Hermitage Castle

Now a ruined structure, Hermitage Castle is a strategic border fortress with a daunting appearance and a dark history to match. Its unique architecture allowed the walls to be topped with timber fighting platforms, and its strategic location made it the scene for some of history's bloodiest battles over the English and Scottish borders.

Visiting Hermitage Castle


A large lay-by is available 200m (656.17ft) from the site with space for about twelve cars - no accessible bays provided.


Adult: £6.00

Child (5-15): £3.60

Child under 5: FREE

Concession: £4.80

Members/Explorer Pass holders are FREE

Prices subject to change - Visit Historic Scotland website for details


Open daily beginning 1 April through 30 September from 9:30am to 5:30pm - Last entry at 5:00pm 

The site is closed from 1 October to 31 March

Location & Access 

Hermitage, Roxburghshire, TD9 0LU

In the Scottish Borders, 8km (4.97mi) northeast of Newcastleton, off the B6399: Follow the unmarked road that forks northwest at the Hermitage Water crossing - Site is well sign-posted

Know Before You Go

  • The closest adapted toilet is 6mi (9.66km) away in Newcastleton on Langholm Street, 
  • The site contains several steps and uneven terrain - not easily accessible for those with limited mobility
  • Dogs on leads are welcome - only assistance dogs permitted within roofed areas

History of Hermitage Castle

Hermitage Castle was an important border fortress, fought over and occupied by English and Scottish royalty for centuries, as its location guaranteed control of the Scottish Middle March to its occupants. The castle's intriguing history is filled with tales of treason, torture, and murder that inspired its description as "the guardhouse of the bloodiest valley in Britain."

Time Line


Ranulf de Soulis and his family were some of the Normans to join William the Conqueror in his invasion of England. King David I of Scotland appointed Ranulf as his butler and granted him the lordship of Liddesdale. 


Ranulf built a timber structure known as Liddel (or "Lydel") Castle to protect his lands.


Lord Ranulf's nephew, the second Lord of Liddesdale, was murdered inside the castle by his servants.

-1240 (Hermitage Castle Established)

The next heir, Lord Nicholas de Soulis, moved out of this castle and built a new structure nearby. He raised an earth and timber ringwork fortification called "Ermitage-Soulis."

However, Henry III of England saw this act as a threat, believing the Scots had ill-intentions by raising a second defense, and hostility between the two countries increased. 

-1296 (Castle Confiscated/Owned by Wake Family)

Though John Balliol eventually ascended to the Scottish throne, Nicholas de Soulis had a claim on it as well. When the Wars of Independence began, Edward I captured Hermitage Castle and gave control of the estate to Sir John Wake. 


Having recognised the strategic significance of both Liddel and Hermitage, Edward I spent £20 on upkeep and defence repairs to the castle. 


Edward I died, and Robert the Bruce was ushered to the throne when the war ended.

-1310 (Castle Restored to De Soulis Family)

The family de Soulis had the land and the castle restored to them by King Robert I (the Bruce).


Nicholas' son, William de Soulis, facing ramifications of his father's former claim to the throne, was accused of conspiring to murder King Robert I and sentenced to imprisonment for life. All his lands and titles were forfeited, and Hermitage Castle was granted to Sir Robert Bruce, the illegitimate son of Robert I.  

-1328 (Castle Promised to Wake Family)

The Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton was signed, wherein it was agreed that Scotland would restore the lands taken from English Lords by King Balliol supporters to "the disinherited." Hermitage was one of the many properties included in this agreement, and it was claimed by Sir John Wake's son, Thomas, due to his father's 1296 occupation of the castle.

However, the Scots did not uphold the treaty initially, and neither Hermitage nor Liddel was returned to Wake. 

-1332 (Castle Given to Neville Family)

Thomas wasn't the only "disinherited" Lord affected by the Scots' refusal to relinquish their lands; An army was soon raised by Edward Balliol, son of the former King John, to take their claim forcefully. Ultimately, Balliol's army was victorious in the Battle of Dupplin against King David II's army, and the lords successfully took back their properties and titles. 

Unfortunately for Thomas Wake, only Liddel was restored to him, and Hermitage Castle was given to Sir Ralph de Neville.

-1338 (Castle Seized)

Hermitage Castle was seized by the "Knight of Liddesdale," Sir William Douglas. 


The King had overlooked Sir William Douglas for the Sheriff of Teviotdale and instead gave the title to Sir Alexander Ramsay. As a response, Douglas imprisoned Ramsay in the castle, starved him to death, and subsequently was given the position. 

-1346 (Douglas Family Feud Continues)

Following his defeat at the Battle of Neville's Cross, the great Knight of Liddesdale was captured and imprisoned in the Tower of London. He managed to scheme his release via a treasonous pact with King Edward II of England, to which he promised he would hold Hermitage for the Crown and allow army access through Liddesdale. 

