There’s not so many castles in Scotland I haven’t been to at least once. Bothwell Castle, by the Clyde not so far out of Glasgow, is one I have been to more than once but it is also one of those places that doesn’t disappoint on a repeat visit. This post is actually being written on a bench in the courtyard at Bothwell Castle. Right now, probably many weeks before it actually gets posted, it is a gorgeous sunny and warm Bank Holiday Monday. There are a fair few other visitors, a bustle rather than a hustle, with children’s voices pretty much the only human noise interrupting the gentle chirruping birdsong. I’ve wandered about the castle and I’m content just to sit awhile and look about me at birds chasing each other about the donjon or around at the ruins, hazarding a guess at what fitted where.
I only left the house around lunchtime, having spent ages working out firstly which direction I wanted to go in then what was there after that. I fancied being out of the city. Castles were in my head but I couldn’t be bothered with a tour guide or I would have gone to Dundonald, down in Ayrshire. I like to form my own impressions of places like these. The decision made, I got the train into town, found some lunch then got on another train bound for Uddingston. The 25-minute walk took me along Uddingston Main Street, home to the only funeral directors I’ve ever seen with a community noticeboard in the window, then along Castle Avenue past some very posh hooses with fancy cars parked out front. One had no fewer than three flash motors in the drive. Another had a big front gate facing the road and more defences than this castle will have had in its pomp with the English bearing down on it.
I gather that this is one of those castles which served as a quarry for a century or two, a source of good quality stone for the townhouses up the road. Bothwell’s built out of red sandstone, much like some of the buildings in Dunbar, and I guess the stone is local too, with red soil on the ground into the bargain.
Bothwell is one of the more picturesque castles in Scotland, set high above the Clyde. The photo most often seen of this castle shows the south-eastern tower, just behind where I’m sitting on the left. Facing me is the huge donjon, less photogenic but the heart of the operation where the great and good laid their head at night. From the top I could see across the trees to the tower blocks and pylons of Glasgow’s East End, the great Clyde below, still a flowing river with fish and plantlife before it shortly reaches the big city. The donjon is subtly designed with arches and curves to be found in the unlikeliest places like on the stairs and even in the basement. Down there is a decent example of castle graffiti from 1786, in the reign of George III and predating the French Revolution and the US Constitution. It’s not the oldest I’ve seen – Crichton Castle has that distinction with a mark from a passing visitor from 1745 – but it’s good enough for me.
It’s good to see families dotted about the place. In this age of the iPad and instant entertainment, being out in the sunshine and running about is brilliant, even if they might not necessarily learn very much in the process. That’s not the point of the exercise, more being out in the world and being bright-eyed and curious for what’s around them, ducking in and out of doorways and climbing up and down stairs. I’m going to have another wander around before I go, to see what I’ve missed the first time and survey the kingdom from up high before I go back down amongst it. There’s a lot worse ways to spend an afternoon.