Welcome to Castle Douglas
The setting of the town of Castle Douglas could not be prettier: at the northern end of the Carlingwark Loch in the heart of the gentle countryside of Dumfries and Galloway. The town itself, an important centre for this fascinating region, is an attractive one with an interesting history.
Around 5000 years ago Scotland's nomadic peoples began to settle and build substantial dwellings. In Scotland and Ireland a common type of construction which accompanied this development was the crannog. Crannogs were artificial islands built on lochs for security. Over two hundred years ago Carlingwark Loch was drained and four of the Loch's small islands were discovered to be crannogs. The crannogs had been inhabited for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Along with an Iron Age canoe, tools and weapons, Bronze Age artefacts, such as a dagger, were also discovered.
In any case, it was not until the medieval period when the town became a prominent one. Its prominence was due to the area's association with one of the most important families in Scottish history: the Douglases. The Douglases became a force to be reckoned with in the 14th century when James Douglas, otherwise known as the Black Douglas, became the most trusted of the King Robert the Bruce's generals during the Wars of Independence. James' loyalty and ferociousness for the cause led the king to grant him extensive border lands, including Dumfries and Galloway. If anyone could protect the border, he reasoned, it would be the Black Douglas.
Alas, the Black Douglas had little time to enjoy his new found riches. On the king's death he was entrusted to carry his heart to the holy land and was killed on route in battle with the Moors in Spain (Bruce's heart was carried back to Scotland and buried at Melrose). The lands passed to his son, Archibald Douglas, who as a part of a project to fortify his lands built Threave Castle, at Castle Douglas, on a small island in the River Dee, where he died in 1400. Threave Castle became the seat of the Douglases during a time in which the family increasingly came into conflict with the crown.
The basis of the feud was the Douglases fierce independence in the face of the court's attempts at political centralisation. In the 15th century the conflict took a more bloody twist when the 5th Earl was murdered at the court of James II in Edinburgh. James II personally stabbed to death the 8th Earl at Stirling Castle before throwing his body out the window (a plaque marks the spot where his body landed). In 1455 James II decided on an all out attack on the Douglases when he caught wind that the English king was helping fund the new fortifications at Threave. After a three month siege the castle finally fell when the fort's commanders were offered bribes and promises of safe conduct. The castle was granted to a number of families before being abandoned in 1640, after which time it fell into ruin. Nonetheless, visiting these most romantic of ruins, which has probably not changed much since the time of the mighty Douglases, (on their secluded island only reachable by boat) is an essential part of any visit to Castle Douglas.
Although the fort fell into decline in the 17th century the town prospered. This was due to the construction of the military road, from the central belt to Portpatrick on the Rhinns of Galloway - a project instigated by James VI to facilitate the settlement of protestant Scots in Northern Ireland. The town was given another boost in the late 18th century due to the entrepreneur, Sir William Douglas, who redeveloped it as a centre for cotton spinning in the early days of the industrial revolution. At this time the town took its current form and the name was changed from Carlingwark to Castle Douglas, in honour of its patron.
The impact of the woollen trade was fairly short lived, but Castle Douglas maintained its position as a regional hub. The old military road continued to be important: its route is still followed by the A75. On top of that, the railway arrived in 1859 and the line remained for just over a century. Many of the town's hotels, which owe their origins to the old days' coaches, were redeveloped at this time to deal with more traffic and the dawn of the age of tourism. Castle Douglas retains its position as a hub, an important market town for the region and a base from which to explore the gentle countryside and proud history of Dumfries and Galloway.