Carscreugh Castle, Dumfries and Galloway
B-Road Off A75
~ History ~
1680 ~ James Dalrymple, Lord Stair, obtains the land through marriage and builds himself a tower house.
Later, Janet Dalrymple of Carscreugh, is forced to marry Sir David Dunbar, despite being in love with another man. On the night of her wedding she dies in suspicious circumstances.
1695 ~ The castle is abandoned and the family move to Lochinch Castle upon the death of James Dalrymple.
~ The fateful marriage ~
Janet was the daughter of James Dalrymple, 1st Lord Stair, a whiggish lawyer and politician with an eye to securing the further rise of his ambitious family. His daughter, meanwhile, had her eye on the penniless Archibald, 3rd Lord Rutherford, a man of exactly opposite political opinions (being a firm Jacobite) with declining fortunes.
Janet and Archibald had sworn to marry by the time her parents found out about it, and swore that she wouldn’t. In the meantime Lord Stair found a far more suitable bridegroom for his daughter in the form of a puce-faced young man with an unhealthy interest in farming, David Dunbar of Baldoon. When he asked for her hand, Janet, embarrassingly, was forced to admit that she had already offered it to Rutherford. Lady Stair, when she heard about this, immediately wrote to Rutherford, telling him in no uncertain terms that the engagement was off, but he refused to accept the rather terse missive, demanding an interview with his beloved and her mother in the hope of changing her mind. However, he hadn’t counted on the barrack-room legal skills of Lady Stair who rather neatly showed, using extensive Biblical quotations, that a betrothal vow made by a daughter when still under the care of her father was null and void if the father disagreed with it.
To cap this legal flourish, an apparently overawed and humbled Janet returned her half of a gold coin (Archibald had the other half) that they had split as a sign of their vow. Decisively outmanoeuvred, he swept out of the room, hissing at Janet: ‘For you, madam, you will be a world’s wonder.’ implying that something terrible would befall her. Archibald then left the country, never to marry nor return.
So on 24 August 1669, Janet Dalrymple and David Dunbar were married at the Kirk of Old Luce two miles from Carscreugh castle, the Dalrymple family seat. Her brothers who accompanied her to the church explain that her skin was as cold as ice and that she showed no emotion at all. A reception at Carscreugh ensued, after which the usual tradition was followed of locking the bride and groom in the bridal suite for the night. One of the groomsmen was given the key with strict instructions to keep the door locked so that no tricks could be played on the couple.
What took place behind that locked door is a matter of conjecture, save to say that some time later wild screaming was heard from the other side. After the groomsman had finally been persuaded that this wasn’t a joke in itself, the door was opened to reveal David Dunbar seriously wounded and bathed in blood. His bride sat some distance away, crouched near the fire, ‘dabbled in gore’ as one account rather vividly puts it. She had apparently gone quite insane and would only shout, ‘Tak’ up your bonny bridegroom.’ She died nineteen days later.
What led to this scene is still a mystery. The wounded David Dunbar survived and remarried, eventually dying from a fall from his horse in 1682. He, however, refused to ever mention the night of his wedding to Janet Dalrymple and took the secret with him to his grave. Whether she attacked him, he attacked (and fatally wounded) her or whether the insanely jealous Lord Rutherford secretly stole into the room and attacked his rival remains unknown to this day.
Carscreugh Castle is a ruined 17th century tower house with later additional residential wings.
The castle is accessible with care at the far side of a field next to the road next to a farm. There is surprisingly more of the castle to see when you get there and is worth a visit to explore its walls.
It is questionable how much of a defensive structure this was which quickly becomes apparent when exploring the ruins. More of a mansion with the appearance of a castle, but nonetheless and interesting ruin to explore.