Scottish Tour Guide's Blog

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Clan Armstrong Crest.

This afternoon, I am posting information on key sites to be visited in context of a one day Clan Armstrong themed tour, in the region of Langholm and Newcastleton in the Scottish Borders region. Driving time from Edinburgh is about two hours, allowing for one stop en-route.

Carlenrig, This the site where King James V ( 1512-1542) had Johnnie Armstrong and fifty followers executed by hanging in 1530 in context of an initiative to control the unruly Borders region.

Johnnie Armstrong Memorial at Carlenrig.

John Armstrong Memorial in wall of burial ground next to Carlenrig

Next to the small town of Langholm where is a ruined castle. This building has long associations with the Armstrongs and Maxwells but was demolished around 1726. It remains under guardianship of the Clan Armstrong Trust.

NB: In 2012 Astronaut, Neil Armstrong was granted the Freedom (Key) of the Burgh of Langholm in recognition of his achievements and the fact his ancestors came from the Langholm region.

Artist’s impression of Langholm Castle.

Ruins of Langholm Castle today.

Next Gilnockie Tower, Canonbie . This 16th century tower is the only survivor from around 60-80 stone or wooden towers in the region of Eskdale. Ewesdale and Liddesdale. It is under care of Clan Armstrong due to historic Armstrong connection. An enthusiastic and well-informed local tour guide usually provides access and information.

Gilnockie Tower, Canonbie.

Inside Gilnockie Tower.

River Esk at Gilnockie Tower.

Next, back to  Langholm and the Eskdale Hotel where is a Clan Armstrong Exhibition together with information on the Border Reivers. Refreshments are available here.

Eskdale Hotel, Langholm

Clan Armstrong exhibition at Eskdale Hotel

Next to the village of Rowanburn: Here is the prominent sandstone sculpture of Lang Sandy, an Armstrong who was executed in 1606 because of his involvement in the murder of Sir John Carmichael, Scottish West March Warden, (a Government official) in 1600.

Lang Sandy effigy at Rowanburn

Next to Tourneyholm, on the Scotland-England border. During the reiving period this was a neutral zone for settling disputes via combat and/or negotiation. Prisoner exchanges also took place here.

Tourneyholm (on site of defunct railway line).

River Liddel at Tourneyholm.

English Border at Tourneyholm.

Next to Ettleton Cemetery and Milnholm Cross These sites are just south of Newcastleton.The cemetery includes a wall where a collection of rescued headstones has been assembled many of which are believed to have Armstrong provenance. The Milnholm Cross was erected to the memory of Alexander, the 2nd Chief of the Armstrong Clan. There is speculation that Alexander was buried under the Cross in 1320.

Armstrong Wall at Ettleton Cemetery.

Armstrong of Sorbytrees Memorial at Ettleton Cemetery.

View from Ettleton Cemetery.

Milnholm Cross, Newcastleton. 

Next to Mangerton Tower. This was residence of the Armstrong chiefs throughout the 16th century. The Tower measures 10.4m from NE to SW by 7.7m transversely over a wall 1.55m thick. The interior is filled with rubble. An armorial panel bears the date 1563 below which is a shield displaying a chevron over a lozenge and a sword flanked by the initials SA and EF. Access is via a farm track close to a holiday park.

Mangerton Tower.

Final site visit in region is Hermitage Castle which has only indirect connections with the Armstrongs. This ruin dates from the 14th and 15th centuries and is associated with the de Soulis, the Douglases and Mary Queen of Scots.

Hermitage Castle

Hadrian’s Wall at Birdoswald Roman Fort

This evening, I am posting information on Birdoswald Roman Fort on Hadrian’s Wall.

By way of background, the whole of the western thirty miles of the Wall, including the Birdoswald area, was originally built of turf but subsequently rebuilt in stone commencing at end of Hadrian’s reign (AD 138) and then again after reoccupation of the Wall in the 160s.

Birdoswald Roman Fort

The castellated house shown in the background of the above image has nothing to do with the Roman period but does represent continuity of occupation of the site from the Roman period through to the current day.

The Roman name for Birdoswald was Banna. More information:

  • One of the twelve primary forts on the line of the Wall.
  • Location is about 18 miles N.E.of Carlisle in N.W. England.
  • Sits atop an escarpment overlooking the River Irthing.
  • The north wall lies under the modern road but remaining three walls are visible.
  • The visible stone fort replaced an earlier turf fort on a different alignment. Later fort integrated within the Wall.
  • Regiment in occupation in 2nd century not known but in third and fourth centuries a unit from what is now Romania was stationed at Birdoswald, this was the First Aelian Cohort of Dacians. This force may have totalled about 500 men.
  • The site continued to be occupied after the Romans departed in the 5th century. At this stage the granaries were converted into a large timber hall of a type favoured by the Anglo-Saxons. This may have the base of a local chieftain filling a power vacuum.
  • There is evidence that the site continued to be occupied through to AD 800 (post-Roman) and then into the medieval and modern periods.
  • Birdoswald is on the line of the Hadrian’s Wall Path (hiking trail) and as such attracts many passing visitors.
  • There is a well resourced Visitor Centre together with shop and refreshment facilities on site.

Video clip of site.

Reenactment Roman potter at Birdoswald

East Gate at Birdoswald Roman Fort.

Birdoswald in context of local landscape, from South.

Granaries and site of later Anglo-Saxon structure.

Site overview with bath house reconstruction in top left

This evening, I am posting information on Segedunum (Wallsend Roman Fort), one of twelve principal forts along the line of Hadrian’s Wall in what is now northern England.

By way of a recap, Hadrian’s Wall was erected between the 120s and 130s AD. It stretched for eighty Roman miles and represented a physical consolidation of the northern frontier of the Roman Empire until collapse of the Empire (insofar as Britain was concerned) in the early 5th century.

Specific information on Segedunum:

  • Located near Newcastle-on-Tyne.
  • Was built in conjunction with an extension of the Wall later in the construction process.The Wall provided a link between the fort and the River Tyne, a natural barrier.From a military perspective the two forts if Segedunum and Arbeia could monitor the River Tyne all the way to the coast.
  • The fort’s ‘playing card’ layout is consistent with standard Roman design with:
    •  A double portalled gate at each side.
    • A section for infantry barracks.
    • H.Q. block.
    • Commanding Officer’s House.
    • Granary.
    • Cavalry barracks.
    • Hospital.
  • During the second century it is possible that the fort was garrisoned by the second cohort of Nervians from modern day Belgium. During the 3rd and 4th centuries the garrison was the fourth cohort of Lingones (mixed cavalry and infantry) from modern-day eastern France.
  • By the latter half of the second century all the buildings were of stone construction.
  • During its 300 year life it has been estimated that Segedunum experienced approximately 100 different commanders one of which was M Statius Priscus who subsequently became governor of Britain.
  • Modern day Buddle Street has partly obliterated the northern section of the fort containing the infantry barracks,

This site benefits from an extensive Visitor Centre featuring a tower with viewing platform and a reconstructed bath house.

View east towards River Tyne

Segedunum site at ground level.

Site of hospital at Segedunum.

Segedunum at ground level

Segedunum archaeology at ground level