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Publication Account

Date 1985

Event ID 1016135

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Publication Account


Hermitage is the most perfect of the medieval Border castles, even though heavily restored early in the 19th century. Standing amongst high hills, on the banks of the Hermitage Water, it was described in the mid 16th century as -"a oulde house not stronng, but ewill to be wyn by reasone of the strate grounde aboute the same"- the then broken, marshy ground difficult to negotiate in any but the driest weather.

Of a 13th century structure, nothing survives. The 14th century castle was rectangular and enclosed the small central courtyard; its entrance was in the south wall; and a turnpike stair opposite rose no higher than first-floor level. This castle is associated with the Dacres (1358 to at least 1365) and reflects the style of some 14th century, northern English fortified manorhouses. Some of the surviving, well-dressed red sandstone masonry bears masons' marks-distinctively large, well-cut and Gothic in the 14th century manner.

Towards the end of the 14th century a rectangular tower-house incorporated the earlier features, and subsequently massive rectangular towers were added to all but the south-east corner of the keep. This latter succumbed in due course, when a further massive tower enveloped the short wing or 'jamb' of the late 14th century keep-traces of whose entrance and protective portcullises, above ground-level, survive internally. The 'new, four-storey castle was topped by a projecting battlement below which, to the outside, ran a continuous wooden hoarding supported on corbels and accessible through rectangular openings easily visible high up in the walls. In the 16th century, when firearms came to be used for defence, a few wide-mouthed, oblong gun-loops were added to the outer walls.

Hermitage is a magnificently solid, gaunt castle where Mary, Queen of Scots, visited the seriously injured Bothwell in 1566. About 370m west lie the ruins of a small chapel, probably 14th century and set within a graveyard, amidst a series of earthworks. Enclosed fields and a hollow track lie up the hillside; the churchyard more or l~ss fills one set of enclosures; further earthworks lie to the west. Could the churchyard be the site of the first castle recorded in 1242-44, with a western outer bailey? Or do the earth works reflect a moated homestead possibly of c1300? Between the burial ground dyke and the river stands the low mound 'Cout o' Kielders Grave' - traditionally the grave of Sir Richart Knout (or Knut) of Kielder, in Northumbrian Tynedale, who died between 1289 and 1291.

Information from 'Exploring Scotland's Heritage: Lothian and Borders', (1985).

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