The foundation date of the castle is obscure, but Crail became a royal burgh early in the twelfth century.  King David I of Scotland (1124-53) is known to have stayed here, so it must have been of some consequence then.  Ada Warenne (d.1178) obtained Crail as part of her marriage settlement with Prince Henry of Scotland (d.1152) apparently in 1139 when they married. In 1264 it was ordered repaired, which again suggests some age to the structure, while King Robert Bruce (1306-29) reconfirmed Crail's burgh status in 1306 and confirmed the constabulary of the castle to Lawrence Weirmerstoun in 1310, stating that his family had held this office since ancient times.  On 31 August 1458, a chapel dedicated to the Irish Saint Rufus was mentioned within Crail castle.  This was again mentioned on 21 June 1512 when it was the chapel of St Mairubii.  This obviously referred to St Maelrubha of Applecross and not the better known St Ruffus of Capua.  An Irish saintly link would suggest an early date for activity at the castle site.

A charter of Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-67) in 1563 described the castle as ruinous, with nothing remaining of it but its moat.  Consequently it was to be given to David Spens of Wormistoun who was granted permission to rebuild it.  As late as 1803 the site was referred to as ‘the ruins of a strong castle'.  Such traces now seem to have largely disappeared.

The castle, set on the high ground north-east of the harbour, apparently consists of a raised enclosure revetted by a rubble built curtain wall on its five sides.  This is reckoned to be of mostly modern date.  The enclosed site is roughly rectangular, each face being about 170' long, although the western face has been chamfered off on its northern half.  This bears some comparison with Balvenie and Castle Sween.  The late Victorian Castle Garden house lies within its western corner.  Modern battlements have been added to the wall and elsewhere cut into the structure, while a modern garret has been built at the slightly chamfered southern corner over the cliff side.  Also a modern entrance has been built of much better quality stone to the north-west.  The area just south of the garret has recently been concreted up to stop this section of the fortress tumbling into the sea.  The fact that the southern curtain is in any case chamfered suggests that this section of the wall has tumbled off the cliff before and been replaced by one further back.  Canmore states that the only early piece of wall in the structure is 17' long, 5' thick and 5' high.  In plan the fortress somewhat resembles the royal castle of Banff.

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


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