Our last stop of the day was the small town of Ayton, just a few miles outside of Eyemouth, famous for it’s incredible Castle…
Status: Scottish Borders Council Area (historically Berwickshire), Town, Scotland
Eating & Sleeping: N/A
Attractions: Ayton Town Hall, Ayton Castle Gate, Ayton Castle, Ayton Bell etc
We started outside the old Town Hall, or Tollbooth as it is commonly known in Scotland. It contains 1 of Aytons most famous landmarks, the old Clock Tower of the villages Tollbooth, completed in 1880 according to the date stone located above the doorway. Whilst Ayton is only a small village it was once an important stop on the A1 between Edinburgh & London, which ran directly through the village, before a bypass was completed in the 1980’s.
Like many places it was the location of a Coaching Inn, as in the olden days travellers used horses to get around, and required regular stops to change horses or stay the night. The major town of Berwick-upon-Tweed is located 8 miles South of here, also on the A1, however Ayton was the 1st settlement the road reached in Scotland as Berwick is over the border in England.
The history of the modern day village actually only begins in the 19th century, as it was purposefully designed and built as a new settlement in the grounds of the Ayton Estate, named after nearby Ayton Castle. The name Ayton supposedly once meant “Eye-Town”, after the Eye Water, a local river which passes through the estate and reaches the North Sea a few miles away in Eyemouth.
The village was designed by James Gillespie Graham (1776 – 1855) around 1845, and his new village replaced the earlier settlement here which had a particularly bad reputation for its appearance and cleanliness, as James Bothwell, a Scottish Diarist had to stop here for a few hours whilst a new horse was fetched for him from Berwick, and he was most displeased with what he saw. He described the village as “a dirty little village” so when Ayton Castle burnt down in 1834, the new owner of the estate, William Mitchell-Innes, took the opportunity to replace the village as well, and Graham had the job of designing both.
There have obviously been numerous additions to the village since it was redesigned, as the Clock Tower only features 3 Clocks, which suggests that there were no buildings directly behind it when it was built. Today of course there are residential streets to the rear of the Tower, but the Clocks are only visible from the High Street, facing North, South and West.
Just down the road from the Tollbooth there appears to be an old Bell, at the High Street end of a road called “The Crofts”. I am unsure exactly what the Bell is for, and it was only later when I was looking through the pictures that I noticed there is a plaque on the building to the right, which probably explains exactly where the Bell came from. It’s possible it used to sit in the Tollbooth Tower and was eventually replaced.
We left the main area of the Village, and stopped outside the main Gate to Ayton Castle, just outside the Village itself. Ayton Castle burnt down in 1834, so I imagine that whilst the main body of the actual Castle was also rebuilt and redesigned, the Gate most likely dates from this period as well.
It’s a stunning piece of architecture, and is typical of a style called “Scottish Baronial”, which is widely featured throughout the country and is notable for its use of the conical turrets and spires.
Unfortunately Ayton Castle isn’t currently open to the public, as it has closed for renovation work, with a view to opening again sometime in the near future. This meant that we couldn’t get past the stunning entrance gate, but we did find a road leading down the edge of the estate which affords a stunning view of the Castle, allowing you to take in the full building at once.
When it was 1st built many centuries ago, Ayton Castle consisted of a Peel Tower, a tall rectangular fortified Tower House, built by a local clan called Clan Home, sometime prior to 1497 when it was captured by the English. This led to the Treaty of Ayton, which was signed by England & Scotland in the nearby Parish Church, to broker peace between the 2 countries. This then itself lead to the Treaty of Perpetual Peace 5 years later in 1902, when Henry VII (1457 – 1509) of England, and James IV (1473 – 1513) of Scotland agreed to work together to secure the Anglo-Scottish Border with a common set of rules. Needless to say this was never fully adhered too and skirmishes continued for the next century until the 2 crowns became 1 in the Union of the Crowns.
The Tower was soon replaced by a Grand Mansion, which stood proudly on this site until 1834 when the great fire occurred and destroyed the entire building. The present building was completed by Gillespie during the 1850’s, and was later expanded a number of times, and a billiard room was added in 1860. 1 of the most famous moments in the buildings history occurred in 1873 when the famous American Author Samuel Clemens AKA Mark Twain (1835 – 1910, who wrote the Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn) visited the Castle. He apparently took a shine to the main fireplace in the dining room, and after buying it from the owners of the Castle he took it back with him to the USA. It still exists, in the Mark Twain Museum in Connecticut.
Today the Castle is still the standout feature on the Ayton Skyline, and was the perfect place to end our latest road trip, as after gazing at its many turrets and admiring its fine design, we set off for home, after a day of epic exploration around the Scottish Borders, and Northumberland…