Originally written for suite101.com and published 31/05/09.
Despite being the smallest county in the country, Clackmannanshire has a surprisingly large number of surviving Tower Houses, which shaped its history for centuries.
To the casual visitor it may seem surprising that as small a county as Clackmannanshire – albeit the county with the longest name – should boast so many medieval tower houses in such close proximity. Most of the towers were built by aristocrats seeking to be close to the Royal Court at Stirling, yet wanting to have a place of safety to retreat to in times of strife.
Currently only three of the buildings are open to visitors on a regular basis, but it is hoped that as restoration work continues on the others that this will be extended in the future. In the meantime detailed information panels are situated at all locations, and people interested in helping with or contributing to the restoration work can find information on the council’s website.
Standing atop King’s Seat Hill on the outskirts of Clackmannan village; Clackmannan Tower affords some excellent views of the Forth Valley below. Traditionally the home of the Bruce family, the tower was abandoned at the end of the 18th century, with subsidence causing a major structural collapse in 1948. The tower is not presently open to the public on a regular basis, but it usually opens for Doors Open Day in September.
Alloa Tower is the most complete and most extensively restored of the tower houses. Between the late 14th century and 1800, the tower was home to the Erskine family, better known as the Earls of Mar. They were loyal supporters of the Stuart monarchs and their fortunes rose and fell alongside them. The tower is open from the beginning of April until the end of October daily from 1pm to 5pm.
Menstrie Castle underwent considerable restoration work during the 1960s to save it from demolition to make way for a council housing estate. Currently it serves mainly as holiday accommodation for tourists, but is open to the public for limited hours between May and September – Wednesday and Sunday between from 2pm to 5pm.
Perhaps the least well-known and certainly the most isolated of Clackmannanshire’s tower house, Sauchie Tower is arguably also the most in need of restoration work. Restoration and archaeological work is ongoing, along with work to raise the profile of the tower among the local community. The tower is not generally open to the public, although during Scottish Archaeology Month and Door Open Day guided tours available.
Originally built as a tower house and later extended to include a large hall and guest accommodation; Castle Campbell is one of the most impressive buildings included in the trail. Set at the head of picturesque Dollar Glen, on the edge of equally picturesque village of Dollar. The castle is open daily from 9.30am to 5.30pm during the summer and Saturday to Wednesday from 9.30am to 4.30pm during winter.
Although parts of the trail are accessible by public transport, others are not and car travel is advised. Alloa is generally a good starting point with signposting to two other towers clearly marked from there. Maps and further information are available from tourist information offices and attractions around Clackmannanshire and Stirlingshire. A map of the trail is downloadable from Clackmannanshire Council’s website.