Explore Caerlaverock Castle: Scotland’s Historic Triangular Fortress

In 1220, Alexander II of Scotland gave some marshy land to Sir John De Maccuswell so that Clan Maccuswell—whose family name ultimately evolved into Maxwell—could build a castle. Maxwell’s first attempt to build a castle resulted in a structure that sank into the soggy land on which it was built. Maxwell found a slightly more substantial plot of land around 600 feet away and built a unique triangular castle that he christened Caerlaverock.

Miles of muddy terrain and a wet moat did little to protect Caerlaverock Castle from several incursions. Clan Maxwell successfully defended Caerlaverock from invaders until the mid-1600s, when a group of feisty Presbyterians destroyed a good portion of the castle’s exterior. Caerlaverock Castle was abandoned around 1640.

Today, the ruins of Caerlaverock Castle are located in Caerlaverock Castle National Nature Reserve. The nature reserve features merse—saltmarsh and mudflats—that serve as a habitat for a variety of animals such as geese, toads, and deer. Visitors can follow several trails that wind through ancient forests and marshes. There are even grasslands that have been virtually untouched by human development, which is a rarity in Europe. Since the terrain is often muddy, it is best to wear waterproof shoes that are easy to clean while trekking around the grounds of Caerlaverock.

Although some areas of Caerlaverock Castle are inaccessible because they are structurally unsound, visitors can still tour sections of the castle and learn about the area’s rich history. Because Caerlaverock is so close to the border of England, the castle was surrounded by several notable estates, including the castle of an ancient king named Gwenddoleu ap Ceidio. King Ceidio’s death in the Battle of Arfderydd caused his bard Myrddin Wyllt to go mad. Myrddin was so overcome with grief over King Ceidio’s passing that he spent the rest of his days wandering aimlessly in the woods. Myrddin is said to have served as the inspiration for the eccentric and powerful wizard Merlin in Arthurian legend.

Caerlaverock Castle bears the scars of various sieges, but it is still one of the most impressive and distinctive castles in Scotland. The gorgeous merse on which Caerlaverock Castle is situated allows you to unplug from the modern world as you explore the ruins of a castle that once served as the seat of power for a celebrated Scottish family. No trip to Scotland is complete without a tour of the stately ruins of Caerlaverock Castle.

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