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    Greenknowe Tower: A Fortified House in the Scottish Borders

    Map adapted from a Scottish Borders map found in Scotland An Encyclopedia of Places & Landscapes David Munro Bruce Gettings RSGS Royal Scottish Geographical Society 2006

    It was the end of a grey and rainy summer day when we arrived at Greenknowe Tower, half a mile west of the village of Gordon and about 6 miles north from Smailholm Tower, as the crow flies. It is located on the A6105, close to the junction with the A6089.

    Greenknowe Tower © 2007 Scotiana

    We had had a busy day, travelling in the Borders and visiting Abbotsford, Thirlestane Castle and Smailholm Tower, so try to imagine our feelings when we suddenly found ourselves in front of such a landscape!

    Greenknowe Tower © 2007 Scotiana

    At this hour of the day, the place looked still more solitary than Smailholm. No farmer and no cows here but it was a most beautiful and romantic scene with the ruined tower standing amidst an ocean of flowers and surrounded by big old trees.

    Greenknowe Tower © 2007 Scotiana

    Some of these trees, like watchful sentinels, seemed to keep guard over the Tower, and as we approached it, we noticed on one of them strange and grotesque shapes which looked rather puzzling… green men hiding there … who knows!

    Greenknowe Tower HS notice board drawing (detail) © 2007 Scotiana

    Greenknowe Tower © 2007 Scotiana

    The 16th century old building is well-preserved and its countryside environment well-kept, as usual in Scotland. Unlike Smailholm, Greenknowe Tower is not staffed but there is an illustrated notice board in the car park which describes it perfectly.

    We stayed a long time outside the tower trying to make a good idea of its architecture. This four storey  L-shaped building is a good example of the Scottish fortified house. Its narrow entrance door is situated at the point where the two rectangular blocks meet. A stair turret rises above it. We noticed that Greenknowe Tower had more and bigger windows than its Smailholm counterpart, which suggests that even if it had been built with security in mind it was mainly used as a comfortable dwelling.

    Greenknowe Tower turret © 2007 Scotiana

    Whether it be for defensive or decorative purposes, three of the building’s angles are surmounted by small turrets with gun loops.

    Greenknowe Tower door lintel - James Seton & Janet Edmonstone coat of arms © 2007 Scotiana

    On the lintel of the entrance door, shields containing symbols, a date and initials are engraved in the stone. The inscriptions have weathered with time but we can still read the date (1581), the initials (I, S, I, E), a moon symbol and a few other heraldic motifs, probably linked to the family who owned the place.

    Greenknowe Tower arms symbols HS notice board (detail) © 2007 Scotiana

    The informative board in the car park proved very useful to us and we learned that one letter we had taken for a I was in fact a J, which gave J S for James Seton and J E for Janet Edmonstone. James Seton had married Janet Edmonstone and he had built the tower in 1581 though the estate belonged to the family since the 15th century when Alexander Seton married a Gordon heiress. In the 17th century it passed to the Pringles family whose best known member was the famous Covenanter Walter Pringle of Greenknowe and then to the Dalrymple family. Today, the well-preserved ruins are in the care of Historic Scotland.

    Greenknowe Tower "yett" © 2007 Scotiana

    Since the building was open we decided to visit it though, at this late hour, the tower looked rather dark and gloomy. Local folk tales saying that it is the most haunted place in the area still adds to the eerie atmosphere… The ‘yett’* , the original iron gate, creaked when we opened it and so eerie was its noise that we recorded it.

    Greenknowe Tower fireplace © 2007 Scotiana

    Inside the tower, we noticed some interesting features : a vaulted kitchen, an impressive fireplace in which we would have liked to make a big fire in order to make the atmosphere of the place a little more cheerful, a spiral stair which leads up to the hall…  but experts in architecture would certainly have found much more to say about this old tower.

    Greenknowe Tower spiral stair © 2007 Scotiana

    I was the only one not to climb up to the top of the tower. I didn’t meet any ghost but I can’t say I felt easy to remain alone in the lower rooms.

