Craignethan Castle, pp.27-30.



Whilst thus we linger near these ancient ruins,
Imagination with her wizard spell,
Loves to picture forth in airy dreams, the
Half forgotten histories of former times.


CRAIGNETHAN or Draffen Castle, as it is sometimes called, stands at the distance of rather more than a mile from the Clyde, on a high, steep promontory, round the base of which the river Nethan, flows through a deep, picturesque, and richly wooded valley. From the height above the water of the ground on which it is situated, it appears to have been strongly protected by nature on the south, east, and north sides; and the labours of art have not been spared to add to its natural strength. Although it bears marks of the ravages of time, and there is reason to think, of the no less ruthless hand of man, it is yet in sufficient preservation, to give a complete idea of what it once has been, and to afford a fine specimen of the architecture of baronial residences, in the age in which it was erected. The spectator, is indeed, at once struck with the perfect unity and completeness of the design, which these ruins display. The correct taste and skill of the Architect, excite surprise. It is obvious, that Craignethan was not like most ancient Castles, the production of different ages, and of a variety of lords, adding strength to strength, and tower to tower, as the wealth, or importance of the family increased; but that the whole has been erected at once, under the inspection of one, who had an eye for beauty, as well as strength. History confirms the truth of these observations.

This Castle was erected early in the sixteenth century, by Sir James Hamilton of Fynnart, a natural son of the first Earl of Arran, and the founder of the most powerful and opulent branch which ever sprung from the house of Hamilton. He was appointed cupbearer to James V., steward of the royal household, and superintendant of the royal palaces and castles. Under his direction, the two Palaces of Falkirk and Linlithgow were erected; monuments, which in part still exist, of the national taste of that age. The Castles of Edinburgh, Stirling, Rothsay, &c. were either partly rebuilt, or adorned by his genius. Sir James’s architectural talents thus account for the superior beauty of his own Castle of Craignethan.

The whole of the level surface, on the top of the promontory on which the Castle stands, is included within the outer walls, which thus enclose a considerable extent of ground. These walls, forming a large right angled parallelogram, are still pretty entire. They are of great height and thickness; and on the top a platform appears to have extended round the whole. Each angle is defended by a strong, and very high square tower; and the curtain of the wall to the north and south, where the length of the parallelogram makes the distance between the flank towers greater than on the east and west, is defended by two smaller projecting towers, which rise in the centre. The towers on the north east and south east angles, are much more extensive than the others, and seem to have contained lodgings for the garrison and retainers of the Castle. The west front, where the walls had no defence in the precipitous banks of the river, was protected by a deep, broad ditch, or moat; but there does not appear to have been any means by which it could be filled with water. Here, however, was the entrance to the inner cout-yard. A drawbridge, that could be let down over the moat, or drawn up at pleasure, gave admission through the tower, which defended the north-west angle of the wall.

Additional outworks, though in all probability erected at a subsequent period, defended the western wall, moat, and entrance. A large square area, in front of the moat, is enclosed by high walls, of inferior strength, however, to those already described; and in these, there are, at regular distances, openings, though which assailants might be watched and annoyed by those within. The south west and north west angles of the walls, were also defended by strong, lofty, square towers. Between these towers, in the centre of the west curtain which connected them, an arched gateway, under a small barbican, gave entrance to this outer court-yard; which, of course, required to be gained, before any attack could be made on the drawbridge, or entrance to the inner court-yard.

The keep or fortress of the Castle, stands at the east end of this inner court; and immediately in front of the two great towers, which defend the western angles. This, as in other ancient Castles, was of great strength, and height, and contained the great hall and principal rooms, for the accommodation of the owner and his family. It, like the outworks which surround it, is in the form of a parallelogram; the walls are very thick, and the different stories vaulted, being divided by strong arches. There appears to have been a platform on the top, and an embattled parapet, with small turrets at the corners from which the garrison could see and command the exterior works.

