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Thursday, 9 June 2011

Castle of St John Stranraer

It's Wednesday the 8th of June 2011,and I've arrived in Stranraer quite early for a dental appointment.
Time then for a visit to the recently refurbished Castle of St John.
Castle of St John Visitor Centre

Information in italics is by courtesy of Rampant Scotland.

The Castle of St John was built around 1510 in what was later to become Stranraer - it is sometimes called Stranraer Castle. This small town overlooks Loch Ryan on the west of Dumfries and Galloway, although before the reorganisation of local government in Scotland, Stranraer was in Wigtownshire.

A nice bright colourful sign welcomes you.

The above distorted picture is the result of me stitching three pictures together.

I couldn't exactly decipher the writing on the wall outside.

The ground floor was originally two cellars.
One now serves as an information centre and office.
I'm given a wonderful welcome by two helpful young ladies, Kay and Shirley.

The sign says this cellar has hardly changed from the 1500's.
(Click on the pictures to read the boards)

It's a wonderful spiral staircase that takes you upwards.It's bright and well lit,they've done a sterling job on the refurbishment.

The land on which it was built was owned by a family called Adair. They were probably of Irish origin (Northern Ireland is only 40 miles away as the crow flies) and they held lands around Portpatrick to the west in the early 1300s. There is even a legend that they were allocated the area by King Robert the Bruce for getting rid of the previous occupants - the Curries - who were notorious pirates. Like all successful families in those days, they expanded their territory and acquired the lands on which the Castle of St John now stands by 1484. Initially, they built a chapel dedicated to St John and it was not until around 1510 that they built a castle which was known variously as the Place of St John and Castle of Chapel.

It always amazes me when looking round old houses and castles just how small servants passageways and quarters were in days of old.Surely they weren't all small people.

Just below the hall is the servants waiting room.

Now on the first floor I'm in the castles main room,the hall.A televised presentation is on.

As well as the comprehensive information boards,there are other exhibits in here.

A model castle and a model Stranraer show how the castle was surrounded by buildings until the 1970's

When the Burgh of Stranraer was created in 1595, its Charter specifically excluded the castle and grounds - but in favour of an Elizabeth Kennedy. Indeed, from 1600 onwards the Adairs concentrated on their lands in Ireland. The Castle of St John remained part of the Kennedy's estates until 1670 - at which point it was taken over by the Dalrymples of Stair. Sir James Dalrymple of Stair also obtained Castle Kennedy itself around the same time. 

Blocked off servant's staircases.....

....and the loo!

So onwards and upwards.....

to the second floor...... An information board showing the castle in 1550 and 1820.

In the 18th century the castle was little used and in 1815 it was purchased with a view to it becoming the jail for the area. In the following years it served that purpose - but gained a reputation for allowing too many prisoners to escape. Not that the building was insecure - but the jailers were often drunk and left the doors open!
It continued in the role of prison until 1907. By that time it was surrounded by the shops and offices of a modern small town. In the 1960s, buildings surrounding the Castle of St John were demolished, leaving only the main tower - which was restored and became a museum and visitor attraction in 1988/89. The illustrations of Covenanters and their flags were taken inside the castle. 

Victorian graffiti around the fireplace.

Now an information board tells us of some of the prisoners during it's life as the burgh nick.

I didn't know until curiosity got the better of me that you can now find records of  those transported between 1787 and 1867 freely on the internet.
Joseph Allison was one of 320 convicts shipped out on the John Barry on the 12th of November 1838.

There are a great many McCulloch's around Wigtownshire.

Below,the cell doors look original.
Still on the second floor I add my little touch to the graffiti board.Family readers will no doubt notice my contribution.

An interactive cell on this floor allows you to listen to voices from the past,build a tower,a two sided jigsaw and a spinning identikit.

I've worked on a few boring production lines in my lifetime,but have never done any Oakum Picking.Thank goodness !

Towards the end of the 17th century, the Castle of St John was used by the government to garrison troops who were trying to suppress the Covenanters, a religious movement that wanted to maintain the Presbyterian form of worship, where control was devolved to the individual church parishes. Although the government at that time was still in Edinburgh (the Union of the Parliaments of Scotland and England did not occur until 1707), King Charles I in London was trying to impose an episcopal system on both countries - with himself at its head and governing from the top down. Charles I lost his head in the Civil War and his son, King Charles II, was defeated at the Battle of Worcester in 1651 and had to flee. But King Charles II was restored in 1660 and soon resumed the efforts to impose an episcopal form of worship which the Covenanters resisted. In 1678, John Graham of Claverhouse (known as "Bonnie Dundee" or "Bloody Clavers" depending on which side you were on) was based at the Castle of St John while in command of troops in the south west, savagely suppressing the local Covenanters. 

Now the last of the spiral staircase takes me up to the crenelated parapet of the castle.
As well as the information boards pointing out historical sites around Stranraer,there are some wonderful views from up here.
Out beyond the mouth of Loch Ryan,Ailsa Craig is bathed in sunshine.

I'll take a little bit of video on my way down.

A look at the guest book shows a good many visitors from the south and abroad with only a few local names.
C'mon you Gallovidians get a look at your own history.

A cheerio to Kay concludes my visit.

It's an excellent A1 attraction and I'd certainly recommend a visit.


  1. Very interesting - now I'm motorised, I've been plotting a trip to the Stranraer folk club, so I might just make a day of it and go the Castle of St John too (if I've recovered from my trip to the dentist - next Tuesday)

  2. that is one old castle. I think the only things we have that old are the land. I love seeing stone walls and buildings.

  3. Wonderful! Absolutely wonderful!

  4. great post. love the jock graffiti too. ;-)
    hope the dentist appointment wasn't too much of a pain.

  5. Thank you good people,good luck at the dentist Sandy.

    Tammie,you do have something older than the land from what I've read.
    The Pictograph Cave at Billings sounds fascinating,there's a future post for you.

    I knew you'd recognise the graffiti Sez,I seem to remember your's was very good.

  6. P.S get a good laugh on the Tame Lion's posts at

  7. I'm in love with the cell doors. Gosh, I hope they keep it as original as possible.


Thanks for all your comments. I may not get to reply to them all, but you may be sure they'll be appreciated.

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