    Greenknowe Tower meadow-sweet field © 2007 Scotiana

    After visiting the cold, damp and gloomy tower we were very happy to find ourselves in the open air, amidst a field of delicately scented, creamy-white flowers…

    The Observer's Book of British Wild Flowers compiled by W.J. Stokoe - Frederick Warne & Co. Ltd © 2007 Scotiana

    My old little book about British flowers says the latin name of this white flower is “Spirae Ulmaria” and that it belongs to the family of Rosaceae. It adds that it is also known as “Queen of the Meadows”, our French “Reine des prés”, and that it can be found in wet meadows and by the sides of streams and rivers. No wonder this beautiful flower is growing so well at Greenknowe (which means “green hill”) since the place is surrounded by marshy ground.

    Greenknowe Tower © 2007 Scotiana

    We didn’t linger too long on the place, and certainly not near the big dark trees. We remembered quite well the story of Reverend Kirk’s tree at Doon Hill 😉  Finally we ended our day by a small pilgrimage to the breathtaking Scott’s View !

    What a  day !

    A bientôt. Mairiuna

    *A yett (from the Old English and Scots language word for “gate”) is a gate or grille of latticed wrought iron bars used for defensive purposes in castles and tower houses. Unlike a portcullis, which is raised and lowered vertically using mechanical means, yetts are hinged in the manner of a traditional gate or door, and secured by bolts attached to the yett, or by long bars drawn out from the wall or gateway. (Wikipedia)

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    5 comments to Greenknowe Tower: A Fortified House in the Scottish Borders

    • Hi, I just wanted to advise you that I have experienced something very odd at the tower. It was back in the 90s, and I was selling window blinds, travelling from Northumberland, and on my way to a job. I saw the tower and it just appealed to me, and so I stopped and walked up to it to take a closer look. I have no idea why I bothered, I would not have normally done that while ‘working’. Anyway, long story short, I felt I was being watched, although I was the only person there.I walked up to the doorway on the right fully intending to go inside, but I just suddenly felt a real creepiness to the place and decided against it. As I walked away I got my old camera out and took a picture to remind me of the place. When it was developed there was what looked like a middle-ages era elegant lady looking back at me! I still have the photo. I sometimes just pass it to people but don’t give them any ‘back-story’, and many people see the lady, other more sceptical types write it off as colours/shades/stonework etc.I am a writer and I’m currently working on a few personal’ghost’ type stories, of which this will be one of them. If you wish to see the photo please contact me by e-mail and I’ll send you a copy. Best Wishes, Mark in Bude

      • Many thanks, Mark, for sending us such an extraordinary story. It would be quite interesting to know if other readers have lived a similar experience at Greenknowe Tower. We haven’t, even if we would have liked to 😉
        We loved the place at first sight and were very eager to discover the history of such a romantic place. We learned that the tower had been built in 1581 for James Seton and his second wife. One can see their monograms adorning the lintel above the front door. It was rather late when we arrived there and we were completely alone in this solitary and rather eerie place. The trees around had strange shapes and seemed to have a life of their own. A sumptuous carpet of cream-coloured flowers gave the impression that a wedding was going to take place there. We lingered quite a long time inside and outside the building, taking pictures and videos but startling at the slightest noise.
        We certainly would not have liked to spend the night there. I’m personally inclined to believe in ghosts and have been comforted in this belief by a couple of strange things which have happened to about which I’m rather reluctant to speak. By the way I am also a great fan of ghost stories when they are told by good story-tellers and there are many of them in Scotland!
        Best regards,
        Mairiuna on behalf of Scotiana

      • Jamie Kinroy

        hi Mark,
        Would love to see your picture, How can I get your email address?

    • Kevin

      Hi Mark,
      I was wondering if it would be possible to see your picture please? My friends and I are really interested in the paranormal and are keen to do a vigil there one night as we have often wondered about the place as we are from that area.

      Many thanks.


    • Ronald Chappell

      Hi guys I believe this place haunted .
      I was working on the main road not far from here .. I parked at the layby so that the traffic lights can get set up ..
      I had time on my hands so I went to have a look . While taking pictures on way up the path.. something did not feel quite right .. ..
      I continued into the building slowly
      And up to the top …lovely view ..
      Weird feeling that I have never felt before .
      I decided to leave ..
      Got back home . Showed my girlfriend the pictures .
      She spoted a out line figure of a woman .can send picture x

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