Caerlaverock Castle

The origin of the name isn’t completely certain. The first part (‘caer’) could well mean castle. Strangely, for a warlike site, ‘laverock’ suggests a  Scots and northern old English word meaning skylark.

With the aim of controlling trade in those early times the original castle was one of the first in Scotland. It stands 6.8 miles (11 km) south of Dumfries and was built by Sir John Maccuswell (later Maxwell). It was replaced by the present structure on a slightly separate site to the north in the 1270s. Its triangular shape is unique in Scotland. Protected by a bridged, water-filled moat, the three red sandstone walls are connected by three tall towers in the corners. With defence in mind, each wall had slots near the top for the marksmen.

To enter, you originally crossed a timber bridge spanning the broad moat. This led to a round-arched, stone gateway with twin towers, topped by high battlements. The gatehouse is perched on a rocky outcrop. It was here that private rooms for the family were established. The rest of the castle sits on a specially built clay platform.

It wasn’t long before the castle’s occupants had their first siege to repel. In the mid-1300 a mainly English army, led by King Edward I laid siege in a long drawn-out war over England’s claim to decide Scotland’s foreign policy. This attack set the tone for the rest of the century. Sieges were defeated and the Maxwell’s forces were victorious in outright warfare on a number of occasions. In addition some parts of the castle were dismantled and repairs and improvements carried out.

During the late 15th and early 16th centuries, the Maxwells directed some rebuilding work. A residence, known as Nithsdale Lodgings, was built in the courtyard.  During the 1630s, Robert Maxwell, the first Earl of Nithsdale, added some elaborate stone carvings to the facade.

There was only the occasional let up in the violence.  At least one more siege was overcome and there were killings and executions. A 13 weeks-long siege during early 1640 was caused by the Maxwell’s loyalty to the Catholic-leaning King Charles I. They were therefore the enemies of his opponents in Scotland, the Protestant Covenanters who were victorious. The south wall was completely demolished and all the furniture and fittings removed to ensure that it could never again be defended. 

Nevertheless, a remarkably large  part of the old castle has survived. On the outside, two of the three walls are still almost complete to their tops. In addition the south-west corner tower is complete.  

Learn all about siege warfare from a permanent exhibition on site.

Caerlaverock Castle
Castle Road End

Open year round with seasonal variation. Closed 25 and 26 December and 1 and 2 January

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