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Places of Interest about Girvan
The Castles of Carrick


CARRICK is as famous for its old ruined keeps as the Border itself. Within the bounds of its nine parishes, there are at present the vestiges of not fewer than twenty-nine castles, each at least 200 years old, and some of them much older. Several of these are still inhabited, though considerably modernised, but the most are mere roofless ruins, clad in ivy, and tottering to their fall.

Before castles of stone and lime were built among us, our forefathers contented themselves with camps or forts, usually placed on the summit of round hills, and called Duns by them. These Duns were defended by a ditch, and a mound of earth surmounted by a stout palisade of wood. There are many of these British Forts in our midst, but the largest and most complete is at Dinvin, close by the highway leading from Girvan to Colmonell, and about four miles from the former. It is oval in shape, with double ditches running round it.

The oldest of the castles of Carrick are Turnberry and Loch Doon, and these date back probably as far as the year 1200. At that time, strongholds consisted of a Tower, enclosed .by a fortified wall and moat. Across this moat was a drawbridge, and in the wall a portcullis. The groove of the portcullis may still be seen at Turnberry, as well as the ditch or moat.

As time went on, the smaller lairds began to fortify their houses too, although not on such a grand scale as the others. They built square keeps, with walls of prodigious thickness. On the ground floor was the storeroom, with the "pit" or prison underneath, entered by a trap door. On the second storey was the large vaulted Hall, where laird and servants dined together at one table, and where the latter slept at night on the floor; while the upper storey contained the private apartments of the laird and his family. Cassillis is perhaps the only specimen we have of castles of this date. Its walls are 16 feet in thickness, and small chambers have been dug into the heart of them. This period of castle-building extends from 1300 to 1400.

The castles of the third period extended from 1400 to 1542, and differed from those of the second period in having thinner walls, and adding a staircase tower to the square keep. The interior arrangements were much the same as in the former period, although, as the times grew more peaceful, the apartments were enlarged, and the buildings became more ornamental. In a few cases, too, the castles were built on a courtyard plan, as at Ardstinchar and Dunure. Besides these two, the Carrick castles of this third period may be thus enumerated:—Dalquharran, Thomaston, Pen-kill, Carletpn, Craigneil, Kilkerran, Ailsa, Knockdaw, Loch-moddy.

The rest of our castles belong to the fourth period, extending from 1542 to 1700, and form the connecting link between the old feudal fortresses and the modern mansion-houses. For when safety was assured, men began to look to their comfort. The old site on the craggy rock, overhanging the sea or deep glen, began to be abandoned for smooth lawns facing the sun. The days of war had gone, and the days of peace had come. Our castles of this fourth and latest period are—Newark, Maybole, Knockdolian, Killochan, Baltersan, Kilhenzie, Greenan, Pinwherry, Kirk-hill, Keirs, Brounstoun, Dunduff, Ardmillan, Bargany, Trochrague.

In these old castles, quoin turrets were a marked feature. The entrance door, too, was usually approached by a wooden ladder, which was removed in seasons of danger. The defenders placed themselves behind a parapet wall on the roof, and shot their arrows, or hurled their stones from thence. Each of them had also an artificial mound called a "Hill of Justice" where they held their courts, and a Dule Tree where they hanged their criminals; for every baron in early times had the power of "pit and gallows" over his own retainers, and exercised it at his discretion.


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