Tour guests at Mangerton Tower

Blog post Sept 4th 2018

Today, we embarked on a twelve-hour, Glasgow-Langholm-Glasgow tour with emphasis on Clan Armstrong in the Langholm region of the Scottish Borders.

First stop was the village of Rowanburn, a former coal mining area, where there is a sandstone sculpture of Lang Sandy Armstrong. In 1606 Lang Sandy, together with eleven of his sons, was executed for the murder of a government official in 1600.

Lang Sandy Armstrong

Next to the key site of Gilnockie Tower which is believed to date from the 16th century. Although only a handful of these structures remain, Gilnockie is typical of a defended, high status residence which was common in the Borders region during the lawless era of the 14th-16th centuries. Although now designated as the Clan Armstrong Centre there is no documented proof of connection with any Armstrongs prior to the 20th century although, at very least, Armstrong leaders would have been familiar with the type of structure and occupied similar buildings in the locality whether built of wood or stone.

Tour group at Gilnockie Tower

Gilnockie Tower has been rescued and restored by a generous (Armstrong) owner. The interior has been furnished and decorated to provide a flavour of the original interior through 21st century eyes but in its day would have been cold, damp, smokey, smelly insanitary and overcrowded with prize animals likely occupying the ground floor which may have been made of compacted soil. Such living conditions would, of course, have been par for the course during the 14th-16th centuries.

Second floor bedroom at Gilnockie Tower

Interestingly, the well-worn entrance step comprises a stone incorporating cup and ring marks which are usually dated to the Neolithic period of around 5000 years ago.

Neolithic era ‘cup and ring’ markings on entrance stone

Next to the town of Langholm where we visited the ruins of Langholm Castle, which is associated with the Armstrongs, and then lunch at the Eskdake Hotel which has a room dedicated to Clan Armstrong.  Moon walker, Neil Armstrong was granted the Key to Langholm in recognition of his achievement in space and personal ancestry connection with the town.

Remains of Langholm Castle.

Illustration of Langholm Castle during the reiving period.

Next to Tourneyholm. this straddles the border between England and Scotland. During the lawless, reiving period this was a site acknowledged by both the English and Scots as a neutral zone where prisoners were exchanged and disputes settled by personal combat. En-route to Tourneyholm we cam across a farmer managing his sheep with a border collie.

Farmer working sheep in Scottish Borders

Harebells at Tourneyholm

Tourneyholm site.

Next to Ettleton Cemetery where can be seen the ‘Armstrong Wall’ of ancient burial markers plus others with inscriptions dating from the 19th century onwards.

Armstrong Wall at Ettleton.

Landscape view of Ettleton Cemetery.

Next to the nearby Milnholm Cross.

Milnholm Cross

It is believed this cross was erected circa 1320 in memory of Alexander Armstrong, the Laird of Mangerton, following his murder at nearby Hermitage Castle. The cross is 8 feet 3 inches high. Just below the cross-head can be seen the initials MA and AA.

Next, across the valley to the ruins of Mangerton Castle. This was a Tower House and important power base for the Armstrongs at a time when the entire Borders region was lawless. There is a record of one Alexander Armstrong at the Tower in 1378 followed by Armstrong family ownership through to 1629 when the property was transferred to Francis Scott, Thereafter, the Tower appears to have gone into decline and now just comprises the base and foundations. There is an armorial stone dated 1563 with initials S.A. and E.F.

Mangerton Tower.

Final visit was to Carlenrig at Teviothead.This where the powerful reiver, Johnnie Armstrong came to an untimely end.

Carlenrig Execution Site

Johnnie Armstrong was head of the Armstrong clan. He and his followers agreed to meet King James V at Carlenrig, apparently under the impression he was to be pardoned for his past activities. However, whether the King had a change of mind on the day or had always intendcd to entrap the Armstrongs may never be known but the outcome was Johnnie Armstrong and his fifty followers were executed by hanging at Carlenrig on the day, in 1530, in context of an initiative to control the unruly Borders region. A driver for the King’s action may have been to reduce tension with the English authorities due to the incessant cross-border raiding by the Armstrongs and others.

Today, Carlenrig is an obscure spot which rarely features on maps. It is just south of Teviothead, about 29 miles south of Melrose on the A7. Here can be found a plaque to Johnnie Armstrong in the cemetery opposite the parish church.

Carlenrig Burial Ground.

Finally, we embarked on a two-hour return trip to Glasgow where we arrived about 9.00pm.