Hermitage – Brooding fortress on the Scottish Borders

If ever there was a grim, bleak stronghold, it is this one. Set on the empty moors near the head of Liddesdale and only 5 miles (8 km) from the border with England, it played a prominent part in the long-running battle forcontrol of disputed border territories.

The castle is said to be haunted, and not without reason. Around 1550 it was described as “an old house not strong, but evil to be won by reason of the strate [difficult] ground about the same.” Earlier it had belonged to a family called De Soulis. They had a sinister reputation for cruelty and one of them, William “the Wizard” de Soulis, who was believed to take an unhealthy interest in black magic, apparently lost the estate in 1320 for plotting against Robert the Bruce.

The castle was taken over by the Black Douglases, the most powerful family in the Borders at that time, who built most of the castle as it stands today, with an H-shaped plan consisting of a big keep standing between two massive towers. In 1342 Sir William Douglas shut his enemy Sir Alexander Ramsay in one of the dungeons and left him there to starve to death, though a few unsuspected grains of corn trickling through to him every day from the granary above kept him alive for seventeen days.

In 1492 the castle passed to the Hepburn family, earls of Bothwell. Mary, Queen of Scots fell in love with the fourth earl, even though, or perhaps because, he had murdered her husband. In 1566, while she was staying at Jedburgh, she rode at speed the 25 miles (40 km) to Hermitage with a few companions to be by Bothwell’s side after he was injured in a border affray. The ride so exhausted her that on her return to Jedburgh it took her weeks to recover her health.

In the nineteenth century, Sir Walter Scott and other writers reawakened interest in historic castles. Hermitage Castle was duly restored by the Duke of Buccleuch.and given to the nation in 1930.