Scheduled Monument

Auchen CastleSM683

Status: Designated


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Date Added
Last Date Amended
Secular: castle; ice house; kiln; moat
Local Authority
Dumfries And Galloway
NT 6338 3512
306338, 603512


The monument comprises the upstanding remains of Auchen Castle, a 13th-century courtyard castle substantially altered in the 15th or 16th century. The visible remains define a four-sided enclosure with a substantial tower or bastion at the NW corner, an open-backed tower on the SE angle and smaller towers on the SW and NE angles. Auchen Castle lies within a broad moat and there is a simple defended entrance on the north. The monument occupies part of a southward spur of Longbedholm Hill and lies in an area of rough pasture. The monument was first scheduled in 1937 but an inadequate area was included to protect all of the remains; the present rescheduling rectifies this.

Auchen Castle measures approximately 40m E-W by 38m N-S within a curtain wall up to 3m thick and up to 5m in height, although the walls and towers are all covered in earth and turf. Much of the castle's interior is featureless, although there are faint traces of low banks defining a rectangular area approximately 10m by 11m in the NE corner. A similar series of banks defines a smaller square attached to the N wall on the W side of the entrance. The entrance on the north is protected by a simple but effective dog-leg wall creating a pend and by the substantial NW tower. Surrounding the castle is a wet moat, up to 6m wide with a flat- topped counterscarp, which broadens on the east and west to form rectangular platforms apparently for buildings. At a later period, Auchen Castle became an artillery fort and the walls of the castle were liberally faced with earth and strengthened with additional masonry. The NE bastion or artillery platform and the open-backed SE tower also probably date to this period. Additional outworks were created or existing features remodelled at this time and include a prominent bastion to the south of the castle. The trackways and other earthworks around the castle are probably much later, when Auchen Castle provided a romantic folly or ruin. A series of three rectangular fishponds north and north-east of the castle is fed from a stream rising to the north-west. Around eight kilns are set into the castle's outer rampart on the south.

The area to be scheduled is irregular on plan, to include the visible remains and an area around them within which evidence relating to their construction, use and abandonment may survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. The scheduled area specifically excludes the above-ground elements of all field dykes and post-and-wire fences to allow for their maintenance.

Statement of National Importance

Cultural Significance

The monument's cultural significance can be expressed as follows:

Intrinsic characteristics

Auchen Castle represents a fine example of a 13th-century castle. Built in stone, Auchen Castle probably replaced the nearby timber motte-and-bailey castle at Garpol Water, representing the growing power and wealth of the local lordship. While the exact date of construction is not known, the relative simplicity of the gateworks and the layout of Auchen Castle suggest a date in the mid-13th century when compared to more securely dated early castles in the area.

The redevelopment of the castle as an artillery fort is similarly undocumented, although this is likely to have taken place in the 15th or 16th centuries, around the time when Auchen Castle was a possession of the powerful Douglas family. There are strong similarities between the open-backed D-shaped tower on the south-west of Auchen Castle and a similar construction found at the artillery defences built by the Douglases at Threave in 1455. Alternatively, the modifications to Auchen Castle may be later, as the covering of stone walls with earth, a technique known as vamuring, is first recorded in Scotland in 1523.

Approximately 40m to the east of the castle is a long, vaulted passage, open at either end. Tunnel-like structures such as these may represent ice houses, a means of storing ice before the advent of modern refrigeration. If this structure is an ice house, it was probably built around the same time as the nearby country house, also named Auchen Castle, which dates to around 1849.

A bastion lies directly to the south of the castle, possible for mounting artillery pieces on during an attack. Remains of a possible structure occupy most of the bastion. Reduced to wall footings, the possible structure appears to have been rectangular with internal compartments. It may be associated with the occupation of the castle or perhaps the numerous clamp kilns set into the castle's outer rampart.

Traces of several tracks and carriageways approaching and encircling the castle are likely to date to the 18th or 19th centuries, when Auchen Castle became a folly or romantic ruin. There is evidence also that the castle's structure underwent limited repair around this time, probably to enhance the appearance of the ruins. There is documentary evidence for a 19th-century timber pavilion near the ruins to accommodate shooting parties taking refreshments.

