Scheduled Monument

Torthorwald CastleSM713

Status: Designated


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The legal document available for download below constitutes the formal designation of the monument under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. The additional details provided on this page are provided for information purposes only and do not form part of the designation. Historic Environment Scotland accepts no liability for any loss or damages arising from reliance on any inaccuracies within this additional information.


Date Added
Last Date Amended
Secular: bailey; castle; motte
Local Authority
Dumfries And Galloway
Planning Authority
Dumfries And Galloway
NY 03316 78262
303316, 578262


The monument comprises the remains of a multi-period castle site occupied from the late 11th/early 12th century to the 17th century. The monument is visible as a well-defined series of earthworks, the remains of a substantial rectangular tower house and associated features. To the south and west of the castle, a bailey survives as archaeological features below the present ground surface, visible as a series of cropmarks on oblique aerial photographs. The castle is located on a ridge to the south of the village of Torthorwald.

The complex of earthworks indicates that the first phase of the castle was constructed of timber and earth, most probably taking the form of a motte and bailey. Cropmarks denoting the bailey to the south and west are visible in oblique aerial photographs, while the earthworks to the north have been affected by later quarrying. A masonry hall house was built on the highest part of the site probably during the 13th century and was altered sometime in the 14th century to create a tower house which stands to 4 storeys in height. There are indications that a curtain wall projected to the north and south of the tower house, forming an enclosure within which there is evidence of ancillary buildings; a later pond located to the southeast.

The scheduled area is irregular. It includes the remains described above and an area within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use, and abandonment is expected to survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. Specifically excluded from the scheduling are the above ground elements of all modern fences, dykes, gates, and boundaries, the above ground elements of all overhead-line supporting poles and all manhole covers to allow for their removal and maintenance.

Statement of National Importance

The national importance of the monument is demonstrated in the following way(s) (see Designations Policy and Selection Guidance, Annex 1, para 17)

a.  The monument is of national importance because it makes a significant contribution to our understanding or appreciation of the past, in particular it adds to our understanding of the development castellated architecture and the siting of castles in the landscape from the late 11th/early 12th to 17th centuries.

b.  The monument retains structural, architectural, or other physical attributes which make a significant contribution to our understanding or appreciation of the development of castles in the medieval period. 

d.  The monument is a particularly good example of castle site with a long and complex development sequence. The upstanding castle building retains its structural characteristics to a marked degree, while other elements survive as substantial earthworks and buried archaeological features evidenced through crop-marking.  There are also indications of internal structures with a high potential to retain the buried remains of masonry and timber buildings and associated archaeological deposits. It is therefore an important representative of this monument type.

e.   The monument has research potential which could significantly contribute to our understanding or appreciation of the past, in particularly in relation to earth and timber and subsequent masonry castles in Scotland. It has the potential to retain significant information about the date, environment, housing, status and lifestyle of its occupants of this site over an extended period.

f.   The monument makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the historic landscape with particular reference to its relationship with the historic village of Torthorwald.

Assessment of Cultural Significance

This statement of national importance has been informed by the following assessment of cultural significance:

Intrinsic characteristics (how the remains of a site or place contribute to our knowledge of the past)

The monument is a good example of a motte and bailey castle, the remains of a medieval earth and timber castle dating to the late 11th century or early 12th century, that was later modified with the construction of  masonry hall house probably in the 13th century, and then again with the adaption of the hall house into tower house sometime in the 14th century.

The motte was a defensive structure consisting of an earthwork mound formed by altering a natural knoll. It is likely that it would have had a wooden palisade around the summit as well as internal structures such as a substantial wooden tower. Mottes often have associated baileys, enclosed courtyards adjacent to or surrounding the motte. At Torthorwald there is evidence of a very extensive bailey surviving as cropmarks in an arable field to the southwest. A similar enclosure may have existed to the northeast and east, but any remains are likely to have been removed by the construction of the modern village of Torthorwald.

The motte was significantly altered by the later construction of masonry buildings on the site. The 13th century hall house survives as masonry elements within the south wall of the later tower house, and three phases of reworking is evidenced by the remodeling and blocking of openings at various levels. The hall house was accessed by an external timber stair, fixings for which can still be seen in the south wall. The construction of the masonry hall house would likely have involved the dismantling of any timber tower or hall on the motte, although traces may still be preserved as burial archaeological deposits.

The 14th century reworking of the hall house to form a tower house was extensive, and much of the hall house was altered or removed. The construction of a masonry enclosure and range of buildings within the earthworks is of indeterminate date but is likely to be of this period. The masonry structure of the 14th century tower house shows that it was vaulted at two levels and incorporates evidence of the alterations to the hall house. The tower house is likely to preserve evidence of its construction, use and abandonment. It may also seal evidence of activity that predated it. The use of the castle may have continued into the 17th century, but there exist few details of the abandonment of the site.

The bailey to the southwest survives as cropmarks visible on oblique aerial photographs. The ditches which survive below the present ground surface are likely to preserve evidence of the date, construction, use, and abandonment of the bailey. Some potential internal features within the bailey are visible in the cropmark record, including a potential access road exiting the bailey to the east, and internal subdivisions. Further internal features such as industrial and domestic structures, midden pits, and other negative features may be preserved beneath the ploughsoil but not evident as cropmarks.

