Tale of a family’s rise to prominence with the help of the Bruce

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I mentioned last week how one tale leads to another and how families came into prominence and then faded away. The Boyd family are one such family with Sir Robert Boyd having excelled himself sufficiently at the Battle of Bannockburn for Robert the Bruce to provide him with lands at Kilmarnock on which he built Dean Castle . Well the family expanded with their influence spreading not only to building Penkill Castle near Girvan but also to a castle at Portencross.

However to go back in time, there was an old iron age fort at Auldhill above Portencross which dominated the approaches to the upper reaches of the Clyde. However in the 1100s the remains of this fort were used to build a castle at Auldhill which was required to keep the Vikings at bay until they were finally defeated at Largs. The land at this stage was in the hands of the de Ross family of Norman descent but was passed to the Boyds by Robert the Bruce in recognition of Sir Robert Boyd’s services at Bannockburn. Around 1360 stones from the now defunct Auldhill Castle were used to build Portencross Castle down by the port. It was an important port which gave access to the castles at Rothesay Cumbrae and other areas in the Clyde. Scots Kings in the early years were want to stay at the castle when they had business to conduct in that part of the country as it was of a sound fortification with walls in excess of four feet thick and plenty of escape routes should it become necessary.

In 1588, the year the Armada was defeated by the English, one of the Spanish vessels trying to escape foundered in a storm near the castle, some say it was due to a spell cast by the witch Geils Buchanan which created the violent storm. However, whether you believe in witches or not, in the 1700s divers were able to raise several Spanish cannons from a wreck proving that a galleon had met its end in the proximity of Portencross Castle.

The roof blew off the castle around the same time, perhaps due to the witches storm and the Boyd family moved into a nearby mansion house. The castle was then used by fishermen to store their nets and pots until it was acquired by William Adams in 1900 and some restoration work carried out. Ownership moved through several hands culminating with British Nuclear Fuels Ltd who in 1988 sold it to the charity ‘Friends of Portencross Castle’ for a fee of £1.

The charity maintain it to this day and in fact both this and Dean Castle are open to the public without charge and I can thoroughly recommend a visit.