Scotland’s Most Gripping Derelict Places
If you have been following my activities on social media in recent months, you’ll likely have noticed that old, abandoned and derelict places have featured regularly. I’ll admit it, I’m hooked. Fascinating, beautiful and massively evocative wreckages litter Scotland on a scale that I had no appreciation of and that provide no end of spooks, intrigue and possibilities. With Halloween upon us, there seems no better time to bring my recent findings together for an explorative look at some of my favourites to date.
Diving right in, this place is amongst the most atmospheric of them all. Lusciously set to the south east of Loch Lomond and to the west of Drymen, this mysterious mansion was constructed in the 1850s for the Montrose family by James Graham, 4th Duke of Montrose. Built in classic Baronial style (complete with pointy wizard hat towers), my favourite of the architecture styles on show in this period, its head-spinning labyrinthine layout is something to behold.
It remained as a family home until 1925 before it was de-roofed (a common tactic that necessitates that no tax needs to be paid) in 1954. During World War Two it bizarrely served as a hospital and saw war wounded treated within its walls. Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s right-hand man, was the most famous patient – a quite astonishing thought. The, increasingly marginalised, Deputy Fuhrer flew solo to Britain in 1941 – attempting a clandestine go at negotiating peace outwith his boss’ knowledge – but his plane eventually ran out of fuel and he had to parachute out, injuring himself in the process. He was promptly arrested and treated here and was never to be a free man again. I’ve prepared more detail on this incredible saga here.
As I’ve found with fascination during these wanders of mine, these ruins have undergone a full-on assault from Mother Nature. She’s a powerful beast and isn’t the type to take some bricks and mortar as any sort of barrier to her Right to Roam – resulting in vibrant growths throughout. Buchanan Castle is very much a case in point. Its exterior walls have been consumed with creeping vegetation that would please Poison Ivy herself; interiors are dealing with armies of shrubs, bushes and full-grown trees. These lands passed from the Clan Buchanan to Clan Graham in the 17th Century and to this day the Castle is technically seat of the Grahams.
Lennox Castle Hospital
In the same vicinity as Buchanan Castle, this former asylum holds every single bit of the unnerving fear factor that these old ruins embody. Found north of Glasgow just outside of Lennoxtown, the negative atmosphere and dread emanating from this place is truly chilling….despite the unexpected presence of Celtic’s state of the art training facility next door.
The Castle building was constructed in the 1830’s but it was not until 1936 that it became the dreaded psychiatric institute for which it is now known. Intended as a top-class facility that could house up to 1200 patients and provide the best medical service in Britain, the reality became one of overcrowding and underfunding. Stories of malnourishment and physical abuse have surfaced as well with grotesque claims of inhumane treatment and conditions for those residing here. More of a prison than a hospital it is a sick and upsetting list of claims that has been laid at its now crumbling doorway. At best it was a place of neglect, at worst it was host to multiple murders.
A 3-storey building of the Norman castle style, its for-decoration-only battlements immediately deliver a You Are Not Welcome Here message that only intensifies under further scrutiny. Recent years have seen much vandalism, fires, graffiti and crumbling walls. Plans were floated in the last fifteen years to convert the site to flats. Would you want to live here?!?
In a similar design to Lennox Castle, this Tudor-Gothic structure has that same frostiness in appearance, fortunately with a less horrifying past. Built in the 1820s, you can find it in relatively decent condition in a remote spot near Airth in Central Scotland. Built for George Murray, the fifth Earl of Dunmore, its imposing style, set in vast rural grounds, says much about the desire for opulence. The Murrays departed in 1911, it remained a private home until 1961, then became a school for girls up to 1964 before being permanently abandoned thereafter.
What stands today is a rather tragic state of affairs. Views from above show the clear desire for each room to have a fireplace, while glassless bay windows, battlemented parapets and the odd coat of arms all catch the eye. Wider exploration will likely take you to the Dunmore Pineapple, a bemusing folly that’s existence just doesn’t make any sense.
This place was also an early addition on the list of ‘unofficial’ Outlander filming locations. Featuring as the makeshift hospital where Claire was treating war-wounded, even the savvy location scouts saw the grim visual potential of the place.
This particular titan of Ayrshire has been on my to-do list for years. Cast into the shadows by the other Ayrshire masterpiece of famed architect Robert Adam, Culzean Castle, its sad appearance today makes this the biggest waste of them all. Families come and go. Money comes and goes. But genius architects are rare things indeed and a Robert Adam should not be on a list of abandoned and derelict places.
