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Craignethan stands on a rocky promontory overlooking the Clyde. Although in ruinous condition, it possesses numerous features of interest. A great deal of careful restoration work has been carried out by the Scottish Development Department.
Craignethan was built to incorporate artillery defenses. It consists of a western outer courtyard, dating from c.mid-sixteenth century, rectangular in plan with two square plan corner towers, and surrounded on three sides by a curtain wall. On the east side the yard is protected by a ditch. In the west wall is a fine battlemented gateway, defended at low level by businesslike gun-ports. In the south-west corner was built a private house, a century after the courtyard. This house is still standing. To the east of this courtyard is the older part of the castle, built mostly between 1525 and 1545. This consists of a second courtyard surrounded by a thick barm kin with two rectangular towers' on the east, at the north-east and south-east corners, a median tower on the north and a turret projection containing a wheel staircase on the south. On the west was built a huge stone structure, running from north to south across the ends of the barm-kin, three stories equivalent in height, with walls over 4.9 metres (16 ft) thick, with its ends turning at right-angles inwards to meet the barm kin. This was equipped with gun-ports and battlements. This structure has now disappeared down to ground-level. It edged the ditch separating the inner courtyard from the outer courtyard.
The principal feature of the inner courtyard was the substantial rectangular tower-house, much of which still stands. It is about 10.7 metres (35 ft) tall, three-storeyed to the parapet, and built of rubble masonry. It is about 15.8 x 20 meters (52 x 65 ft). Its west wall is about 3.6?4 metres (12?13 ft) thick. The roof is missing but there is a wide parapet wall-walk. The tower has no gun-ports but they were plentiful in the flanking towers along the barmkin. The south-cast tower today shows gun-ports near the top which covered the slopes of the promontory at this particular point.
Craignethan was built by Sir James Hamilton, bastard son of the 1 st Earl of Arran, but because the Hamiltons had backed Mary, Queen of Scots against the forces of the Regent, the castle was slighted by order of the government in 1579.
Daniel M. Fernie, 57, from USA. wrote:
In reviewing what has been said about Craignethan on the Net I must heartily disagree. I believe it to a much older site than previously said. The origins of the Castle go back to Roman Times. I was but a child of 7 when I first visited the Castle in 1949. Then it was but a pile of stones. There was, I remember an Archaeologist from Glasgow University digging in and around the Tower House which in 1949 was
referred to as the Keep. Roman coins were discovered to the left of the Keep entrance and down by the little stone bridge where an ancient Roman road was discovered. I was present when the well inside the Keep was excavated. Norman helmets (2) were found along with swords and other artifacts. They were taken to Glasgow University for study. I don't know what their fate was. Back then I was told along with other school kids that this Keep was built by a Norman Baron by the name of Lambyn Asa in 1199. This same Baron had some connection with Glasgow Cathedral or the building of it. I do remember the shady tree beside what was then a
shallow Moat. We were sitting there when I and several others saw the apparition in period costume that frequents the courtyard area. I was present a few years later when two American Ladies were startled by the apparition of an old man in what is Andrew Hay's Mansion. I still wonder if this was James Hamilton, the “bloody butcher!” who was executed for his crimes? The lady in question required some medical attention and I remember it was very slow in coming. This is a site worthy of more attention. I don't believe James Hamilton built the Keep because on the Ground Floor you can still see the stalls where the Normans tethered their horses. This was not a feature of the 15th & 16th Century castles. I think James Hamilton embellished the old Keep for his own uses. I hope that you find this little titbit interesting. It is my dearest hope that one day I can return to Craignethan, a place that has kept my
interest for so many years.
William Cunningham, 41, from Britain wrote:
At Craignethan one hears the roar of the falls as it passes the castle. the location is secluded and neglected by the world but has a scene of total romanticism which inspired sir Walter Scott to use it as his model of Tilletudlam castle in his novel Old Mortality a classic study of Scottish 17th century religious warfare. This is for the castle aficionado stark, cold and Scots it lacks the grandeur of Edinburgh and sterling but it also lacks the tourists. This building epitomizes the 16th century Scots violent past a must see for our north American cousins, but look hard for it on the map!