King William the Lion (1165-1214) issued a charter to Merleswain of Fife which mentions the manor.  It is possible that he was a descendant of the Domesday Merleswain who held estates from Cornwall to Yorkshire and also that he began the fortification of the castle site.  The family, their English origin again suggested by the name of his son, Waldolf, descended to his grandson, another Merleswain.  It would then appear to have been split 3 ways amongst heiresses, which might again suggest that the castle was founded before this date.  Part went with a daughter to John Soules who died in 1318 at Dundalk with King Edward Bruce.  John's brother, William, was the lord of Hermitage castle.  He apparently made his bid for the throne of Scotland and failed in 1320.  John's part of Ardross may have passed to John Burnard who died at Roxburgh castle from wounds received attacking Liddel castle in 1346.  On 17 March 1368 his relative, Sheriff William Dishington of Fife (d.1368/9) gathered the 3 parts of Ardross back into one estate, adding the thirds of Burnard and Andrew Kandells to his own portion.   Dishington and King David II (1329-71) later funded the construction of nearby St Monans Church after David nearly suffered a shipwreck while crossing the firth to visit William at Ardross.  In 1402 King Robert III (1390-1406) granted Thomas Dishington the lands of the barony of Ardross, which his father William had resigned.  His descendants continued to hold the castle and barony until 1607 when Thomas Dishington sold ‘the lands and barony of Ardoss with the fortalice and manor-place' to William Scot of Elie.

In 1690 Ardross was bought by William Anstruther who decided to build a new manor house nearby and plundered Ardross castle for building materials.

Ardross castle is an odd site, more towerhouse and detached hall than fortress.  It was sited about 40' above a beach overlooking the Firth of Forth.  The tower had a vaulted ground floor and most likely a hall and then accommodation above.  In this respect it may have been similar to Loch Leven keep.  Excavation at some point between 1893 and 1912 suggested fifteenth century occupation and found it had walls over 6' thick and external dimensions of 37' by 29'.  To the east was a single window only 5" in width, while traces of another one lay to the north.  Cupboards were in the north and south walls.  A small 25' square building had once stood against its north wall, presumably entered from the tower via a now destroyed upper floor doorway.  An altered ground floor doorway to the east end of the south wall gave access to the tower, while a straight stair towards the north end of the west wall leading to a probably inserted vice which gave access to the upper floor and possibly replaced the earlier straight stair.  The twentieth century clearance of the spoil from the digging created a prominent bank to the north-west of the tower. 

The tower entrance led towards the later hall which was added some 15' to the south.  This measured externally 84' by 30' and also had walls 6' thick and had 6 presumably window openings towards the sea.  The upper floor, if there was one, is gone, but there is a suggestion that there was a vault to support it.  A short wall once connected the 2 structures.  In the south-east corner of the long chamber are traces of what may have been a spiral stair turret.  This structure has been heavily robbed - similar stone to it appears in the nearby farm buildings - while the apparent burial of the tower in debris saved it from a similar fate.

Why not join me at other Great Scottish Castles this Spring?  Information on tours at Scholarly Sojourns.


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