"The Castle of Park at Glenluce in Galloway"
by Sir John Hay of Park, Bt.
The Castle of Park rises dramatically from the summit of a low hill about ten miles due east of Stranraer. The top of the hill forms a small plateau providing ample space for the stables and byres that undoubtedly stood round the tower in earlier days, as well as the Castle's vegetable gardens and, in the 18th century, quite possibly a formal garden too. The slopes of the hill are now densely wooded with tall trees which block out the distant viewes of the tower, so that it is now only at roof level that the occupants can get a glimpse fo the Irish Sea a mile to the south. The Water of Luce, quite a broad stream, flows past one flank of the hill and just beyond the stream lies the picturesque village of Glenluce (known throughout Galloway simply as "the Village").
The first-time visitor to this rather remote corner of Scotland may be pleasantly surpised by the beauty of the lush and fertile countryside. The bleak hills of the Galloway Highlands, which rise to 2,700 feet, stretch down to within a few miles of Glenluce but the farmland along the coast is marvelously green and pleasant in the mild and rather damp climate. The Hays of Park who built the Castle will have benefited greatly fom the fertility of their farms running up into the hills along the Water of Luce. The whole district is notable for small lochs and woods. They may have had some fish from the sea as well, but it is not easy to get down to the sea from Glenluce.
The location is not quite as idyllic as this may sound. The heavy road traffic to the port of Stranraer thunders past the foot of the hill but is barely heard on top, where a nice little bungalow is currently in use as a coalyard, quite close to the Castle. On the other hand, the railway line along the other flank of the hill was torn up years ago, and only the soaring arches of the magnificent viaduct still remain to provide a short cut from the Castle to the village.
The Castle of Park was built in 1590, and the builder wished you to know that, for a stone plaque over the door still reads:
"Blissit be the name of the Lord. This
verk vas begyn the first day of March
1590 be Thomas Hay of Park
and Janet Makdoval his spous."
(Blessed be the name of the Lord. This
work was begun the first day of March
1590 by Thomas Hay of Park
and Janet Macdowell his spouse.)
These were anxious times in Scotland, where society was still torn by lawless feuds and raids, in sharp contrast to Elizabethan England where more settled conditions had enabled the English gentry to build sprawling manor houses with glass windows and little attempt at defense. In any case, the use of canon had made mediaeval ideas of defense obsolete, but in Scotland the danger lay in the swift midnight raid by a small band of horsemen. The best protection against that sort of attack was a "house of fence" (or defence) - with a tall stone tower with massively thick walls at ground level and only a few small windows for the upper floors. Over the years, some of these windows were enlarged for comfort's sake, and several high Goergian windows now soften the formidably stark appearance of the old tower - but not much!
The Castle never had battlements or turrets, which would have been considered merely ornamental at this period; all four gables are finnished with crow steps. The only entrance is a wide rather low door that seems at first sight to be strangely unprotected - until you notice a small port-hole at a right angle to the door, well placed to put a bullet or a spear into the side of any unwelcome visitor.
The Castle is L-shaped, and the smaller wing is occupied soley by the broad spiral staircase. As you enter the front door, you turn left onto the stairs, which winds up to the right. This "turnpike" arrangement meant that a right-handed intruder trying to force his way up the stairs would find his weapon turned to the wall, whereas a right-handed defender could us his sword or pike without obstruction. The stairs and ground floor are built entirely of massive stonework apart from the doors. Half-hidden from guests by the open front door was a stonevaulted passageway leading to two store-rooms and the kitchen, all vaulted. Half of the kitchen was used for preparing and serving food; the other half of the floor was talken up by a most enormous fireplace but that was a very small room, within the fireplace, which may have where the cook slept.
The Laird's living quarters started with the great Hall on the floor above the kitchen and stores. The Hall served not only as the family's dining room and reception area but also sometimes as a baronial court. It occupied the entire first floor. except for a small cabinet built into the wall to one side of the great flue from the kitchen. with a rather mysterious platform above it which historians think may have conecealed a small canon. The spare space to the other side of the flue was occupied by a very narrow spiral staircase to the room above. Another staircse in the opposite corner of the Hall. also within the thickness of the wall, led down to one of the store rooms. Both staircases were at one time concealed behind a wooden panelling, but that disappeared long ago. Each of the two floors above the Hall could accomodate two or three large rooms. each provided with a gardrobe within the thickness of the wall - in one case the original wooden seat survives. Next to each door is a small recess in the stone wall, possibly to provide a safe shelf for a candle.
It is thought that the servants' quarters may have been in the large attic, but there was only one small window at that level and it may be that the servants lived in bothies or cottages which were built onto the sides of the tower. There was also a charming little attic - a "cap-house" in the roof above the main staircase and reached by yet another very narrow spiral staircase in the thickness of the wall, but this one shows as a picturesque bulge on the exterior, three floors above the front door.
The Castle of Park was indeed massively built, and eventually it was to need all its strength. In 1794 the house passed by marriage to a neighboring family who had no need for the gaunt old tower. It slowly fell into disuse, and the new owners stripped out everything of value, including the wood panelling. The roofs leaked, the floors rotted and eventually there was nothing much left but the stone walls to defy the elements for more than a hundred years.
My father, Sir Arthur Hay of Park, made a determined effort to buy back the Castle in 1938, with the aim of making his home in the surviving cottage while treating the tower as a single immensely high room; but he was a young man with little money and could not afford the cost of making the structure safe again and installing piped water and drainage (at that time the railway was still in daily use, and seems to have cut off the Castle form its original source of water.)
In 1938 the Government bought the Park state in order to distribute the land among small farmers, and the Castle was part of that purchase, but at first the State did not regard it as a monument worth protecting.
Eventually the Scottish Historic Buildings and Monuments Department, now Historic Scotland, decided to protect the ruin from further deterioration. Over the years they repaired the roof and some deep cracks in the walls, and then by gradual stages replaced the floors and windows. At some stage the decision was taken to save costs by demolishing the 18th century cottages/stables which had survived round the foot of the tower. The result is now a dramatically vertical tower which was probably never seen like that in its heyday. The old harling on the exterior was chipped off and renewed but not painted - a photograph showing the bare stonework seems to give the building a quite different character. The new harling has matured well and does not look at all out of place.
While these repairs were being carried out, the attitude towards conservation amd management of old buildings was changing and it was decided to bring the Castle back into use. In 1990 Historic Scotland leased it to the Landmark Trust. a charity which restores interesting old buildings and lets them to holidaymakers by the week. After the interior had been replastered, and the partitions replaced to form separate rooms, the Castle was opened for holiday use in 1994. It now provides very comfortable lodging for not more than seven people at a time, in a beautiful and interesting part of Scotland. The address of the Landmark Trust is Shottesbrook, near Maidenhead.
In my next article I propose to describe the people who built the Castle of Park, and how they came to do so.