Historian, presenter, writer. David C. Weinczok lives and works in Scotland and has visited over 160 castles. He works with major heritage organisations and has appeared as an expert in a BBC2 documentary. Follow him on Twitter at @TheCastleHunter
Published November 6th 2016
Renaissance castle with a dark secret
For those who think you need to escape to the Highlands for romantic castles and stunning scenery, I present Crichton Castle. An architectural jewel perched above the meandering River Tyne, it is one of the most naturally photogenic sites I've ever encountered in Scotland.
Approaching the castle in the dwindling evening light
Here's how Scottish castles tend to work: someone builds a tower which forms the core of the castle, then later generations add a walled courtyard. Think of the tower as the nucleus, and the rest as the engine which powers it. We know that John de Crichton built the tower around the year 1400, and the ruins now include a magnificent courtyard and a very peculiar stable block. I say peculiar because of its fetching doorway, a highly stylised arch that feels more Moorish or southern Mediterranean than Scottish.
Peaking out a window to the stable block and lands beyond
Turns out there's a good reason for that. The Crichtons were one of the most powerful families in Scotland in the 1400s, and they got around. Many Scots served throughout Europe as mercenaries, and several Crichtons went along and saw firsthand the cutting edge architecture in Italy, France, and even the Holy Land. They brought this knowledge back with them, and at Crichton Castle it culminated with the Italianate diamond facade in the courtyard. There is quite simply nothing else like this in Scotland, with the closest comparison being the Renaissance palace at Linlithgow.
The only downside is there's not much history from the castle itself, as it was only occupied for less than 200 years and no big events occurred in its walls. However, the reason the Crichtons left it was because they were disgraced - in 1440 William Crichton orchestrated the 'Black Dinner' at Edinburgh Castle, where his rival, the Lord of Douglas, was butchered in front of the 16-year-old King James II. Pipes played and a black bull's head was served to Douglas before he was killed. If that rings a vague bell, it's because it's the event that inspired the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones. Several decades and scandals later and their name was effectively blacklisted, their lands forfeit to the crown. There is, in fact, a distinct chance that Douglas was wined and dined at Crichton Castle before making his fateful journey to Edinburgh.
Woodcut depicting Douglas being seized at the Black Dinner