The scenery, with which these interesting ruins are surrounded, is extremely fine. They are situated in a rather wild upland country, which rises on all sides into alternate ridges of hills, quite green to the top, and little sequestered valleys. The river Nethan, high above which it stands in its time-worn grandeur, flows through a deep, narrow, and winding glen, the varied and precipitous banks of which are beautifully clothed with trees and underwood. We certainly have not here the savage magnificence of Cartlane Craigs, nor the terrific sublimity of the Falls of the Clyde; but the Nethan presents a succession of scenery of the most picturesque beauty, relieved at intervals by small silent holms, and grassy meadows, where the banks slope more gradually from the stream. The Castle is encircled to its very walls, with lofty umbrageous trees, which, in the leafy month of June, almost entirely conceal it, except at one or two points; and which prevent the possibility of its being nearly viewed, but in detached portions, when walking round it. The view, here presented, is taken from a height on the banks of the river, a short way farther down; and, although but a limited glimpse of the ruins is obtained, it was selected as affording the best idea of the adjoining scenery.

In examining these relicts of the times that hav epassed away, there is always a pleasure in reverting to incidents in the lives of their ancient owners, or of those who figured at the period, and which may have occurred within their now ruined and delapidated walls. It is interesting to know, that James V., the last of Scotland’s chivalric monarchs, once honoured these old halls with the royal presence, at the marriage of James, Master of Somerville, eldest son of the Lord Somerville, with Agnes, daughter of Sir James Hamilton, the builder of the Castle. Nor will the mind cease to call forth imaginings of the splendid festivities which so joyous an occasion would produce, when dignified by the presence of royalty. A change, however, comes over the spirit of our dreams, when we think of the misfortunes which speedily overtook this powerful branch of a still noble house, and of the melancholy close of the career of its proud founder. And we reflect with feelings of a very mingled description, on the charge of masters which Craignethan underwent, after the flight of Queen Mary into England, and during the minority of her son James VI. We see exemplified the instability of human affairs, the slight tenure by which worldly honour and grandeur are often held; we are elevated by our conceptions of those heroic times, and of the high souled men who shed a lustre over them; yet we return with sentiments of gladness and gratitude, to the peaceful and happy times, in which we live.

Nothing probably interests the visitor more, than to know that here the unhappy Mary Queen of Scots, found a brief asylum, after her flight from Lochleven Castle. Here she remained for a few days, under the protection of the Hamiltons, who afterwards nearly shared her fate, while her little band of devoted and loyal followers, gathered around her standard. And from hence she set out on her intended journey to Dumbarton, but to meet with irretrievable ruin at the battle of Langside.

Craignethan has recently received additional interest, from mits having been very generally supposed to be the Tillietudlem of Sir Walter Scott’s novel of Old Mortality. There does not, however, seem to be sufficient reason for supposing that the great novelist had Craignethan, nor its appearance accord with the description in the novel. The tower is there described as standing upon the angle of a very precipitous bank, formed by the junction of a considerable brook with the Clyde; but Craignethan is distant upwards of a mile from the Clyde. Indeed, from the novel, we would rather be inclined to believe that the tower of Tillietudlem is supposed to be situated above Lanark, and not below it on the Nethan. The idea that it is the origin of the poet’s conception, is however, very fondly cherished, by the persons who have the charge of the Castle; and the window at which the redoubted Cuddie Headrigg attempted his escalade, when he received the burning salute of his beloved Jenny Dennison, is gravely pointed out. But the window, or its situation, have not the most distant resemblance to that described in the novel.

In the seventeenth century, the Castle and Barony of Craignethan came into a family of the name of Hay, some individual of which is said to have grievously delapidated it, in order to use the stones for erecting a small mansion, which stands in one of the angles of the court-yard. From this family they were purchased by the last Duke of Douglas; and are now the property of the present Lord Douglas, the representative of this ancient family.

On what are called Draffen Crofts, in the neighbourhood of the Castle, the vestiges of a Roman Iter or road are often disclosed, by the successive operations of the plough. These remains are supposed to be part of a vicinal road, which branch off from the Roman station of Castledykes, across the Clydesdale, and which it has been suggested by Chalmers, was intended to form a communication between the great western road, and the estuary of the Clyde.1


1  Chalmer’s Caledonia, vol. 1. p. 138.