Little remains of the once-mighty Medieval fortress named Turnberry Castle. Built on the coast of Kirkoswald Parish, near Maybole in Ayrshire, it is surrounded by sea on three sides. The Trump Turnberry golf course occupies the landward side, leaving little but the lower cellars and vaults intact.
Visiting Turnberry Castle
Access to the public is not restricted, and one may visit the site across the current Trump Turnberry golf course. Although the council has not signposted the castle, they have not fenced the area from the public.
There is no fee to visit these somewhat derelict castle ruins.
Open year-round; visit at any reasonable time during daylight hours.
Location & Access
Lighthouse - near Turnberry, Girvan KA26 9PD
Grid Ref: NS197072
Visitors may take the main road along the Ayrshire coast from Maidens to Turnberry, where the hotel and ground of the Turnberry Resort are located on one side and the golf course on the other. On the far, sea-facing side of the golf course, visitors will find the site of the Turnberry Castle.
Visitors may access the site via narrow tracks in the grass; however, one should take care, as the structure is unstable.
Know Before You Go
- The Turnberry Castle site is dangerous, particularly in wet conditions, as there are no fences for safety. The access is challenging, and the narrow tracks are steep and potentially hazardous.
- The location is also somewhat dangerous with sheer drops into the sea below, so visitors should exercise extreme caution when approaching the site.
- Visitors should ensure that they wear the correct footwear for navigating the somewhat tricky access.
- The Turnberry Lighthouse, built in 1873, still occupies one of the main sites of the castle.
History of Turnberry Castle
Turnberry stands on an earlier, possibly Iron Age fortification site and shows areas of medieval construction spanning from the 12th century. Although the castle is reduced to ruins, it still bears great historical significance. Historians suggest it was the birthplace of Robert the Bruce.
-Iron Age Occupation
Some historians suggest a possible Iron Age structure due to the bridge over the sea arch over the north inlets in the northwest. The yellow sandstone that makes up the broken central sea arch has no evidence of mortar suggesting a pre-medieval construction. The flat slabs are arranged in parallel construction, suggesting the stone-built souterrains of the early centuries AD.
-The End of the 12th Century
The first earl, Duncan, grandson of Donchad II of Fife, was suggested as responsible for the earliest phase of the stone castle at Turnberry. Historians also suggest that he was made Earl of Carrick due to the support of senior nobility of the Kingdom of Scotts.
In the later 1200s, the castle was home to widowed Countess of Carrick, Marjorie. Medieval legends tell of the widow imprisoning Robert de Brus until he agreed to marry her in 1271. The marriage conferred both the castle and the earldom, and their first son was the famous Robert the Bruce, King of Scotts.
Although it can not be definitively proven that Robert the Bruce was born at the castle, he inevitably spent his boyhood in Turnberry Castle.
In the aftermath of the death of Alexander III, a group of powerful Anglo-Irish nobles gathered at the castle to commit to mutual support with military efforts in Ulster and decide on Bruce as the successor of the crown. Bruce was still only 12 years of age at the time of this famous meeting.
The First War of Scottish Independence led to many castles, including Turnberry, being garrisoned by English forces after the death of King Alexander III.
Robert the Bruce attempted to recover the castle that had fallen into English hands. The attempt was partially successful even though the English did withdraw from Turnberry. His reclaiming of the family castle marked the start of Bruce's political course, ending with the battle of Bannockburn.
Robert the Bruce ordered the destruction of Turnberry Castle to ensure that the castle does not fall into English control. The castle was all but destroyed.
A charter of the late King Edward Bruce by his brother King Robert I was inspected in 1323 at Turnberry, confirming John de Carleton in possession of his holdings.
Historical records describe Gilbert Kennedy, 4th Earl of Cassilis, as the owner of the lands and barony of Turnberry, including a castle, portcullis, and annexe, suggesting that the castle still stood.
To further ruin the iconic site of Turnberry Castle, Turnberry Lighthouse was built on top of the castle ruins.
The Turnberry Golf course was laid out in the area of Turnberry Castle, followed by the Turnberry Hotel.
Turnberry Castle was designated as a scheduled monument and classified as a secular medieval castle SM6183.
Turnberry Castle Occupants
- 12th Century: First earl, Duncan, grandson of Donchad II of Fife, was thought to have built the first stone fort.
- Late 12th Century: Marjorie, widow to the Count of Carrick, occupied the castle.
- 1271: Robert de Bruce married Marjorie, and their first son was Robert the Bruce, who was the King of Scotland from 1306 until his death in 1329. Although it is not definitive he was born there, historians accept that he spent his childhood at Turnberry Castle.
- 1286: Several Scottish barons secretly met at Turnberry Castle to support the claim of Robert the Bruce to the crown.
- 1323: John de Carleton took ownership of the castle.
Turnberry Castle Q&A
What Kind of Castle Was Turnberry Castle?
Turnberry Castle ruins are evidence of a masonry castle of 13th-century origin. The original fortification was a wood and earthwork construction with a bailey area containing houses, storage barns, and stables, and other castle-related industries.
The stone castle originally stood on the rock promontory reached by a drawbridge with portcullis. A lower gatehouse keep was combined with an upper keep with a D-plan tower. An unusual lean to boathouse allowed seaward access protected by a seagate portcullis.
How Big Is Turnberry Castle?
The castle site extends 85 m (278.87 ft) from east to west by 65 m (213.25 ft) transversely within a large protective ditch typical of the fortification of the area. There is a link to an artist’s reconstruction of the Turnberry Castle on the Canmore site to visualise how it may have looked in the distant past.
There are numerous parts of the ruined wall that made up the once extensive castle, and one may best appreciate the site at low tide. When the tide is low, visitors may walk out onto the rocks to view the remaining fort walls.
When Was Turnberry Castle Built?
The 12th-century construction included an inner bailey enclosed by walls of roughly 1.25 m (4.10 ft) of thickness. The wall ran the cliff edge from the southwest to the northeast, where it crossed via an arch to the west incorporating two buildings. It ended when the natural sea arch bridged the two inlets in the northwest, which suggests this may have been the entrance point to the castle.
The second medieval building phase comprised the outer bailey enclosed by a curtain wall that followed the natural edges of rock around several inlets facing the sea. This phase included a bridge, encompassing an area 40 m (131.23 ft) from north to south and west to east.
The third medieval building phase comprised a D-shaped tower built on top of the citadel mound and modifications of the building between the two northwest inlets. The slit window in the southeast curtain was blocked and a new wall was constructed next to it, which was 1.8 m (5.91 ft) thick. These walls extended from the southeast curtain to the northwest, creating a rectangular building.
Location of Turnberry Castle