Location: just outside Galashiels, Scottish Borders, Lowlands of Scotland
kind of castle: 17th-century towerhouse-mansion
today: ruin accessible to the public, on private ground, information bords
public transport: buses from Galashiels up to the gatehouse at the entrance of the estate (buses and trains to Galashiels from Edinburgh)
scheduled monument: yes
managed by: on Pringle family estate
entrance fee: £ 0
opening times: 24/7
directions: Google Maps
Torwoodlee Tower or Castle of Torwoodlee or Torwartlie is a place that is pretty much underrated even with locals. Except of people who know the area well or walk their dogs there, many people in Galashiels don’t even know about the place or simply don’t pay it a lot of attention. Yet Torwoodlee Tower is very much underrated, once you see the place and the parts left which suggest a way bigger complex than seen at first.
Erected in 1601 on the sight of an earlier tower Torwoodlee was built by the Pringle Family, a very prominent family in the Scottish Border region. There is no knowledge about when the first keep was originally built or by whom, but since the lands have notably been property of the Pringle family as far back as the 15th century the older structure was most likely been built by them too, making them live in that area for over 500 years now.
First leasing the land in 1501 and finally buying it in 1509, the tower stayed in Pringle hands although being reportedly sacked by a band of Elliots and Armstrongs, possibly with other families involved as well, in 1568 as parts of usual fighting between conflicting families in the Borders. The hands the castle passed through the next couple of generations were those of a row of Hoppringill, which was the back then more common form of the Pringle family name.
Replacing the older tower today Torwoodlee Tower is often referred to as a ‘romantic ruin’ but the amazing complex unfortunately only had a very short life, being left for the newer Torwoodlee House in 1783 it is still situated on Pringle lands but has long been fallen into disrepair and a ruined status.
With its location on the steep slopes there is no wonder that the best layout for Torwoodlee Tower was in a terraced form, the former orchard for example was further up than the tree avenue, ‘Old Avenue’ leading up to the tower and the other building.
The northside of the complex, now pretty much hidden and only a small wall surviving, used to be made up out of cellars supporting the above terrace, only fragments of these survive today. The part of building that you can still see today is the main tower part that survives to most of its height.
Imagine those walls with their windows, standing up there looking down, no trees blocking your view, and dive into the views over the bend in the Gala Water looking all the way over the countryside. These gardens and grounds like these would have probably surrounded many towers back in the day and Torwoodlee Tower is a perfect example for how well you can still see that, since this feature was lost for many a place, having big potential to teach new things about construction techniques as well as defences, domestic life and the general functions of a 16th century tower house.
Thanks to a general funds of foundations and Pringle family members a couple of years back the tower was secured and stabilised over a period of 2 years, preserving it, and making it save to visit the ruin.
Today when you enter through the doorway you will end up on the ground floor which formerly consisted of the principal rooms and had a staircase leading down into the basement consisting of three vaulted chambers, now broken down. With none of the upper floors surviving it can only be imagined what was there once, although it is pretty clear that on the first floor have once been the private chambers and further up something either being a second floor or an attic.
It was the 9th Laird of Torwoodlee, James Pringle of Bowland, who built the new house alongside the hillside further to the east and so it is sure that the tower house fell out of use at the end of the 18th century.
It is a lovely walk from Galashiels up to Torwoodlee Tower and a nice spot for a wee break just enjoying your surroundings. Please be careful though, there are warning signs in place since the tower remains will never be 100 % save given the age and the left parts, so if you go inside the ruin, take great care and keep a close eye on your children or dogs if you took any with you up there.