Exploring Dumfries and Galloway, you may spot the ruins of a towering castle in the far distance – separated from the Mainland by the flowing River Dee. This is Threave Castle, a mysterious and magical structure that fended off the assault of James II, was built by Archibald the Grim, and is one of the curious castles to come and visit in Scotland.
And while Historic Environment Scotland maintains the current Castle, Threave Castle has had an eminent history that includes many of Scotland’s most notable monarchs. We’ll be covering everything you need to know about the history of Threave Castle, how to get there & details to know, and the top attractions at the castle.
At the time of writing, Threave Castle is under high-level masonry inspections and is not open to visitors. Check online if you can visit Threave Castle during your journey.
In This Post
History of Threave Castle
Like many castles, Threave Castle’s history begins deep in the annals of history. Studies and historians attribute the origins of Threave Castle back to the 13th century. The first records that mention Threave Castle officially were when the death of Archibald the Grim was recorded, who died at the castle in 1400. Archibald was said to have designed this mighty stronghold, elevating the curtain wall into one of the first tower houses in Scotland.
In addition to an excellent tower house, there was a harbour, hall, and chapel built by Archibald the Grim during his residence.
Fall of the Black Douglases
The Douglas family had great success after Archibald the Grim, and they conquered Castle Douglas, Lochmaben Castle, and Bothwell Castle. Archibald Douglas, son of Archibald, as mentioned earlier, took ownership of the castle and became a Regent to the young King James II.
However, the Douglas family’s luck would not last much longer due to bad marriages, unexpected deaths, and unlucky allegiences. The turning point escalated when the King of Scotland summoned Douglas to aid him in dispatching the rebellious Earls of Crawford and Ross. Unfortunately, Douglas had already signed the support of the Earls and was killed by the King and thrown out the castle window.
Siege of Threave
At the threat of the King, the brother of the killed Douglas, James Douglas, made additions to Threave Castle – including the famous artillery fortification and earthworks to keep the north portion of the castle safe. The Earls of Crawford and Ross were defeated, and the King’s army marched upon Threave Castle, besieged it for two months.
The castle was not taken, and the artillery fortification prevented the army of King James from doing so. Threave Island remained safe thanks to innovative defence years ahead of its time, but King James managed to pay the supporters of Douglas and persuade them to surrender. But let me know that the garrison surrendered only because of bribery, not because the Lord of Galloway was bested by a siege.
Threave as a Royal Fortress
The Crown annexed Threave Castle, and ownership was passed between various people as gifts from Kings, including King James III, IV, and Charles I. However, none of the occupants made as much historical significance as the mighty Douglas family that once owned Threave.
During the Bishop’s Wars and Napoleonic Wars, Threave Castle was occupied by French prisoners, a Spaniard armada, and an army of Covenanters. After these battles, the five storeys and outer wall of Threave Castle were given to the public. Today, Historic Environment Scotland covers the repairs and maintenance of Threave Castle – a national trust organisation that lets visitors worldwide come and see it.
How to Get There & Details to Know
Threave Castle sits in the historic Scotland region of Dumfries and Galloway and is easily accessible from major towns like Dumfries. Here are some essential details to know when visiting the ancient castle of Threave.
Entrance to Threave Castle costs £6 per ticket for adults, £3.60 per ticket for children, and £4.80 per ticket for concession. There is a car park close to the castle from which you can walk to the court, but you must use a small boat to reach Threave Island.
There are a few access restrictions for visitor access to Threave Castle, and those who have a disability may find it difficult to travel across the river.
How to Get There by Car
From Dumfries, Threave Castle is only a 35-minute car journey away. Take the A780 and A75, and follow them until you reach the castle. There are information boards that will lead you right to the castle, which is only a short boat trip away.
How to Get There by Transit
The closest point to Threave Castle if you’re taking public transport is at Hightae Farm – an hour’s travel from Dumfries’ Whitesands Bus Stop.
Attractions at Threave Castle
The massive tower house at Threave Castle is home to many historical attractions, as you’d expect from such a famous location in Dumfries and Galloway. Here are the top locations you need to keep an eye out for while you’re there.
See Kelton Mains Farm
Threave Castle is a walking journey that lets you enjoy the surrounding nature reserve, but one of the top spots along the way is the Kelton Mains Farm. Don’t be surprised if you see a cow or two from the pockets of woodland dotted throughout the expansive Mains Farm.
Explore Threave Castle’s Interior
Threave Castle is a mighty structure with plenty of portions of the interior that still hold a powerful magnitude. The drum towers of Threave Castle stretch almost 30 metres into the sky, and although there is a precautionary measure to stop visitors from exploring too far, the interior is one of the best parts of the castle to see.
Ring the Threave Castle Bell
This one is for the young ones joining you at Threave Castle. You can ring the bell near the River Dee and see the small boat and boatman bringing you and your family from the shores to Threave Island. Ringing the bell is a time-honoured tradition for arriving at Threave Castle.
Spot the Artillery Fortification at Threave
Come and see the prominent artillery fortification that held back the forces of King James. Although the castle was sieged, the sophisticated artillery defence was able to bombard the army to submission. Those fortifications are still present at Threave Castle – while it is no Mons Meg, it is still a substantial part of Scotland’s history.
Take in the views of Dumfries & Galloway
From Threave Island, the River Dee winds around the Castle, granting picturesque views of the surrounding Dumfries and Galloway. Atop the castle’s walls, you can see the extent of the property and the many different types of fauna and flora that persist throughout the River Dee.