The earthworks preserved to the north, northeast, and east of the castle are of uncertain date, but are substantial and well-preserved. They respect the structures of the range to the northeast of the castle and may date to later phases of the castle. These earthworks are likely to preserve evidence of their date, construction, use, and abandonment. The enclosing ditch and other surviving features have an inherent capacity to retain palaeoenvironmental evidence within their fills. Such deposits can help us reconstruct the environmental conditions when the monument was built and in use, as well as details of the diet and economy of the inhabitants.

The site has a high archaeological potential to contain buried deposits, especially in the range of buildings to the north-east of the castle and to contain buried deposits within the buried features under the plough soil to the west, southwest, and south. Surviving deposits have potential to inform us of the dating sequence of the site and its various phasing, as well and providing details on the nature of occupation and subdivision across different areas of the castle, the defensive capabilities and architecture of the castle, castle and burgh planning and economic activity, and the use of domestic space across the late 11th or early 12th to 17th centuries.

Contextual characteristics (how a site or place relates to its surroundings and/or to our existing knowledge of the past)

The National Record of the Historic Environment of Scotland records almost 340 motte sites in Scotland. Almost 25% of these (86) are located in Dumfries and Galloway. Torthorwald Castle has been extensively modified but comparison with other examples may tell us about the construction, use and form of these early timber and earth castles. Varying in form, they chart the extent of royal and aristocratic power reflecting where land was granted by the Crown, often to incoming Anglo-Norman lords, in return for military service. The name Torthorwald means "the hill of Thorold" which is an Anglo-Danish surname and may indicate that the original Thorold was from England and chose to fortify this location as part of this process of feudalisation of southern Scotland.

Many are found in what were the peripheral parts of the medieval Scottish kingdom, where there were significant challenges to royal authority. Mottes were therefore local power centres that extended royal control to these areas but are often undocumented. They also have the potential to enable us to understand the impact of feudalism, patterns of land tenure and the evolution of the local landscape. The nearby scheduled motte and bailey at Rockhall Mote (scheduled monument SM707) to the south, and Castledyke Parks in Dumfries to the west (scheduled monument SM2472) are likely to be part of this pattern of planned land tenure in the local area.

The development of this site chart a common progression seen at important defensive sites and power centres during the medieval period. The transition from timber and earth construction to masonry castle can be seen at the nearby Lochmaben Castle (scheduled monument SM90205) and further south at Caerlaverock (scheduled monument SM90046). The development of a hall house into a larger tower house is also a development seen at other castle sites such as Craigie in Ayrshire (scheduled monument SM315). The conversion of hall houses into tower houses reflects the popularity of the tower form with its greater martial symbolism in late medieval Scotland.

Torthorwald Castle was located on a natural but much modified knoll overlooking the alluvial plain to the north of Dumfries and key routeways across the plain, between modern day Dumfries and Lochmaben. The terrace upon which the castle sits is clearly visible from the north across the plain as a prominent landmark. Views to and from the south are limited. The lack of large-scale development around Torthorwald and on the plain afford an opportunity to view and study the monument in a landscape not widely divorced from its original context, which is rare at extensively altered castles in southern Scotland, which often lie within urban or suburban areas such as at Lochmaben. Aspects of this wider manorial landscape can still be identified in sites such as that of the old parish church and place names such castleyards.

Associative characteristics (how a site or place relates to people, events, and/or historic and social movements)

The first recorded ownership of Torthorwald Castle was by David de Torthorwald in the 12th or early 13th century, as recognised in a Bruce Charter of 1218, although earlier occupation is likely as a motte and bailey of the initial Norman land-holding restructure of the late 11th century (MacGibbon & Ross, 1887; Maxwell-Irvine, 1993: 97). The castle later served as a stronghold for the Kirkpatrick and Carlyle families. It was first handed to the Kirkpatricks in 1321 through marriage, and then in 1418 to the Carlyles. In 1544 it was attacked by Michael Lord Carlyle and sacked, in his raid against his sister-in-law, Jonet Scrimgeour. In 1609 the castle passed by marriage to the Douglases of Parkhead and was occupied until the mid-17th century, when it fell into disrepair, with the roof removed in the early 18th century (Maxwell-Irvine, 1993: 106).



Historic Environment Scotland reference number CANMORE ID 66156 (accessed on 07/07/2020).

Local Authority HER/SMR Reference MDG6602 (accessed on 07/07/2020).

MacGibbon, D. and Ross, T. 1887-92, The castellated and domestic architecture of Scotland from the twelfth to the eighteenth centuries, Edinburgh, Vol. 1, pp.175.

Maxwell-Irvine, A.M.T, 1993, Torthorwald Castle, Transactions of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society, Vol. 68, pp. 97-106.

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.

We schedule sites and monuments that are found to be of national importance using the selection guidance published in Designation Policy and Selection Guidance (2019)

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 (see ‘legal documents’ above) showing the scheduled area is the designation of the monument under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. The statement of national importance and additional information provided are supplementary and provided for general information purposes only. Historic Environment Scotland accepts no liability for any loss or damages arising from reliance on any inaccuracies within the statement of national importance or additional information. These records are not definitive historical or archaeological accounts or a complete description of the monument(s).

The format of scheduled monument records has changed over time. Earlier records will usually be brief. Some information will not have been recorded and the map will not be to current standards. Even if what is described and what is mapped has changed, the monument is still scheduled.

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Torthorwald Castle looking east, during daytime, on an overcast day
Torthorwald Castle, looking south over the remains of the motte during daylight on a cloudy day

Printed: 21/05/2024 01:52