The Great Wall of Castle Semple

A high stone wall encloses the original heartland of Castle Semple estate, on the north side of Castle Semple loch. On closer inspection, this wall is not a simple drystane boundary dyke, but an estate perimeter wall.

Well at Gateside great wall

More than five kilometres long, the wall starts at Garthland Bridge which crosses the Black Cart near Howwood. It follows the south side of the public road, passing North Gates, Burnfoot, Markethill and Warlock Gates. At Gateside, set into the wall, is an elaborate arched well. The Castle Semple area abounds with traditions of sacred wells, springs and fountains, some of which were formalised with elaborate stone enclosures, perpetuating the local traditions. From Gateside the wall heads south in a long arc, until it meets the West Gates of the estate. Beyond the gates it continues further, to enclose an extra strip of estate by Castle Semple Loch.

Estate boundary walls often have a distinctive style, which define the estate and its extent. In the past, when locals crossed the estate boundary wall, they would have been well aware that they were entering the property of someone important, where catching of game was prohibited.

A great deal of labour was required to build the estate wall. As part of their rental, tenants also traditionally had to provide a set number of days labour a year for the landlord, including repairing walls. When the wall was built, it pushed the public road from its rambling course, further north, outside the edge of the estate.

The wall is built of whin rubble, in a distinctive style. The rubble for the wall was obtained from numerous small quarries along its route, which can still be traced. One quarry in the north side of Gateside Hill still has a loading bay, to transfer the stone onto carts. The character of the wall and size of rubble varies to suit what was available at the nearest quarry.

sandstone copeThe most distinctive feature of the wall is the very wide sandstone cope, semicircular in cross section, with ribbed tooling on top, which provides a subtle identity to the estate. Rather than random rubble, this is built of sandstone, quarried and cut to shape. Unfortunately long sections of the wall are in very poor condition and are either crumbling or collapsed. Of more than seven thousand of the distinctive copes, a third of them are damaged, loose or toppled and long-buried under vegetation behind the wall. The same copes can be found on the boundary wall of Milliken Estate, owned by James Milliken, a friend of the McDowalls of Castle Semple.

©2015, Stuart Nisbet, Renfrewshire Local History Forum

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