On one of my previous travel blogs, I talk about the best sites in South Lanarkshire, Scotland. One of them, I talk about the hidden gem that is the village of Douglas. I feel that this needs it’s own blog post as I have a fair bit to say about it and that short insert wasn’t enough.
Read on to learn about Douglas, with ties to the Douglas Clan, including Black Douglas, their links with Robert the Bruce, the Cameronian Regiment, PM Alec Douglas-Home, Sir Walter Scott, the Polish Army, even a little gem of a man James Gavin a local tailor.
Plus, it’s a hidden gem that I feel needs to be recognised more. But I also will be telling you both the positives and the negatives of the place.
Douglas, South Lanarkshire
Remains of the 17th Century Tower, Douglas Castle, South Lanarkshire. (c) Alex Damion.
Douglas is situated just off the M74, 40 minutes South East of Glasgow with a population of approximately 1600. It’s a small village many people drive through on their way to Ayrshire, usually without a second glance. A thorn you pass on Ayr Road, but without realising that thorn belongs to a rose (well, in some respects). Douglas has it’s name for a reason, which, if you keep reading, you’ll find out why.
Douglas is one of those villages where you will be greeted with a mix of emotions. If you’re driving through in the summer, before you get into the heart of Douglas, Ayr road will give you a view of the Douglas Estate ‘Ponds’ to your right (if you’ve just come off junction 12 on the motorway). A little further you will be greeted with outstretched branches of trees as if high-fiving you into the village. But when you get into Douglas, you will be greeted with old dark buildings on your left, stepping back into an industrial era, with an old crumbling hotel that has been left derelict for years on your right.
You’ll be partly right, at one point in it’s life, Douglas was a mining town. But we’ll get to that.
If you turn off Ayr road on the right onto Main Street, before the petrol garage, following the brown signs that signal tourist destinations, you’ll be swallowed by more industrial buildings.
However, catch Douglas at the wrong time of year, and it can be cold, dark, wet and miserable. And, unfortunately, due to where Douglas is situated, in-land and not far from the Borders, this can be a majority of the year. But, we’re not here for the weather, are we?
James Gavin Monument
The stone cairn commemorating James Gavin, Main Street, Douglas.
First stop, on the Main Street, just opposite the local shop there is a round monument dedicated to James Gavin. Gavin wasn’t a very well known person, at least not outside of Douglas. He was a local tailor, but when he refused to renounce his presbytarian religion he had his ears cut off with his own tailoring scissors before suffering a life of slavery in the West Indies.
Gavin was finally able to return back to Douglas and the monument was erected on the spot where the ruins of his house stood until 1968. The monument holds an engraved lintel with a pair of tailor’s scissors. It’s said the monument stands where Gavin’s backgarden would have been.
But if you keep going up Main Street there’s a little hidden secret waiting to be found, a little secret that upon first glance looks like an average site in Scotland, but this little secret has more than you think.
After finally escaping the burden of the old buildings, the road opens up. The buildings in front of you, a large Georgian stone building with a painted house one end and a smaller house with large windows is hiding a little church. This little church is St Bride’s Church.
St Bride’s Church
Remains of St. Bride’s Church, Douglas. (c) Alex Damion.
This little hidden gem doesn’t get nearly as much attention as it should. St Bride’s Church is one of the oldest, probably arguably the oldest building in the village, having been built in the late 1300s.
But the interesting thing about this church is that it is the mausoleum for the Black Douglases or Clan Douglas, who were friends with Robert the Bruce, Sir James Douglas in particular.
That’s because Douglas Village was the home of the Douglas Clan!
Most people would have heard of Robert the Bruce, even if you’re not a Scottish History buff. He was King of Scotland from 1306 until his death in 1329, a month shy of his 55th birthday, and led Scotland during the First War of Scottish Independence against England.
Sir James Douglas was one of the chief commanders during the Wars of Scottish Independence, and a friend to Robert the Bruce, so much so that on Robert the Bruce’s death bed he asked James Douglas to carry his heart to the Holy Land in Jerusalem to be presented before God. However, James Douglas was called to fight against the Moors and the heart went with him.
Robert the Bruce’s heart was eventually laid to rest in Melrose Abbey in the Scottish Borders, his bones in Dunfermline Abbey in Fife, and his internal organs buried where he died in Cardross, Dumbarton (which, I believe, was the practice after a death in battle).
Sir James Douglas and his company joined King Alfonso XI of Castile to siege the Kingdom of Granada, which was where James Douglas died. His heart was brought back to the mausoleum for the Black Douglases; St Bride’s Church.
