Gilnockie Tower
Tower Langholm Borders

Gilnockie Tower

Tower In Langholm, Borders

Well kept 16th century peel tower in the Scottish Borders, home to the infamous Border Reiver Johnnie Armstrong.

I first found Gilnockie Tower by chance whilst driving up to Hermitage Castle when I noticed the sign, this intrigued me and I decided to visit on the way back home. Since this day it has become one of my favourite places to visit.

Gilnockie Tower is located in the hamlet of Hollows, north of Canonbie, in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland. It stands on the west bank of the River Esk and was originally called Hollows Tower; the separate Gilnockie Castle is nearby. The name Gilnockie comes from the Scottish Gaelic 'Geal Cnocan', meaning 'little white hill'. The oldest part of the building is the large stone by the basement doorway which, it is believed, dates all the way back to the 2nd millennium BC during the Bronze Age. The stone contains carvings of spirals known to be used around that time and a key-like symbol.

The 16th Century Tower House sits in the debatable lands (so called as it was debatable whether these lands belonged to England or Scotland) and is around 500 years old. Gilnockie Tower is said to have been home to Johnnie Armstrong, the infamous Border Reiver, and was built around 1520. In 1528, Gilnockie Tower was burned down by Warden of the English West Marches, Sir Christopher Dacre. Although the tower was rebuilt it was once again damaged by English raids in the 1540s.

When it was rebuilt again, a new roof walkway was added along with a beacon on the gable end. When raiding parties were spotted by watchmen, it was their job to climb up and light the beacon (a rather delicate job requiring both good balance and a head for heights!)

In or around 1530, Johnnie came to his unfortunate (and treacherous) death when he received a letter from King James V of Scotland, who expressed his desire to meet him. Johnnie was flattered by this, but little did Johnnie know that the king was to make an example of the infamous Reiver. When they met at Carlenrig Chapel, the King ordered Johnnie to be executed. He pleaded for his life, even offering the King all his wealth, but to no avail.

Johnnie and 50 of his followers were hanged from trees around the chapel. In a final act of defiance, it is claimed that Armstrong said directly to James these words, "I am but a fool to seek grace at a graceless face, but none for my men and me. I would have kept the Border side in spite of thy peers and thee"- a clear suggestion that his death would lead to further unrest in the borders.

In later years the tower ended up in a state of disrepair, but this still didn't stop the most famous Armstrong, Neil Armstrong, from visiting in 1972 during a visit of his ancestral lands.

For more information head over to the Gilnockie Tower website.

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How To Find Gilnockie Tower

Where Is Gilnockie Tower?

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Lat / Long

55.097604, -2.969481

What three words


Where To Park For Gilnockie Tower?

Parking is directly outside the tower, there are marked spaces to park in, parking is free with a ticket purchase for the tower.

Although it isn't a definte answer, it is likely that Johnnie Armtrong had it built around 1520.

It comes from the Gaelic word Geal Gnocan which translates to 'Little White Hill'

The Armstrongs, along with all the other reiving families were cursed by Gavin Dunbar, Bishop of Glasgow in the 16th century. The curse was 1,300 words long and is belived to be the longest curse on record.

Contributed by Jonny Fraser

I enjoy getting out as much as I can, mainly to visit historical sites, this includes getting as much use as possible out of my English Heritage membership. I'm extremely passionate about history, especially anything to do with local history. Although I visit anywhere with history, I enjoy visiting lesser known sites and getting their histories told.

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Jonny Fraser

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Gilnockie Tower was listed in Tower // Borders // Langholm