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Baldoon Castle



Baldoon, located in The Macars, Wigtonshire, was amongst the Douglas properties forfeited to the crown when James Douglas, 9th Earl of Douglas, 3rd Earl of Avondale (1426–1488) was attainted in 1455. In 1533, a grant was made of a fue of the king's grange of Baldoon to the sitting tenant, Archibald Dunbar, probably on the instigation of his brother, Archbishop Gavin Dunbar, the Chancellor.

The ivy-covered ruins of Baldoon Castle lay just beyond the old gate(1). This historic castle was owned by the Dunbars of Westfield from 1533 to about 1800. Although the ruins are now deserted, you can still feel a heaviness of heart as you walk onto the castle grounds. The ghost of Janet Dalrymple Dunbar is reported to haunt the castle.

In the mid 1600’s, Janet, the eldest daughter of Sir James Dalrymple was betrothed to David Dunbar, heir of Sir David Dunbar of Baldoon. As was the custom, the marriage was arranged by her parents but Janet’s heart wasn’t in it. She loved Archibald, third Lord Rutherford, even though his family was virtually penniless. Janet’s parents had no use for poor Archibald. They forbid the relationship, insisting that she marry David. Out of duty to the tradition, Janet married David in the church of Old Luce, two miles from her home at Carsecleugh Castle. It was a hot summer day, but her brothers both recollect that Janet’s hands were “cold as ice,” as she walked down the aisle. “I don’t want to be with him,” Janet said to them.

No one is quite sure what happened later that night in the bridal chamber. There are several versions of the events that occurred. In the first, “the bride stabs her bridegroom in the bridal chamber and dies insane.” The second, “disappointed, Archibald conceals himself in the chamber, stabs the bridegroom and escapes through the window into the garden.” Local tradition adds a third version “it was the Devil who nearly killed Dunbar and who tormented poor Janet until she was demented.”

Sir Walter Scott describes his version of the events in his book, The Bride of Lammermoor. “The door of the bridal chamber was broken down after hideous shrieks were heard from within and the bridegroom was found lying across the threshold, dreadfully wounded and streaming with blood. The bride crouched in a chimney corner, her white nightgown splashed with blood, grinning and muttering and quite insane.” The tale was re-used again in Verdi’s opera, Lucia de Lammermoor.

Legend says that Janet never recovered and died shortly afterwards, on September 12th 1669. David Dunbar is said to have recovered from his injuries and would not talk about the events of the dreadful night. In time, he married a daughter of the seventh Earl of Eglinton and eventually died after falling from his horse in 1682. Archibald, Janet’s true love, never married and died in 1685.

Whatever happened that fateful night in the 17th century has left its impression on Baldoon Castle. On several occasions, visitors have claimed they have seen the ghost of Janet Dalrymple Dunbar roaming the castle ruins, usually on the anniversary of her death. Still wearing her blood-stained night clothes, she wanders sadly, head hung low as if she is filled with deep regret.

The paths of the two families who had been so eager to unite took widely different paths after that. The Dalrymples became better known by the title they received shortly after -- Earls of Stair. As the Master of Stair John Dairymple eventually became Secretary of State for Scotland and was responsible for the Massacre of Glencoe. The Dunbars of Baldoon turned their energies to the improving of agriculture that was beginning to take effect in the last quarter of the 17th century. In his way Sir David Dunbar was a pioneer of the enclosed land for grazing and the importation of cattle--albeit illicit--from Ireland. Sir David recovered enough from his first unhappy matrimonial venture to wed a daughter of the 7th Earl of Eglinton.

Is it the burden of guilt or the memories of un-requited love that still haunt Baldoon Castle. Perhaps, only Janet’s ghost knows for sure and she’s not about to tell.

David Dunbar of Baldoon was created a baronet of Nova Scotia in 1664.

Baldoon Castle is open to the public. It is in a ruinous condition and care should be taken when exploring the site.

1. The mid 17th century pair of sophisticated Renaissance gatepiers, formerly part of the formal entrance to Baldoon Castle, are an important example of high quality Renaissance work rare in this region of Scotland. The square section gatepiers with alternate bands of lozenge-cut and stylised rock-faced rustication support cornice and moulded scroll caps which give the effect of an open-topped pediment to the gateway.

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Last modified: Tuesday, 01 February 2022