Clan Douglas itinerary

Follow this Clan Douglas itinerary and discover the oldest and most famous of the Scottish Border Clans. Much of their homeland was in the area to the south of Edinburgh and as such witnessed many battles and skirmishes as the English and Scottish fought for the border lands.

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  • The sign for Castle Douglas, Dumfries & Galloway's food town
    Castle Douglas, Dumfries & Galloway's food town
  • Edinburgh Castle
    Edinburgh Castle
  • The exterior of Lennoxlove House at dusk, East Lothian
    Lennoxlove House, East Lothian
  • Melrose Abbey through trees
    Melrose Abbey through trees
  • A view from within the walls of Stirling Castle, palace of Mary Queen of Scots, Stirling
    Stirling Castle

This itinerary takes you into the story of the Red and Black Douglases and offers you a chance to see the rolling hills, forests and countryside of the Scottish Borders, the rugged cliff tops and beautiful beaches of Berwickshire and the distant Scottish mountains.

James, Earl of Morton was the brother of the seventh Earl of Angus, one of the Red Douglases. A bitter enemy of Mary Queen of Scots, he was one of the murderers of her secretary, David Rizzio, and was implicated in the assassination of her husband Lord Darnley. You can visit the Palace of Holyroodhouse at the end of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh to see the place where Lord Darnley married Queen Mary. The Scottish Parliament lies nearby.

At the other end of the Royal Mile is Edinburgh Castle, from the battlements of which you can enjoy commanding views out over the city. In 1400 the third Earl of Douglas, Archibald ‘the Grim’, successfully defended the castle against Henry IV of England. The power of the Douglas Clan was perceived to be a threat to the Scottish throne and in 1440 the young sixth Earl and his brother were invited to Edinburgh Castle where they were beheaded.

Leave Edinburgh and travel east on the A1 to Haddington. The town has seen a thousand years of history as the gateway to Edinburgh and has been in the path of many marauding armies. The High Street and Market Street are a warren of wynds and lanes and contrast greatly with the grand buildings of Court Street. St Mary's is Scotland's largest parish church and is well worth exploring.

Just south of Haddington is Lennoxlove House. Built in the 14th century, it wasn't until 1946 that it became the home of the Douglas-Hamiltons, the heirs of the house of Douglas. The 15th Duke, Angus Douglas-Hamilton lives there today. The house is the splendid setting for the famous Hamilton Palace collection of furniture and paintings and mementoes of Mary Queen of Scots.

To the north of Haddington on a cliff edge is the dramatic and impressive Tantallon Castle. William, the first Earl of Douglas built this edifice in 1358 and in the late 1300s the House of Douglas split into the Red Douglases of Angus, Fife and Lothians and the Black Douglases in the southwest. The Red Douglases used Tantallon Castle as a base to persue their vendetta against the Black Douglases. Centuries later in 1651, Oliver Cromwell was responsible for much of the damage to the castle wall and towers, but it still is a very impressive place to visit.

Continue down the coast to the walled town of Berwick-upon-Tweed, now in England. As an important military town on the border between Scotland and England, Berwick has changed hands many times over its long history. William Douglas ‘The Hardy’ was governor of Berwick when the town was besieged by the English, and he later joined Sir William Wallace in the struggle for Scottish independence. Berwick is a very picturesque town and at the Berwick Barracks you can see how life here has had a military influence, including the history of the King's Own Scottish Borderers.

Follow the River Tweed to Melrose, a town overlooked by the beautiful and imposing Melrose Abbey. ‘The Good Sir James’, founder of the Black Douglases was killed in battle in Spain, where he was carrying a casket containing King Robert the Bruce's heart, to be buried in the Holy Land. Both the body of James and Robert the Bruce's heart were recovered and it is here in Melrose Abbey that the heart is interred.

Travel onwards to Lanark on your way west, to the heart of the Douglas homelands. Lanark was the place where William Wallace began his fight for Scottish independence in 1297, and this story was dramatised in the film Braveheart. The Good Sir James was the greatest captain under Robert the Bruce and is held as the third of Scotland's finest patriots after Bruce and Wallace. Lanark Castle was a timber construction so no longer exists, but Lanark itself grew as an important livestock market. Cattle bred in Scotland would have been taken by drovers to the English markets via Lanark. New Lanark was built in a narrow gorge on the River Clyde to harness the hydro power to run cotton mills in 1785 and with the demise of many British manufacturing industries in the 1960's, New Lanark suffered greatly. However, today it is a World Heritage Site and attracts visitors interested in the industrial and social history of the last 200 years.

A few miles to the south of Lanark is an area encompassing Douglas Water, Douglas Castle, Douglas West and the town of Douglas, which grew to serve Black Douglas in his castle on Douglas Water. From here he controlled the southwest approaches to the Clyde Valley. The castle was established by 1300 but was occupied by the English during the Wars of Independence, and in 1307 Sir James Douglas burned the castle while the English garrisons were there. Following this, the castle was rebuilt but was sacked by King James II in 1455 to suppress the Black Douglases. The Red Douglas Earls of Angus lived here in princely style in the 1630s, however due to mining subsidence in the 1940s, all that remains is a ruined stump (signposted as 'Castle Dangerous' from a Sir Walter Scott novel).

Also in Douglas is St Brides Church, parts of which date back to the 1300s. This is the final resting place for the Black Douglases in a mausoleum, and three canopied monuments including one to Good Sir James can be seen. The Douglas Heritage Museum in the castle dower house and exhibits include six stained glass windows showing the coats of arms of the Douglas Earls.

Travel down the A74(M) to Lockerbie and turn off to the west to find Castle Douglas. The town was planned and built by Sir William Douglas in 1789 as a cotton town and it prospered as an important regional centre for the large area of rural Galloway. Today it is known as Dumfries & Galloway’s Food Town, offering the best of Scottish food.

To the west of the town is Threave Castle, built on an island in the River Dee and accessible by way of a footpath then a ferry. It was built by Archibald the third Earl of Douglas who succeeded to the Lordship of Galloway, to secure his hold on Galloway and to resist the marauding English.

Travel to the historic city of Stirling to visit the very poignant site of the Battle of Bannockburn, where in 1314 Sir James Douglas commanded the left wing of the Scottish army at the battle. Time should also be made for a visit to the impressive Stirling Castle, a favoured royal retreat for the Stuart dynasty and the childhood home of Mary Queen of Scots.

Stirling Castle was also the setting for another young Douglas murder. Following the murders at Edinburgh Castle in 1440, King James II who being only ten years old himself at the time, was horrified at the murder of the two boys. In 1452 however, it was he who invited their cousin, the eighth Earl, to Stirling Castle with the promise of safe conduct and struck the first blow at his murder. The ninth Earl spent much of his life in England but died in 1491, the last of his line.