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‘The Strength of Liddesdale’Hermitage, in deepest Liddesdale, is a lonely spot. The feeling of foreboding is heightened by the presence of the awesome castle ruin. It has inspired colourful local legends – of the wicked Lord Soules and of a giant Englishman with impregnable armour who drowned in the nearby Hermitage Water. In truth, though, Hermitage has no need of myths. It has a history of torture, treason – and romantic trysts – sufficient for a host of castles.
Border bulwarkThe mighty stone castle rises up from impressive earthworks, the latter all that remain of the original castle, built by Lord de Soules in the 1240s. The present castle was begun by an English lord, Sir Hugh de Dacre, around 1360, and transformed out of all recognition by his successor, William, 1st Earl of Douglas, one of Scotland’s most powerful noblemen, who created the awesome stronghold we admire today.
A perilous journeyHermitage Castle was also the scene of a dramatic episode in the life of Mary Queen of Scots. In October 1566, her trusted noble James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, was wounded in a skirmish with reivers (cattle thieves). On hearing the news, Mary rode out from Jedburgh, a 25-mile (40 km) journey across difficult terrain. She fell perilously ill on the return leg and came very close to death.
Romantic ruinIn 1603, when Mary’s son, James VI of Scotland, became James I of England also, Hermitage lost its strategic importance. It was abandoned by its noble owners and left to decay. But Sir Walter Scott, through his writings, helped arouse a spirit of nostalgia among Scots, and during the 19th century the haunting ruin was preserved for posterity by its owners, the Dukes of Buccleuch and Queensberry.