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Orchardton Tower, Castle and estate





This large barony lies in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright south of Palnackie. Originally owned by the Cairns family, it centers on the unique round tower house of the same name. It came into the possession of Maxwell family of Drumcoltran in the middle of the sixteenth century through marriage. Edward Maxwell of Drumcoltran sold Orchardton to Robert Maxwell of Spottes, grandson of John Maxwell, Lord Herries in 1640. There after this family were created Baronets with the designation of Orchardton. They built a new tower house and mansion some quarter mile south of the old tower at a former farm named Glenshinnoch which they renamed Orchardton House. The Maxwells of Orchardton split off a portion of the barony in the south west to form the lesser barony of Gelston which became the estate of a younger son. Orcharton was the home of Sir Robert Maxwell who was out in the '45' with Bonnie Prince Charlie and was immortalized in Sir Walter Scott's Guy Mannering.


The Maxwells continued to live at Orchardton until the 7th Baronet started work on a new mansion two miles away in 1765. The costs bankrupted him and in 1785 he sold his estate, including Orchardton Tower, to James Douglas, 'a Liverpool merchant'. He styled himself 'of Orchardton'. (Some sources say he bought it from the Bank of Scotland).  Maxwell had also become involved in the failed Douglas, Heron & Co Bank, which resulted in a spate of bankruptcies.


Following his death, his estates were divided amongst his three daughters. The youngest who received the Orchardton barony was married to Colonel Christopher Maxwell, a younger son of the Maxwells of Cardoness. There were no children surviving from this union and the barony passed out of Maxwell hands upon Mrs Maxwell death.


In 1878 his successor William Robinson-Douglas demolished and rebuilt the mansion that had been started in 1765.



OrchardtonOrchardtonOrchardton Castle, previously known by the names of "Orchardton House" & "Orchardton Hall",  is a magnificent Scottish Baronial Mansion of significant architectural importance and is situated 1.5 miles from Auchencairn and about 7 miles to Castle Douglas. The house has an interesting history and has had a variety of uses since it was first built in the 18th century.

Since 2003 Orchardton has been put back to single occupation and has been much improved and modernised including a new kitchen, advanced central heating systems and extensive roof repairs. Internally there are some fifty rooms with large impressive hallways and staircases, ornate ceilings, imposing fireplaces and panelling.

There are uninterrupted views over Orchardton Bay and across the Solway to the Lakeland Fells and the area is well known for its beautiful coastline, scenery, sandy beaches and bustling towns nearby and the county enjoys a mild climate. Dumfries is about 20 miles, Edinburgh around 96 miles, Glasgow about 90 miles and Prestwick about 63 miles.

Completed in Scottish baronial style by William Douglas Robinson in the 1880’s, on the site of a small mansion dating from around 1761. Originally built by Sir Robert Maxwell, seventh baronet of Orchardton, who married a McLellan of Kirkudbright castle, and used the roof timbers and stone from Orchardton castle, (now just Orchardton tower remaining) rebuilding it in a better location. In 1786 the estate came into the ownership of James Douglas, the brother of William Douglas, founder of Castle Douglas. Part of the original wall structure is still evident.

It has impressive asymetrical elevations which incorporate large bay windows, crowstep gables, corbelled turrets and tall chimney stacks. The property has beautiful original features including oak panelling, impressive stairways with carved balustrades and imposing open fireplaces, many with carved mantels and original tiling. To the side there is an enclosed courtyard and a separate stable with power and water to accommodate 2 horses.

There are some 40 rooms as well as store rooms, a walk in linen cupboard and impressive hallways. Most rooms and hallways have original wooden shutters. There is even a manual pulley on one of the two sets of full height staircases.

The house has had an interesting history, and was used during the second world war as a military convalescent hospital for wounded officers, after the war the house was let and run as a hotel. The whole Estate, extending to 1767 acres was sold in 1951 and the purchaser of Orchardton House continued to run it as a hotel until 1960 when it became a school, when the school closed in 1981, it was then run as a house for residential courses and conferences and later housed a community of artists and craftspeople until being sold again in 2003.



