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From Aug 2006 - Nov 2013 WeDig provided a live forum for diggers & fans of Vindolanda. It has now been mothballed and will be maintained as a live archive.

Here you will find preserved 7 years of conversation, photos, & knowledge about a site many people love. Vindolanda gets under the skin. (Figuratively and literally as a volunteer excavator!) It's a place you remember, filled with people you remember!

Thanks for 7 great years!

Hermitage Castle - Lonely & Grim Reminder of an Unsettled Age

First sight of Hermitage

A few miles across the border into Scotland, along a small road that wends amid green hills & vales, lies Hermitage Castle. The first glimpse comes from a distance, an ominous sheer stone face with a black gaping maw in its midst. Hermitage is no ordinary castle. It may be one of the most evocative fortresses in the nation.

Onsite, the grimness -- of both the fort & its surroundings -- is palpable. Hermitage doesn't sit proudly at the peak of a redoubt, with tall towers and fluttering flags. Instead, it broods at the base of a hollow amid the hills. The weight of this place seems to have depressed the earth around it. Hermitage exudes not pageantry, but raw power.

The castle as it stands now was largely constructed in the late 1300s by William, 1st Earl of Douglas, Lord of Liddesdale. Liddesdale lay in what was known for some 300 years as the Debatable Lands -- the violent border country between Scotland and England. A wild and lawless strip of land which neither crown ruled with any real authority. Here a lord with a castle such as the Hermitage could do largely as he wished.
Hermitage Castle
The green and damp of Hermitage Castle
Scroll over for a close-up of the condensation on the stone.

Inside, the castle exhibits many of the usual features. Ghostly fireplace hollows
, ancient staircases & wells
. But many of the chambers are still roofed, adding to the claustrophobia. The wet, chill Scottish air has bred layers of moss & mold on the stonework, casting a livid green. (The image on the left has not been Photoshop'ed. That's its true color!)

There is little sound in the air. A crow in the distance, wind that somehow feels near yet far. The crown of low hills that surrounds the castle cuts it off from the outside world. Leaving it forlorn, isolated.

Not surprisingly, this formidable and lonely and disconnected place became a hotbed of intrigue. Over the centuries a string of faithless lords sowed plots and subjugated the land. William's father was called "not so much valiant as malevolent." Passed over for post of sheriff, he imprisoned the new sheriff in the castle and starved him to death. Later lords made secret deals first with the English crown, then the Scottish, then with usurpers. Ownership passed from Dacre to Douglas to Angus to Bothwell -- the same Bothwell who had an illicit affair with Mary, Queen of Scots.

From top to bottom, Hermitage Castle is built wholly and singly for siege, warfare, and domination. It has few windows. What appear to be windows at the top were actually doorways for reaching temporary fighting platforms

image from Hermitage Castle souvenir guide, Historic Scotland
built out & over the edge of the castle at need. The huge imposing arches were simply a means of carrying that platform straight across the castle's faces.

An entire wing of the castle was Liddesdale's prison. The upper levels of it at least had air circulation and a latrine. The lower levels were nothing but dank and deadly pits

After the Union of the Crowns in 1603, peace came to the lawless borderlands. And castles like Hermitage suddenly had no purpose. It fell into ruin, though was slightly restored in the early 1800s. It remained in private hands until 1930, and is now cared for by Historic Scotland.

Directions from Vindolanda to Hermitage
Directions here, courtesy of Google.

Reaching Hermitage Castle on a digger's schedule requires a car. It's about an hour's drive NW of Vindolanda. It's an easy & beautiful drive along mostly quiet roads and country lanes. The kind of drive that makes you realize how much wide-open green space there still is in this corner of the world. The scenery may well take you back across the long centuries to a time when this was a no-man's land. The meeting ground between two nations locked in 300 years of on-again/off-again warfare.

Hermitage Castle is a grim place. It, and its Liddesdale setting, seem to exist in a different time. It tells tales of cold, brutal authority when life was very hard, uncertain, and altogether different from what most of us enjoy today. For that reason alone, it is a -perfect- insight into the story of Vindolanda's own border region, Tynedale. The stuff from which the modern culture of places like Haltwhistle & Hexham springs. It's also a testament to the stout-hearted & strong people that survived hardships in a land we now see as so peaceful & bucolic.

"Hermitage Castle, Official Souvenir Guide." Historic Scotland, 2008.

Page created by Harold Johnson