Tea, Sandwiches, Soup, and…Ancestral Castles?

This was by far one of the most personal experiences I had on the trip so you may have to bear with me a bit. In my last post, I talked about Emerson and the invisible eyeball in transcendentalism. This time was a little different but I’ll dive into that a little later.

The majority of this day was actually spent in one place, which was nice. We left Loch Lomond fairly early in the morning to make our way down to the Dumfries area. We didn’t have a lot planned out for the day so we decided we would just drive straight to the one place we had in mind: Caerlaverock Castle.

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Caerlaverock Castle belonged to Clan Maxwell starting in the 13th century (around 1220 AD.) It was a site occupied back even into Roman occupation. Due to its proximity to the Scottish-British border, the site was prone to conflict and in about the year 1220, King Alexander II granted the land to Sir John de Maccuswell (Maxwell) to help protect his kingdom against further invasion. The site of the original castle was eventually abandoned due to constant flooding and was moved about 200m to the site of the existing castle. The family was supposed to have moved into the new castle around the year 1277.

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During the following few centuries, the castle underwent many renovations many of which were due to damage taken during sieges. The castle was the site of a very intense siege during the Scottish Wars of Independence, there’s even a poem written about it. The castle mostly remained in the hands of the Maxwells until the 1600’s when the castle was besieged by a Protestant army (the Maxwells remained staunchly Catholic) and the castle was made uninhabitable. It remained mostly a romantic ruin until 1946 when it was placed in the hands of the state.

I’m sure by now the title (as well as my previous posts) gave away why I was so excited to see Caerlaverock Castle. Finding out that there were castles in my family history, especially to someone who is obsessed with the Middle Ages like I am, was an exhilarating discovery. It’s part of the reason I decided for this trip to go to England, Scotland, and Ireland. After hours of research on Ancestry.com, I was able to trace my family line back to the Maxwells, though only to a junior line.

The idea that members of my family, however far back, lived in the castle I was standing in struck me a lot harder than I ever would have imagined. I stood in the courtyard breathless. It was nice that there wasn’t a ton of people around, I felt like I was able to experience the castle and its history more deeply.

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I was extremely overwhelmed. I couldn’t speak to articulate my feelings. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. It was almost like I could see people walking around the castle, going about their daily lives as they would have hundreds of years ago. I tried to picture the castle as it would have been throughout the centuries. I explored every possible inch of the castle and read every sign. I would have slept there overnight if I could have. It was, again, like I didn’t exist as myself but as part of a larger story. This time, I wasn’t experiencing everything around me as it currently was, but rather as it would have been. It was an experience and a feeling I won’t ever forget. I’ll post a few photos but it was hard for me to take many at that moment.

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The view from our picnic table

After going to see the site of the old castle (not much is left. You can see where the stones made up the old walls and they have outlined the old buildings but it was still worth seeing) we grabbed soup, sandwiches, and tea from the tearoom next to the small gift shop and sat on a picnic bench. A lot of time was spent without much said staring at the red sandstone walls, a brilliant contrast to the bright green of the grass and the dark waters of the moat. All was basically silent except for the wind and it allowed you to really think and feel. Once we both felt able to process our emotions we discussed our individual experiences. All in all, we spent almost the entire day at Caerlaverock Castle. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

We left Caerlaverock early in the evening to make our way to Edinburgh for our last night in Scotland. I hated leaving. There was so much more I wanted to see. We only had a few days left however and I wanted to also see as much of Ireland as we possibly could. And off we went.

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