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Orchardton Tower

Orchardton Tower is a ruined tower house overlooking the Rough Firth near Dumfries. It is notable for being Scotland's only circular plan tower house. It is in the care of Historic Scotland as a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

Tower Construction

The tower house was built in the late 1450s by John Cairns. It was probably on the site of an earlier Douglas stronghold.

In 1456 James II of Scotland gave John Cairns the lands around Orchardton for his part in helping to overthrow the 'Black' Earls of Douglas. Cairns had probably assisted in the royal siege of nearby Threave Castle, the seat of Earls of Douglas, in 1455.

Despite Orchardton being the only cylindrical tower house in Scotland its plan isn't entirely unfamiliar. In common with many other tower houses its entrance is at first floor level. The tower tapers towards the top like an Iron Age broch. Its walls are about 3 metres thick with very few openings.

Rounding out the defences the wall are machiolated and the building and its yard in front were surrounded by a high barmkin walls. At the top of the tower a corbelled parapet runs along and provides superb views over the surrounding countryside.

The Maxwell Family

The Cairns family held on to Orchardton until the early 1600s when the estate was sold, in pieces, to Robert Maxwell, 1st Baronet Orchardton.

Orchardton Tower passed down through the Maxwell family until the religious upheaval caused by the Protestant Reformation caused a rift in the family.

Robert Maxwell, 7th Baronet Orchardton was born in France and was unaware of his inheritance. He gained a commission in the French army and distinguished himself in the battle during the War of the Austrian Succession. In 1745 he sailed to Scotland and participated in the Battle of Culloden on the Jacobite side. His status as a French soldier was probably all that saved his life.

A few years later, back in France, he learned of his claim to the Baronetcy. He pursued it through the Scottish courts and in 1771 reclaimed his inheritance as the 7th Baronet. His story is said to have inspired Sir Walter Scott's Guy Mannering.

He didn't waste any time abandoning his tower and set about building Orchardton House nearby. Unfortunately it bankrupted him and the estate was sold to the Douglas family in 1785.

With the much more comfortable manor house on the estate it's unlikely that anyone stayed in the tower after that and it was allowed to fall into ruin.

Modern Day

Today Orchardton Tower is in a fairly ruinous condition. Like many castles the barmkin walls have been plundered of much of their stone. The top two floors have collapsed and there is no roof on the building.

The tower is under the care of Historic Scotland. It is designated as a Scheduled Ancient Monument. There are no facilities at the site, though there is limited car parking.

Status: Monument
Owner: Historic Scotland

Entrance to Orchardton Tower
Entrance to Orchardton Tower

Orchardton Tower with Screel Hill in the background
Orchardton Tower with Screel Hill in the background

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