Selkirk Castle

Selkirk Castle

Selkirk Castle Details

  • Access: Public Access
  • Condition: earthworks
  • First build century: 12th
  • Closest To: Selkirk
  • Grid Ref: NT470281
  • Last use century: 14th

The earthworks of Selkirk Castle lie at the southern end of Castle Street, within a public park area, and is locally known as the Peel Hill. The site is wooded over, and the earthworks are easily missed if you are not looking for them, possibly due to landscaping works. The site is used extensively for dog walking.

There was a castle at Selkirk at the time the Abbey was founded in 1119 by King David I, as it is mentioned in the foundation charter, and was part of Ettrick Forest, considered a royal hunting forest in medieval times. (The Abbey was abandoned in favour of Kelso in 1128). The Peel Hill is a large natural mound, overlooking the bowl of the Haining Loch to the south, most likely a wet and marshy area at the time the castle was built. It is a strategic rather than a strong site, being overlooked by both Howden Hill (with its own earthwork castle) to the south-west, and Selkirk Common to the east. Selkirk overlooks the Ettrick Burn, which flows into the Tweed about three miles downstream, and therefore guards access to Ettrick Forest along the riverside, as well as having a bridge over the river.

It is likely that the early castle was more of a fortified hunting lodge than a military installation, although it was maintained into the late 13th century and the reign of Alexander III. During the English occupation, King Edward I instructed Alexander Balliol of Cavers and Sir Robert Hastings as surveyors, instructing them to build a new castle at Selkirk in early 1302. By the autumn, he appointed Balliol guardian of the “fortress” which consisted of a tower and an earth and timber peel. In 1302, Balliol’s castle fell to the Scots and was sacked, but rebuilt again in 1310-1311. By 1334 it had again been taken by the Scots and destroyed as it is not mentioned alongside the town and county of Selkirk in a charter of that year.

It is, in fact, quite possible that the Howden site is the site of the Edwardian fortification. Excavations in 1957 revealed it had been provided with a palisade, and a stone floor, suggestive of a tower. This might suggest that the royal castle of Selkirk was destroyed during the early phases of the Wars of Independence and considered damaged beyond repair. As the site was recently the focus of a Community Archaeology Project we can hope that light can be shed upon the history of this interesting site.

HES Canmore database entry
Selkirk Castle Community Archaeology Project website