When King David II of Scotland became wise to this agreement, he confiscated Hermitage. In an effort to divide and control, he granted the castle to William, Lord of Douglas, who was Sir William's godson.

-1353 (Lord Dacre Defends Hermitage)

A confrontation between the two feuding Williams at the Battle of Ettrick Forest resulted in William, Lord of Douglas, killing his godfather, Sir William, the Knight of Liddesdale. However, Sir William's widow and Hermitage Castle were being protected by the mighty English Lord, Sir Hugh Dacre, and the younger William could not take the land. 

-1360 (Castle Rebuilt in Stone)

Sir Hugh Dacre married Sir William's widow and took possession of Hermitage. Dacre tore down the old timber tower and built a much larger stone manor house in its place. He rebuilt the old timber structure into a stone manor house, comprising two ranges on either side of a cobbled courtyard. 

-1371 (Castle Returned to Douglas Family/Castle Remodelled)

Hermitage passed back to William Douglas at this time--though the exact reason for this doesn't appear to be known. 

Nonetheless, Dacre was "deprived" of the Liddesdale lands, and the Douglas family are recorded to have reacquired the castle, and William began transforming the castle into a tower house. He built a roof over the central courtyard and added upper storeys that likely contained halls, each for the Lord and the servants.  

Soon after, William handed the castle down to his son, Sir James Douglas. 

-1388 (Corner Towers Built)

James Douglas died at the Battle of Otterburn, and Hermitage passed to his son, George Douglas, Earl of Angus. George carried out further work on the castle, including strengthening the primary tower house with four corner towers. 

-1400’s (Castle Completed)

The Douglases eventually finished rebuilding the castle, which now had a towering stone keep.

-1491 (Hepburns of Bothwell Obtain Castle)

Archibald Douglas, 5th Earl of Angus, was discovered colluding with the English, and his treason was punished with an order to trade Hermitage for Bothwell Castle. 

Ownership of Hermitage then passed to Patrick Hepburn, 1st Earl of Bothwell. When he died, the castle was given to his son, Adam Hepburn.


Adam was killed in the Battle of Flodden; however, his son, Patrick, was but an infant, and the Crown took control of the castle. 

-1531 (Gun Enhancements Built)

The now-grown Patrick, 3rd Earl of Bothwell, was forced to forfeit his lands and castles to James V after he was found having improper discussions with Henry VIII. Later, Patrick was banished from the Scottish kingdom.

Numerous modifications were made to the castle whilst in Royal hands, including gun holes and the creation of an outside gun defence.

-1542 (Earl of Bothwell Reclaims Castle)

After James V died, Patrick found favor with Mary, Queen of Scots, and returned to the castle.


Patrick was again caught in treasonous activities and trying to bargain the castle for an English bride. He was again exiled, and Queen Mary confiscated Hermitage, placing it in royal hands once more. 

-1566 (Mary, Queen of Scots Rides to the Castle)

The castle was the setting for an interesting story involving Mary, Queen of Scots, regarding her visit to Hermitage to see James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, who allegedly had a secret relationship with the Queen. 

Mary took the long journey from Jedburgh to see James after hearing he was stabbed during a quarrel with the infamous cattle thief, Little Jock Elliot. During her return trip, the arduous terrain caused her horse to slip, and Mary fell into a bog. She subsequently caught a fever and collapsed upon returning home, where she battled off death confined to her bed for a week.

-1567 (Francis Stewart Obtains Castle)

James was suspected in the murder of Queen Mary's second husband, Henry, Lord Darnley. After Mary's army was defeated at the Battle of Carberry Hill, James was forced to flee to Scandinavia; Unfortunately, James was captured in Denmark and imprisoned at Dragsholm, where he allegedly went insane and eventually died. 

The State then took control of Hermitage Castle, and once James VI assumed the throne, it was returned to the Hepburn family, with James' nephew, Francis Stewart, as his successor. 


The castle was seized yet again when Francis Stewart fell out of favor with James VI, and Sir Walter Scott purchased the castle. 


Hermitage had lost its importance as a border fortress after the Union of the Crowns. Sir Walter Scott was made Lord Scott of Buccleuch and continued to hold the castle. However, Lord Scott's descendants, the Dukes of Buccleuch, soon abandoned the castle, and it was a ruin by the 18th century.


The Duke of Buccleuch, inspired by his ancestor's writings, decided to preserve the castle for posterity. Notably, archeology notes record evidence of the castle being reconstructed around this time. 


Hermitage was given to the State by its owners. Today, the castle is cared for by Historic Scotland and open for public viewing in the summer. 

