Originally written for suite101.com and published 05/05/09.
Perhaps one of the least likely or auspicious locations for a castle, Menstrie Castle is nonetheless worth the visit.
Unlike the rest of the fortified homes that make up the Tower Trail around Clackmannanshire, Menstrie Castle is a manor house, rather than a tower house. As such it is only two stories high, with a turret on one side. It is also the youngest of the buildings having been built in the late 16th century.
Originally a small L-shaped fortalice with entrance given by way of the archway through the front wall into the courtyard. The building was later extended to fully enclose the courtyard, however, only the south and west wings survive into the present day. The courtyard gives the impression of being once again enclosed, however, this is by way of more modern houses that surround the castle.
Castle Builders and History
The castle was originally the home of the Alexanders, who were chiefs of the Clan Allister. They settled at Menstrie around 1481 having come to the area along with the Earl of Argyll who in turn settled at nearby Castle Campbell. The 1st Earl of Stirling, William Alexander was born there in 1572 and would later become one of the founders of Nova Scotia – though he lost considerable money in the venture.
Within the space of a few generations the Alexanders had become prosperous and powerful in the area, with Anthony Alexander becoming Master of Works for Scotland and Royal Surveyor. However the continued loyalty of the Alexanders to the Campbells would count against them in 1645 when Montrose and his royalists burned Menstrie along with Castle Campbell for their supporting the Covenanters.
Restoration of the Castle and Environs
The castle fell into disuse and later into the ownership of the local council, serving as somewhat substandard tenement housing. By the mid twentieth century it was set to be demolished to make way for a new council housing estate, but for the intervention of an interested public – some from as far away as Canada, perhaps influenced by the role of the 1st Earl of Stirling in the founding of Nova Scotia.
The castle has by this means been restored and now resides in the care of the National Trust for Scotland. Since 1951 it has been listed as a Building of National Importance, so cannot be altered without the express permission of the Secretary of State for Scotland.
Getting There and Opening Hours
Situated in the small former mill town of Menstrie in Clackmannanshire, approximately five miles east of Stirling along the A91 it is clearly signposted from the main road. The castle is unexpectedly located in the middle of a housing estate – which it was nearly demolished to make way for – and only limited on-street parking is available.
The castle is only open for limited hours to the public, however parts of the castle can be rented out as self-catering accommodation, which is especially popular during the summer months. The castle also serves as a museum on the exhibition and Baronets of Nova Scotia.
Easter Sunday: 2pm – 5pm
1st May – 30th September: Wednesday & Sunday 2pm – 5pm
Admission is free.