Orchardton TowerOrchardton Tower is remarkable as the only round tower house in Scotland.

The Cairns family, who built Orchardton, were associated with the area from the early 15th century. Alexander Cairns was Provost of Lincluden, now an area of Dumfries, until his death in 1422. His brother, John Cairns, was Custumar, or customs officer, in Linlithgow. John Cairns was also a military engineer, and was responsible for designing the impressive King David's Tower at Edinburgh Castle, which was destroyed in 1573. His heir, another John Cairns who was his nephew's son, was granted the lands of 'Irisbuitle', or Orchardton, in 1456. The grant of former Douglas lands was possibly in return for Cairns' support for James II, in his successful struggle to overthrow the power of the 'Black' Earls of Douglas. John Cairns built Orchardton Tower soon after. The fact that round towers are common in Ireland has led to speculation of Irish influence at Orchardton. However, no specific link has been found.

John Cairns' grandson William was present, in support of his relatives Agnew and Lochinvar, at the murder of Thomas McLellan of Bombie, outside St. Giles' Cathedral, Edinburgh in 1527. On William's death in 1558 the estate was partitioned between his three daughters. The part including the castle was sold in 1616 to Robert Maxwell, who had earlier bought the other portions of the estate. Maxwell was a nephew of Lord Maxwell, and in 1663 was created a baronet.

Maxwell's descendants were divided along with the rest of the country during the Reformation. Mungo Maxwell (b. 1700) was illegally disinherited by his half brothers on religious grounds. His son, another Robert Maxwell, was raised in France, and obtained a commission in the French Army. Following service in France, he took part in the second Jacobite Rising in 1745. He was wounded at Culloden and taken prisoner, where his commission was discovered and he was consequently spared execution; as a foreign soldier, he was treated as a prisoner of war rather than a traitor.

Robert returned to France for a time, before deciding to declare himself a Protestant in order to claim his rightful inheritance. In 1753 he resigned his commission and returned to Scotland to begin a long lawsuit, which ended in 1771 when he was confirmed as Sir Robert Maxwell, 7th Bt. These events were used as inspiration by Sir Walter Scott, for his novel Guy Mannering.

Robert Maxwell completed construction of a new, more comfortable residence at Orchardton House. He was bankrupted by his financial dealings, and in 1785 the estate was sold to the Douglas family. It is unlikely that the castle was lived in after this time.

The round tower was located at the north east corner of a fortified yard or barmkin, which would have sheltered livestock and provided cellars, a bakehouse, and probably a hall built on an upper level. The tower itself was reserved for living quarters, and was accessed via a stair, possibly moveable, from the barmkin up to a first floor doorway. The present entrance, on the north of the tower, was constructed in the 17th or 18th centuries. A new door was formed from a window and a permanent stone stair constructed.

The tower is 11m, in height, and around 9m in diameter, tapering slightly to the top. A corbelled parapet forms the top of the walls, with a gabled caphouse covering the spiral stair, which is within the 1.8m thick wall. Inside, a vaulted cellar occupies the ground floor. Above this was a main room with fireplace, deep windows with seats, and a carved lavabo or piscina. Above this would have been two further rooms, although the wooden floors have collapsed.

Orchardton Tower is now in the care of Historic Scotland, and is a Scheduled Ancient Monument.


Lintel plaque on Orchardton House
The initials WDRD over door are those of William Douglas Robinson-Douglas, b1851, d1921. He succeeded to Orchardton 1878. (The panel 1881 records the date of his additions to the house.)
Main entrance Crest on an internal window Portrait of James Douglas Heart ceiling 




1.  As of September 2016, Orchardton Castle is on the market at offers over £2 million. In Janaury 2022, Orchardton is again on the market 'through no fault of its own'.  Offers over £1.7 million are sought.



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Last modified: Friday, 17 May 2024