest between the Hannays and Murrays of Broughton and further feuds along the way. One relative was killed in a quarrel and the family ruined.

Today, the Clan Hannay work hard to ensure the preservation of this fine building.

A lady in grey is said to haunt the tower and woodlands and if you walk round three times, legend states that she’ll appear before you…

Image Credit: Mostly Ghostly


9. Sanquhar Castle, Dumfries

The once imposing Sanquhar Castle now stands neglected and forlorn.

Due to its unsafe state, Sanquhar Castle is best viewed from a short distance away, where you can begin to imagine what might have been.

In the 14th century, it became the house of the Crichton family. One member was stabbed to death in Edinburgh, and Robert, 8th Earl of Sanquhar, was hanged with a ‘silken rope’ for murder. Another Marion is said to haunt this castle; she was allegedly killed by one of the Crichton lords and years later, excavations unearthed a woman’s skeleton with remnants of blonde hair still attached…

Image Credit: Sara Bain


10. Cardoness Castle

The forbidding rectangular keep of Cardoness Castle stands close to the main A75 road, a commanding building with a grim story to tell.

It was built for the lawless MacCulloch family whose colourful reputation left a powerful mark.

Cardoness is said to be cursed, with misery and misfortune plaguing its owners. One dark legend concerns the death of numerous family members, drowned when the frozen loch cracked beneath them. What began as a family celebration ended in untold tragedy…

Image Credit: Allan Devlin – South West Images Scotland


11. Caerlaverock Castle

Where to start! Caerlaverock is an iconic Scottish castle, famous for its triangular architecture and tumultuous history. Much-photographed, this incredible defensive giant of the Maxwell family has witnessed a turbulent history, passing back and forth through fierce battles and bloodshed.

Edward I placed it under siege in 1300, the event immortalised in a French poem “Le Siege de Kalavreock”. Roger Kirkpatrick was murdered here and the Duke of Albany imprisoned in what is now Murdoch’s Tower.

A Covenanting army besieged the castle in 1640, the ravages of which are visible today. Ghostly voices have been heard in the nearby woodlands…

Image Credit: R.B. Photography


12. MacLellan’s Castle

The large L-plan castle of MacLellan’s in Kirkcudbright began life around 1582, after the Provost, Sir Thomas MacLellan of Bombie, built it close to the remains of a Franciscan monastery. Using stone from the old chapel and another nearby castle, it was created more as a status symbol than to protect its occupants.

A real historical focal-point of the town, MacLellans’ still serves Sir Thomas’ original purpose, capturing the attention of all who see it…

Image Credit: R.B. Photography


13. Lochmaben Castle

Situated on the shores of Castle Loch, stand the ragged remains of Lochmaben Castle.

Boasting a dramatic and turbulent past, it was built by Edward I of England and changed hands several times, most notably after the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 when it was surrendered to Robert the Bruce.

Mary, Queen of Scots banqueted at the castle with Lord Darnley in 1565 and twenty-three years later, it was besieged by her son, James VI who captured it from the Maxwells.

The sound of drumming and horses hooves has been heard at the castle and various ghostly apparitions sighted…

Image Credit: By Otter (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons


14. Kenmure Castle

Now a ruined shell, Kenmure Castle has connections to John Balliol; who is believed to have been born here.

The Gordons of Lochinvar (who became Viscounts Kenmure) owned the castle from the late 1200s.

Following a visit by Mary, Queen of Scots in 1568, the castle was set ablaze and again in 1650 as punishment from Cromwell for the family’s support of Charles I. Another chilling story concerns the 6th Viscount, who was beheaded in the Tower of London for supporting the Jacobite Rising.

In the early 20th century, a fire ravaged the castle once more, leaving a sad stone shadow in its wake…

Image Credit: R.B. Photography


15. Orchardton Tower

Charming Orchardton Tower has a claim to fame in being the only circular free-standing tower house in Scotland.

Dating back to the 15th century, Orchardton was built for John Caryns (or Cairns) and passed to the Maxwells through marriage. S

ir Robert Maxwell was captured at Culloden in 1746 and taken to Carlisle to be tried and executed. Instead, having been an officer in the French army, he was exiled and later returned to Orchardton. This event inspired Sir Walter Scott’s Guy Mannering.

Why not take a climb to the top, and just for a moment, be the king of your own castle…

Image Credit: R.B. Photography


Mostly Ghostly Investigations are Dumfries and Galloway’s first paranormal investigation team and creators of a range of well-researched ghost and local history tours

The Mostly Ghostly Investigations Team
The Mostly Ghostly Investigations Team

Mostly Ghostly Investigations have a determination to explore and investigate the unknown.

While exploring innovative ways to fund their research visits, they had the idea of developing a ghost walk for Dumfries. The team have since developed and diversified, creating a number of exciting tours showcasing elements unique to our region.

Their philosophy is that a good story well told needs little in the way of artistic license; each event takes months of careful research to create a truly authentic experience.

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