Eglinton: a castle, a tournament and a country park

Eglinton Tournament, 1839, by James Henry Nixon. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

I had never heard of the Eglinton Tournament until I watched an episode of Scottish Television’s People’s History Show which billed it as Scotland’s most expensive and worst party. I was intrigued!

When Queen Victoria came to the throne, the country was in dire economic straits and she was given a scaled-down coronation ceremony which was ridiculed as ‘The Penny Coronation’. One of the fiercest critics was Archibald, 13th Earl of Eglinton, who decided to throw his own party over three days in August 1839 in the form of a grand medieval tournament on his Ayrshire estate. He invited a couple of thousand of his rich mates and thought he might let in a few thousand of the lower classes too. However, ticketing procedures and crowd control were woeful and some estimates suggest that in the end over 100,000 people attended the Tournament. Local transport and accommodation were overwhelmed, and the knights themselves created gridlock on the estate with the opening parade taking three hours longer than expected. And, of course, you can’t rely on the Scottish summer weather – the heavens opened on the first day and flooding meant that the entire audience, apart from Eglinton’s personal guests, was stranded without transportation. They had to walk miles through the rain and the mud to nearby villages, where only a few people found any food, drink, accommodation or transport. Even the personal guests missed out on the medieval banquet and ball that evening because banqueting tents had also been flooded. The middle day of the Tournament was cancelled, but the third day went ahead as planned with the overall winner judged to be – guess who? – Lord Eglinton himself.

After learning this story I wanted to see Eglinton myself, so on a sunny August Sunday, almost 180 years to the day since the Tournament, we set off – it’s less than an hour’s drive from home. There isn’t much left of Eglinton Castle itself, and it was difficult to get pictures of what there was because of all the picknicking families and children joyously leaping off the ruins.

You can see below what it looked like in its heyday before the Eglintons lost all their money and abandoned it. In 1925 the roof was removed so that the walls could be used for target practice by the military, and most of the rest was pulled down in 1973.

Eglinton Castle, 1906. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

There are several other interesting structures in the park. The ornamental Tournament Bridge, which crosses Lugton Water a short walk from the castle, might seem to be a remnant of the events of 1839, but actually dates from 1845. It has recently been beautifully restored.

The old stable block has been converted into a café, and the gardens and grounds of the estate surrounding it are very attractive. Interesting objects include some colourful benches and a double headless statue. I have no idea who they are or where their heads have gone, in case you are minded to ask!

The garden also contains war memorial benches and a cairn commemorating those who died in the 9/11 attacks.

There are several trails round the park, a mixture of woodland …

… and open countryside. We wondered about these stones on top of Cairnmount Hill. They were obviously not ancient standing stones, but we thought they might be a folly placed there by one of the Earls. Googling them later, I found that they are much more recent than that. An opencast mine was established nearby in 1983, and when extraction finished in 1986 it was filled in and these large boulders discovered in the process were erected on top of the restored hill. The stones effectively mark the closing of the last coal-mine on the land attached to Eglinton Castle after a period of at least 400 years of continuous production.

Finally, a small loch attracted walkers, such as ourselves, as well as those who just wanted a peaceful spot to read.

We enjoyed our day out at Eglinton: the trail we followed was pleasant, if not spectacular, and fairly quiet once we got away from the café and the picnickers at the castle.  I think the park caters mostly for that audience and not so much for those interested in its history – a few more information boards would have been helpful: the only one I can recall was at the Tournament Bridge. I’m pleased to have seen the site of the Tournament, and certainly recommend the park to anyone who happens to be in the area, but for me it is one to file away as a once-only visit – I don’t feel a strong need to go back.

63 thoughts on “Eglinton: a castle, a tournament and a country park

  1. Erica/Erika September 29, 2019 / 17:18

    An interesting billing, Anabel. A great comparison to show the photo from 1906. The headless statue would make me wonder, too. The word “peaceful” truly comes to mind. Living vicariously through you and your husband, Anabel:) (just returned from 2 weeks camping unplugged – enjoying my catch up reading posts:)


  2. Eunice September 28, 2019 / 17:07

    An interesting looking place with an interesting history. Love the decorated benches and the refurbished bridge, but the kids jumping on and off the ruins would have annoyed me. Maybe they should have been taken to the top of that tower and made to jump off there! 🙂


  3. Jessica (Diverting Journeys) September 26, 2019 / 00:35

    I’d never heard of the Eglinton Tournament either, but I appreciate the enlightenment! What an interesting historical tidbit!


  4. maristravels September 25, 2019 / 13:19

    I joined you on your walk and enjoyed it but I loved the story of the tournament. I somehow get more pleasure out of reading about things going wrong in the “entitled” life and your tournament takes the biscuit!


    • Anabel @ The Glasgow Gallivanter September 25, 2019 / 15:17

      Well, we still see the same sense of entitlement and expectation that things will go their way without putting the effort in! A certain BJ …


  5. Birgit September 25, 2019 / 04:29

    I enjoyed reading this and the history of this place. What a shame that the building was torn down. I kinda giggled when the Earl decided to have his own party even if it was washed out. It looks like a nice place but I don’t like the fact that the kids and all can climb all over the ruins.


    • Anabel @ The Glasgow Gallivanter September 25, 2019 / 07:38

      I think the Earl was big on ideas but maybe not with the ability to see them through! As for climbing all over the castle, that was bizarre. Most places i’ve been don’t allow it.


  6. hilarymb September 24, 2019 / 14:26

    Hi Anabel – I’ve always wanted to visit this castle … and the park … in fact way back in 2011 I wrote about Garden History … and copied over some wonderfully descriptive paragraphs about the Pleasure Gardens in the 1840s at the height of their brilliance – and the Earl’s inventiveness … heated walls et al … it impacted on me – so much so I remembered … one day if I get up to Bonny Scotland – it’ll be a place I visit – cheers Hilary


  7. shazza September 24, 2019 / 07:13

    It does look an interesting place to visit. And I bet that headless statue gets lots of photos taken of it! X


  8. Retirement Reflections September 24, 2019 / 03:10

    Hi, Anabel – I’m good with interesting ‘once only’ walks. My list of new places to see is so long, I become a bit conflicted when there’s a place that I am compelled to visit multiple times! 😀


    • Anabel @ The Glasgow Gallivanter September 24, 2019 / 07:48

      Exactly! We can’t go everywhere (unfortunately). And the beauty of having a blog is that I can document it and look at it again if I need a reminder.


  9. the eternal traveller September 23, 2019 / 23:30

    What a great story. Poor Archibald, except for his win at the end he must have been disappointed with how it all turned out.


  10. Laura (PA Pict) September 23, 2019 / 20:15

    It looks like a pleasant place for a wander and especially so in good weather. We have visited many places where I thought “once and done”. It balances out all of the places I would love to return to I suppose.


    • Anabel @ The Glasgow Gallivanter September 23, 2019 / 22:25

      It was a lovely walk, one I’d probably do multiple times if I lived locally, just not special enough to go out of my way for. I’m happy to have seen the site of the infamous tournament though.

      Liked by 1 person

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