Featured image of Gilnockie Tower

The History of Gilnockie Tower

Gilnockie Tower is located at the hamlet of Hollows, roughly 2.3 km north of Canonbie, in Dumfries and Galloway, southwest Scotland. This lovely tower is situated on the west bank of the River Esk. Originally known as Hollows Tower, this recently repaired tower is nearby the site of Gilnockie Castle.

The history of Gilnockie Tower

After being recently repaired, this rubble-built tower is a 5-storey residence that allegedly supported the nefarious activities of many organised crime syndicates, extending back in time over 500 years. It is a great example of a restored 16th-century tower house.

It can easily be spotted from the A7 north of Canonbie.

The early history

The name Gilnockie derives from the Scottish Gaelic Geal Cnocan meaning ‘Little White Hill’. Hollows, as it was formerly known, was built around the year 1520 by Johnnie Armstrong, a famous Border outlaw and the younger brother of Thomas Armstrong of Mangerton.

In 1528, the tower was burned down by Sir Christopher Dacre, English Warden of the Western Marches. In 1530, Johnnie and 50 followers were hanged by James V, after being tricked into joining a hunting party, an event recorded in the ballad “Johnnie Armstrong”. The tower was then rebuilt.


However, it was soon damaged again by the English raids in the 1540s. It was again subsequently rebuilt with a new parapet walk and a beacon stance on the gable.

Restoring Gilnockie Tower

When 1978 rolled around, the tower was a roofless ruin. At this time, it was purchased by Major T.C.R Armstrong-Wilson who then undertook a full restoration. During this time, it was re-roofed and new floors were reconstructed at four levels.

Each room had an authentic oak door fitted. The interior was also plastered out and electricity and water were taken into the building. At this time, the tower was listed as a Category A listed building and all of the work carried out was overseen by the Scottish Development Department (Ancient Monuments).

Later on

In 2015, the tower was completely closed to the public while major repairs were undertaken. The main principle behind these repairs was to take the building back to as near as possible condition that it would have been in, in the 16th century. It was also of the utmost importance that the building would meet all of the safety standards required of a 21st-century visitor centre.

In 2018, the repairs were completed and Gilnockie Tower and the Clan Armstrong Centre were opened to the public once again.

The current day

Nowadays, the building consists of an authentic clan leaders house that is complete with a divine furnished Grand Hall and Master Bedroom. The tower also houses the Clan Armstrong Museum which was previously located in the Episcopal Church in Langholm.

In 2019, Gilnockie Tower was awarded a 4-star rating from Visit Scotland as a visitor centre. It is also internationally recognised as the ancestral home of the Armstrong Clan. It welcomes visitors seven days a week.

Gilnockie Tower Timeline

  • 1520- Hollows, as it was formerly known, is built by Johnnie Armstrong, a famous Border outlaw and the younger brother of Thomas Armstrong of Mangerton
  • 1528- The tower is burned down by Sir Christopher Dacre, English Warden of the Western Marches
  • 1530- Johnnie and 50 followers were hanged by James V, after being tricked into joining a hunting party, an event recorded in the ballad “Johnnie Armstrong”
  • 1540s- The tower is damaged again in the English raids
  • 1978- The tower is a roofless ruin
  • 2015- The tower is completely closed to the public while major repairs are undertaken
  • 2018- The repairs are completed and Gilnockie Tower and the Clan Armstrong Centre are opened to the public once again
  • 2019- Gilnockie Tower is awarded a 4-star rating from Visit Scotland as a visitor centre

Gilnockie Tower facts

  • Gilnockie Tower comprises of four storeys plus an attic, measuring around 10 by 7.6 metres at the base
  • The basement of the tower comprises a vaulted cellar, with gun loops to south, west, and north
  • The most notable part of the castle is the beacon stance, corbelled out from the south gable at the highest point of the building
  • Gilnockie Tower was originally known as Hollows Tower
  •  Gilnockie Tower is a Category A listed building

Who owns Gilnockie Tower?

Nowadays, Gilnockie Tower is owned by the Clan Armstrong Centre, a Scottish Registered Charity.

Tourism

Immerse yourself in a treasure trove of fascinating objects and art inspired by those who have, over the years, followed in the Anglo-Scottish Border Reiver footsteps. Gilnockie Tower is open seven days a week from 10 am to 4 pm with the last entry being called at 3:30 pm.

The prices for tours are as follows: Adults, £6.00, Concessions, £5.00, and Children, £3.00. Premium Guided Tours are also available for £20.00. With the Premium Guided Tours, you get your own guide to help you wander throughout the building while explaining what the tower was like in the 16th century and how it has changed throughout the past three years. Nearby, you can visit Barjarg Tower, Drumlanrig Castle, The Devils Porridge, Walby Farm Park, Netherby Hall, Scots Dike, and The Gretna Green Famous Blacksmiths Shop.


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