Contextual characteristics

Stone castles began appearing in SW Scotland in the 13th century, often replacing earlier timber motte-and-baileys, an expression of the growing power and wealth of the lordly families who occupied them. However, most early stone castles in SW Scotland were not particularly complex or large structures, reflecting the increased cost of construction.

Artillery began to play a significant role in siege warfare in the 15th century. King James II of Scotland deployed artillery with devastating effect against several Douglas strongholds in the 1450s and it was an exploding cannon that led to the king's death in August 1460 at the siege of Roxburgh Castle. Defensive strategies ranged from massive thickening of walls and addition of rounded towers and bastions to the relatively simple technique of adding a thick layer of earth over stone walls to absorb the impact of cannon and small arms fire. This technique is first documented in Scotland in 1523 by the Earl of Surrey, the English army commander. Laying siege to Cessford Castle in the Scottish Borders, Surrey reported his guns made little impact on the walls as they had been 'vawmewered with earth of the best sort I have seen'.

Ice houses provided wealthy landowners with the means of keeping blocks of ice and other highly perishable produce. Wrapped in straw, blocks of ice were kept in underground ice houses until required. At a time before modern refrigeration, ice was particularly rare.

Associative characteristics

The Kirkpatrick family probably built Auchen Castle in the 13th century. Prominent landowners throughout Dumfriesshire in the 12th and 13th centuries, the Kirkpatricks are known to have still owned Auchen Castle in 1306 as it appears in a charter of that year recording a loan of money from Roger de Kirkpatrick to Sir Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford and Essex. Aside from ownership of Auchen Castle, the charter reveals this branch of the family as pro-English and the same Roger de Kilpatrick was appointed Sherriff of Dumfriesshire by Edward II. In 1313, Roger de Kilpatrick is recorded among the English dead at Lochmaben following the successful siege by Bruce's forces.

Following Bruce's victory at Bannockburn, Roger de Kilpatrick's estates appear to have been given to Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray (Robert Bruce's nephew or blood relative). It is unclear what happened to Auchen Castle after Moray's sudden death in Musselburgh in 1332. By the 15th century the castle appears as a possession of the Douglasses of Morton and it is possible that the artillery modifications took place around this time given the family's struggles with the Scottish crown. In 1453 James II ordered the destruction of Threave Castle, deploying an artillery train of cannons with devastating effect.

Later Auchen Castle is recorded as a possession of the Johnstones of Corehead. The lands attached to the castle may have passed to the Johnstones for supporting James II's campaign against the Douglas family. The Johnstones acquired many of the former Douglas lands in SW Scotland in the 15th and 16th centuries, cementing their own position as one of the most powerful families on the western border with England. A warlike family, the Johnstones famously feuded with the Moffats and Maxwells and Auchen Castle may have been fortified against artillery during their ownership.

National Importance

The monument is of national importance because it has an inherent potential to make a significant contribution to our understanding of the past, in particular later medieval fortifications, the character of lordship in later medieval Scotland, the development of castles and the impact artillery had upon them, and their place within the wider landscape. The monument is particularly well preserved, displaying good field characteristics demonstrating a developmental history of several centuries. The loss of the monument would impede our ability to understand the nature of later medieval castellation, not just in eastern Dumfries and Galloway but across Scotland.



RCAHMS record the monument as NT00SE 3.0.

About Scheduled Monuments

Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating sites and places at the national level. These designations are Scheduled monuments, Listed buildings, Inventory of gardens and designed landscapes and Inventory of historic battlefields.

We make recommendations to the Scottish Government about historic marine protected areas, and the Scottish Ministers decide whether to designate.

Scheduling is the process that identifies, designates and provides statutory protection for monuments and archaeological sites of national importance as set out in the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.

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Scheduled monument records provide an indication of the national importance of the scheduled monument which has been identified by the description and map. The description and map showing the scheduled area is the legal part of the scheduling. The statement of national importance and additional information provided are supplementary. These records are not definitive historical or archaeological accounts or a complete description of the monument(s).

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Printed: 25/05/2019 06:17