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Issue 60 - Neidpath Castle - The Border Sentinel

Scotland Magazine Issue 60
December 2011

 

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Neidpath Castle - The Border Sentinel

Charles Douglas visits the elegant tower house watching over the Tweed

It was the first ever World Chutney Festival that recently took me to Neidpath Castle, just a mile from the old market town of Peebles in the Scottish Borders. I have often driven past on the Glasgow road and caught a glimpse of this elegant tower house rising high above the River Tweed, but I had never previously had the chance to explore the extensive interiors.

It was a curious association, a medieval tower house in Scotland and chutney, which seemingly originated in Asia, but it nonetheless drew in the foodies; a great success judging from the large numbers turning out to sample the wealth of home made condiments, jams, sauces, and cheeses on offer.

And it also proved a superb opportunity to climb the battlements and survey the surrounding landscape, the great river below, the wooded slopes, and the undulating hills on all sides. On this occasion, despite most of the rooms were turned over to food retailing purposes, nobody could fail to be aware of the sturdy strength of such fortresses built to withstand the ferocious attacks of English raiders in the first half of the second millennium.

Garrisoned against Royalist forces in 1645, allegiances were transferred to the King’s party, and during Oliver Cromwell’s invasion of Scotland five years later, its occupants were obliged to surrender.

Cromwell’s usual practice was to demolish such pockets of defiance, but Neidpath Castle somehow survived and remains a remarkable survivor from a bygone age, its dramatic location making it the natural candidate for a series of film dramas. Well maintained by the current owner, Lady Elizabeth Benson, daughter of the twelfth Earl of Wemyss, it is in the process of discovering a new lease of life as a venue for weddings, musical evenings, private parties and small business conferences. Neidpath Castle Cottage, within the grounds is available for let and can accommodate five person and a child.

Barns Tower is ideal for two and a romantic honeymoon location, and Chapelhope Farm House is an idyllic family retreat at the head of St Mary’s Loch.

An original fortified house was probably erected here in the 12th century by the heroic Sir Simon Fraser of Oliver when he was appointed High Sheriff of Tweeddale. One of Scotland’s unsung heroes, Fraser fought alongside William Wallace and Robert the Bruce in the Scottish Wears of Independence, and like Wallace was captured and met a grisly end in 1306 being hung, drawn and quartered with his head impaled on a spike on London Bridge.

The barony of Neidpath, however, remained with his descendants, but passed through marriage into the Hay family. It was the product of this union, Sir William de Haya, who is thought to have built the present castle in the latter half of the 14th century. When his grandson, Sir William Hay of Locherworth, married Joanna, the daughter and heiress of Sir Hugh Gifford of Yester, the Hay family acquired Yester Castle in East Lothian, which thereafter became their principal seat.

Neidpath Castle nevertheless held on to its strategic importance and, in the centuries that followed, played host to both Mary Queen of Scots and her son James VI. For his support of the Royalist Cause, John Hay of Yester was created Earl of Tweeddale in 1646.

It was an incestuous time in the burgeoning Scottish Aristocracy. Earl John’s son, the second Earl, married the only daughter of the first Duke of Lauderdale. To begin with all was well, with Tweeddale lavishly remodelling his castle and planting an avenue of yew trees. But alas, a quarrel soon ensued between him and his father-in-law leading to expensive litigation which impoverished both families.

After Lauderdale’s downfall from Royal favour, the first Earl of Tweeddale was created Marquis of Tweeddale in 1694, but by 1686 the family’s finances had already obliged him to sell Neidpath to the Duke of Queensberry, who purchased the estate for his second son, William Douglas, Earl of March, who coincidentally was married to Tweeddale’s granddaughter.

Thus Neidpath passed to the powerful Douglas family, but in 1778, the third Earl of March inherited the Queensberry title and estates, and Neidpath was leased to a series of tenants, the most notable being the Scottish Enlightenment philosopher Adam Ferguson of Raith, sometimes described as the father of modern sociology.

On the death of the unmarried fourth Duke in 1810, the castle, along with the earldom of March and Neidpath Castle were inherited by his kinsman the eighth Earl of Wemyss (as heir male of his great-great grandmother Lady Anne Douglas), although the Queensberry dukedom passed to the Scotts of Buccleuch.

Thereafter, the castle and lands were retained by Wemyss family, passing to Lady Elizabeth Benson.

More commodious on the inside than it appears, the property remains a strictly fortified house with few windows, and those that do exist have iron bars.

The first hall great hall and the basement have vaulted ceilings. The battlements are roofed and there is a balconied sentry walk.

An archway in the grounds is decorated with the goat’s head emblem of the Hays and the strawberries of the Fraser family. Most impressive of all, however, is the setting high above the River Tweed within the rolling Peeblesshire hills.

The castle is said to be haunted by the ghost of Lady Jean Douglas, a daughter of William, Earl of March. Forbidden to marry the Laird of Tushielaw because he was considered to be below her station, she pined for her lover and when her parents finally relented and allowed him to visit her, he did not recognise her. She died of a broken heart and to this day walks the corridors of the castle in a full length brown smock with a large white collar.

Sir Walter Scott immortalised her in his poem The Maid of Neidpath, but although I certainly kept an eye out for her, I have to confess that she was not outstandingly noticeable among the crowds at the World Chutney Festival. No doubt she preferred it that way.

INFO
Neidpath Castle, Peebles, Scottish Borders

For details, contact:
Wemyss & March Estates Management Co Ltd, Estate Office, Longniddry, East Lothian EH32 0PY Telephone: +44 (0) 1875 870 201
Fax: +44 (0) 01875 870 620
Email: estateoffice@wemyssandmarch.co.uk
Web Site: www.neidpathcastle.com