The original Dalquharran Castle, built in the 15th Century, preceded the current House which itself was completed in the late 18th Century. Separated by just 500 metres, the newer edition is in a rather more impressive state. Its central spiral staircase is similar to Culzean’s and the layout is symmetrical around a central entrance hall. Leased to the Scottish Youth Hostel Association in the 1930s and also used as a school for the deaf in World War Two, its most pertinent use remains as home to the wealthy Kennedy family in the 1800s. Views from all angles show that the masonry is still in decent condition and this place feels like it could be salvaged. Shall we have a whip round?
This list of derelict places has unquestionably focussed on mansions. Giants. But this guy feels at least slightly closer to the kind of scale that would constitute a family home. Built relatively recently in around 1895, again in that Scots Baronial style, it has sat abandoned since around 1960 and the departure of the Bell-Irving family. Turrets, balconies and a relatively welcoming porte-cochere (porch) protrude from nature’s very determined efforts to consume the place. Feeling much more intimate than the others on this list, the interior attention grabbers are a remarkably intact main fireplace and very detailed mosaic floor tiling, depicting bold thistles. Much of the northern end of the House has completely collapsed, trimming its size considerably.
This place is pretty much the middle of nowhere. Lost within the country fields and backroads that stretch through so much of Dumfries and Galloway, it’s a couple of minutes outside the village of Kettleholm near Lockerbie and required some serious studying of Google Earth to determine its precise spot. You can pass the similarly derelict kennels on the way, which would have been home to the estate hounds.
One of the better-known derelict places in Central Scotland, Crawford Priory is set near Cupar in the heart of Fife. Involving a truly farcical search on my part that included a botched attempt at crossing a stream, multiple nettle stings, a close encounter with a startled heron, a look that would have soured milk from an unfriendly local, crossing a rail track and wandering through multiple fields I eventually got to this place as the last of the day’s light was departing. I am almost entirely certain that there is a much simpler way but no matter, I’m in no mood to revisit my ineptitude.
A former residence of the Earls of Crawford, Earls of Glasgow and Barons Cochrane of Cults, the building goes as far back as 1758 but much of what we now see dates from the early 1800s. Similarly Gothic to Dunmore House, its slightly grander presentation is about the only remaining connection with religion that can be found. Its title of ‘Priory’ is, for that reason, a puzzler but it seems that an Episcopal chapel did exist on the site at some time. It has sat abandoned since the 1970s.
Perhaps the most fascinating nugget of the Priory’s past is its former owner, Lady Mary Lindsay Crawford. A supposedly eccentric and reclusive sort (which may or may not be a fair assessment), her fondness for animals was well known and she seemingly single-handedly ran this large estate in the 1800s. Her ghost is still said to frequent the sad ruin that would once have been a magnificent home.
My interest in poking about derelict places started here earlier this summer. Built in 1820 for the Lockhart family of Castlehill, this remote Gothic-ish place can be found at the end of a very potholed farm road in North Lanarkshire. Both Cambusnethan and Crawford were designed by renowned architect James Gillespie Graham. A huge porch, ornate towers and evidence of a sunken basement stand out amidst this symmetrical and compact structure. In its time it has served as a hotel, restaurant and a mock medieval banqueting hall. It’s undoubtedly even more sobering knowing that the place has seen so much happiness in the past – such a far cry from these poignant remains. I hung around long enough to see the light fading and the eeriness crank up a few notches before my nervy walk back to the car.
The only one on this list undergoing any sort of concerted effort at preservation, the Friends of Cambusnethan Priory are nobly doing their utmost to prevent further deterioration.
I suspect this particular endeavour of mine is far from over. I’m learning that, although hundreds were destroyed in the 20th Century in particular, there remains dozens of derelict places of this ilk begging to be researched and visited. Pulse-quickening mysteries all, you may find that, like me, you are torn between melancholy at their wasted state and delight that they still exist in a form that fuels the imagination like little else.
Are there any other classic Scottish ruins and derelict places that you are aware of? From the above, do you have a favourite?
These buildings are all, funnily enough, derelict. Not maintained or carefully monitored they are not safe to explore and great care should be taken in and around them. I certainly do not recommend detailed exploration. Some are fenced up, others not, but regardless you approach these guys very much at your own risk and the boundaries in place are for our protection. They are mostly very hard to locate and require a degree of determination and patience but, when you do stumble upon them covered in mud, sweat and fear you will likely find them as breath-taking as I did.
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