RUINSCRAG CASTLE
By

A Gourley

 

At some unknown date in the past a local man so the story goes decided to add to his ailing fortunes by digging for the treasure which local legend said was buried at the "auld castle" despite another legend that the treasure was guarded by a ghostly apparition

When he was on the point as he thought on discovering the treasure, his blood was curdled by an unearthly voice issuing as he thought from the depths of the castle calling on him to dig no more or every soul in Stewarton would die of pestilence, one can imagine his crony maybe hiding nearby scaring the daylights out of him.

On another famous occasion one Fanny Howe was driving home at midnight after a visit to the fair, when passing the gates of the castle her horse suddenly stopped, and although reminded by several cuts of the whip that it was to move forward it refused to do so but stood with drooping ears and dilated nostrils, when Fanny looked round for the cause of her horses behavior, horror struck she observed a ghostly process ton in front of her of a hearse drawn by four black horses who were headless, as was the driver and every one else in the procession , but when she cried out "in the name of god what does it all mean?" the vision vanished and fanny proceeded on her way, perhaps the fair Fanny had celebrated the fair a little too much.
 

If one imagines passing Ruinscrag castle late at night either on foot or on horseback at a time before television when the telling of ghost stories was a common form of entertainment it is not difficult to understand how such tales could originate no matter how unlikely they may be at the time the castle was occupied, coaches would be almost unknown in the west of Scotland as Pont in his survey of Cunninghame in 1604 - 08 (a long time after the castle ceased to be occupied) described the area around Dunlop house (formerly called Huntishall) as being thickly forested and roads as such non-existing.

In the 12th century the De Morvilles a Norman family with estates in the borders of Scotland was granted overlordship of lands in the west of Scotland. In 1170 Godfrey De Ross a vassal of the De Morvilles was granted the lands of Stewarton. Mr John Bayne in his book “Dunlop parish" published in 1935 states that "the De Rosses had a castle situated on Dunlop hill", he further states, "at some time after 1260 the De Rosses abandoned Dunlop and removed to their lands in Stewarton". In 1260 the De Ross family was in dispute with the burgesses of Irvine as to the rights of common pasturage on part of Ohmesheugh, which was the property of the De Ross family.
 

In 1280 a charter signed at Paisley, a grant of land in Stewarton made by James De Ross to the monks of Paisley abbey was confirmed by Godfrey De Ross and in 1291 a sir William De Ross was the illegitimate contender to the Scottish throne, when Robert the Bruce ascended the throne of Scotland, the De Rosses, being supporters of Balliol lost their lands in Stewarton to the crown, these being given to Robert Boyd the founder of the Kilmarnock family, the lands of Stewarton belonged in their entirety to Walter Fitzalan the high steward to the Scottish king. The name Ruinscrag is a bit of a mystery, it does not appear in any documents or records, and the laird of Corsehill did not give it a name when answering Ponts questions about the castle, he simply replied, " We call it the Ruincraig". Up until 1825 it was known locally as the older Corsehill and in recent times as the "auld castle." or the "Corsehill castle " the last in error as the "Corsehill castle" was situated across the Corsehill burn on the hill overlooking the present ruin at one time ravens were quite common in Scotland and the inaccessible height of the old castle may have been used by them for nesting, another interpretation is sometimes given as the ravine and the crag but could the narrow valley of the Corsehill burn be called a ravine the name Ruincrag appears to have been attached in the last 300 years. Towards the end of the last century the remains were repaired with dressed sand stone blocks by the masons who built the railway bridges, giving it the appearance of a tower, this was in fact the west wall and contains the fireplace, had this work not been carried out the destruction of the castle would by this time have been complete, who authorised the repairs and paid for them or their reason for doing so I have been unable to find out.

The castle would have been roughly rectangular in shape following the contour of the rocky knoll upon which it was built and similar in appearance to the old keep at the dean castle. Probably a three storied narrow tower, occupying a small ground area again dictated by the rocky knoll. On the ground floor would have been the kitchens, and on the first floor the dining area which was used as sleeping quarters by the servants and guests on this floor also would have been the entrance, access to which would have been by a removable stairway, whilst on the upper floor. Would have been the private quarters of the De Ross family, all floors would have been served by a common circular stairway running the entire height of the castle, the rear wall behind the "tower" has been built with a curved section in the middle possibly all that is left of the circular stairway, it is a strange fact that this old castle built possibly in the middle of the 13th century should still stand albeit in a ruinous state whist the much younger Corsehill castle built around the middle of the 16th century should have completely disappeared.