Hermitage Castle Occupants

When the castle wasn't being passed back and forth between the Crowns of two nations, it was passed among many hands through three notable families. The Douglases primarily held the castle from the 13th-15th centuries, followed by the Hepburns, who had it into the 16th century. 

The Scotts then gained control and owned it during abandonment in the 17th century, ruin during the 18th century, and reconstruction by the 19th century.

Images of Hermitage Castle

Hermitage Castle Hermitage Castle Hermitage Castle
Hermitage Castle Hermitage Castle

Images Supplied and licensed from Shutterstock Standard Licence Package

Hermitage Castle Q&A

What Type of Castle Was Hermitage Castle?

The first castle at Hermitage was possibly a motte and bailey. The second structure built was a fortified tower house (a keep with a barmkin).

When Was Hermitage Castle First Built?

The stone castle that eventually evolved into the ruins we see today was first built by Sir Hugh Dacre starting in 1360. However, the first earth and timber structure at Hermitage was raised over a century earlier by Nicholas de Soulis circa 1240. 

Some argue the possibility that the stone castle was built directly upon the site of the first structure, yet evidence of such remains inconclusive. 

How Big Was Hermitage Castle?

The first stone structure was a simple, oblong tower measuring approximately 14m (45ft) by 23m (77ft) with a projection in the southwest corner housing a portcullis-protected entrance.

What Was the Main Use of Hermitage Castle?

Hermitage Castle was considered the key to power over the Scottish Middle March, and it spent much of its time withstanding the dramatic life events of its famous, historical occupants.

Is Hermitage Castle Haunted?

To say Hermitage Castle is haunted is an understatement. Considering every Lord ever to claim the castle either died mysteriously or went insane and committed suicide, it's easy to see why many think the castle is cursed. 

Countless stories of ghostly encounters are told by those who visit the site, believing its dark history is holding many secrets--and the many tortured souls they represent.

A Romantic Rendezvous

The least disturbing haunting comes from its most famous ghost, Mary Queen of Scots, and the ghost of her lover, Lord Bothwell, who supposedly have been seen holding hands and walking the castle grounds together. 

The Shrieking Sheriff

Perhaps the most "lively" phantom is Alexander Ramsay, Sheriff of Teviotdale, who was held prisoner in the castle by its Lord, Sir William Douglas. However, historical records regarding the reason for this imprisonment are suspiciously ambiguous. 

The surviving narrative says Sheriff Ramsay was serious about his position and very good at his job. Perhaps too good for Sir William Douglas, who was suspected to be a follower of Lucifer and practicing black magic--a charge that meant death in its day. 

Ramsay supposedly got "too close" to Douglas' secret life, and Douglas caught him spying and subsequently threw him into Hermitage's rat-infested pit. The end of this story matches with lines in the history books, which note that Ramsay eventually went mad and starved to death in prison. 

Visitors have reported hearing the "unmistakable" sound of screaming from a man beneath the castle, whilst others say they have seen the skeletal spirit of an undernourished Ramsay roaming about the castle's lower areas. 

Serial Killer De Soulis

The most appalling apparition said to haunt Hermitage is that of Scotland's most infamous serial killer, the "wicked Lord de Soulis" (or the evil Lord Sules, depending on the folklore). 

As the legend goes, DeSoulis conducted a satanic ritual in the Great Hall where he summoned a demonic henchman of Satan's called Robin Redcap. The demon made a deal with DeSoulis that traded innocent blood for wealth and power, and DeSoulis soon went about upholding his side of the bargain. He abducted children from neighboring villages and savagely massacred them at the castle. 

The villagers eventually connected DeSoulis to the disappearances and stormed the castle, where hundreds of corpses of little children were allegedly found. They apprehended DeSoulis, and later, without Robin Redcap to save him, they dropped him into a tank of molten lead and got their justice. 

Lord DeSoulis' spirit is said to now roam about the castle, hollering out at children and inviting them to play with his special pal, Robin Redcap.

Does Any of Hermitage Castle Still Exist?

Hermitage Castle was partially restored in the early-19th century, but much of its remains date to the 14th and 15th centuries. The range facing into the central, cobbled courtyard built by Hugh Dacre still stands within the castle. It is now missing the upper floors, yet the surviving level is of exceptional quality. 

There are no above-ground remains of the first castle; however, earthworks are said to remain visible, including ditches that were once flooded with rerouted stream water.

Location of Hermitage Castle

Situated near Hermitage Water, just a few miles from Riccarton Junction in southern Roxburghshire, Hermitage Castle now sits in quiet isolation in rural Liddesdale, upon borderlands that were once heavily fought over. Its location was likely chosen for the protection offered by the two streams that merge into a tributary of the nearby river, which marked the old Scottish-English border. 

Today, the ruined structure is host to local wildlife, including wildflowers along the riverbanks and ospreys nesting nearby.