Today, the grounds of the church are open and free to roam, nestled in between houses which were built around it over the years. But to gain access to see Sir James Douglas’s heart and inside the chancel, you will need to ask for a key. Unfortunately this rests on whether the keyholder is available when you are in the village.
It’s also rumoured that the clock face on the tower was a gift from Mary, Queen of Scots and is the oldest working clock in Scotland. Supposedly to chime three minutes before the hour, a reference to the Clan Douglas motto “never behind”. It still chimes every hour, although quieter than it used to, so as to not upset the locals, and it’s not always three minutes before the hour as the clock has to be continuious wound. It also still rings on Sundays to call the locals in the village to church, although service isn’t held in the old St. Bride’s anymore, but instead in the newer church up on Colonels Entry.
Continuing our historic journey through Douglas, right next to the church, on Bell’s Wynd is another hidden gem, an old Chapel; St Sophia’s Chapel, which is now a museum.
St Sophia’s Chapel / Douglas Heritage Museum
Douglas Heritage Museum, Douglas. (c) Alex Damion.
Originally, this building was the Dower House of the Douglas Estate (a large house available for the widow of the previous owner of the estate, who is called the “dowager”, she usually moves to the Dower House after the heir of the estate marries).
The building has had many uses over the years, in 1706 it was a Parish School, a century later it was used as a poor house for vagrants (beggers/homeless people), then it was reverted to being a house until 1961 when it was an Episcopal Church to replace the chaple in Douglas Castle. Now, since 1993, it has been converted into a museum which displays various aspects of village life, the Douglas family and Castle, and the Cameronian Regiment (more on that later). Exhibitions are said to change annually.
It’s located on Bell’s Wynd, with the front door opposite St Bride’s Graveyard. However, it is only open from 1st Saturday of April and closes the last Sunday of September between 2pm and 5pm. Weekends only. Or by special arrangement, much like St Bride’s Church.
There is an inscription above the entrace of the building, which was from when the building was converted as a school. It is in Latin, but translated reads; “This building is restored for the foster children of the muses under the auspices of the high and noble Duke of Douglas for the perpetual use of the School and Schoolmaster 1706”.
If you continue past the Museum, further up Bell’s Wynd, you will be greeted with a beautiful view; a view of a football field, the Douglas Water river and the woods up on the hill. To the left there is an interesting statue pointing up over the panaroma.
James Douglas, Earl of Angus Statue
and Cameronian Regiment memorial
James, Earl of Angus Memorial in Douglas. (c) Alex Damion.
For any history buffs, you may have heard of the Cameronian Regiment. Unfortunately, I don’t know much about the Cameronian regiment so I can’t give you much background (and probably not enough scope for this blog to delve too much into it anyway), but from what I have found with researching this, the Cameronian Regiment was founded in 1688-1689 by the Earl of Angus, James Douglas, originally called the Cameronian Guard or The Earl of Angus’s Regiment, which, of course, was raised near Douglas Village.
It’s worth pointing out here that James Douglas, Earl of Angus shouldn’t be confused with James Douglas the Black Douglas as these were two very different people. (I hate to admit it, but it confused me at first! Clearly James was a popular name!) James the Black Douglas was born 1286 and died 1330, not quite an Earl of Douglas as the title was created for William Douglas (the 1st Earl, of course) in 1358. James Douglas The Earl of Angus was born 1671 and died 1692, he was from the Stewart family line (the Red Douglases) who inherited Douglas Estate after the fall of The Earls of Douglas. Ironically the 1st Earl of Angus was George Douglas (c. 1380-1403) who’s father was William Douglas, he had an affair with Margaret Stewart, Countess of Mar and Angus (he was married to the sister of her husband).
The name ‘Cameronian’ was originally given to the faction of Scottish Covenanters (Presbyterian movement) who followed Richard Cameron (leader of the Covenanters). Richard Cameron was killed in the Battle of Aird’s Moss, Ayrshire, in 1680.
The begining of the regiment actually began in 1688 when William of Orange landed in England to seize the throne from his father-in-law, King James II. James Douglas gave his support to William of Orange. Ten companies were raised from the supporters of Richard Cameron to form the ‘Cameronian Guard’. The Cameronian Guard, however, disbanded in March 1689.
But in May of the same year, it was re-formed under James, Earl of Angus, in Douglas. It was thus known as The Earl of Angus’s Regiment or the Lord Angus Regiment.
Around 1749, the Regiment was described as ‘The 26th Cameronians’. But in 1786, the titled was officially changed to ‘The 26th (or Cameronian) Regiment of Foot’.
In 1881 under the Childers Reform (reoganisation of the infantry regiments) the regiment was amalgamated with the 90th Regiment of Foot (Perthshire Volunteers) to form the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles).
In 1968, it was disbanded due to Government defence cuts.
The statue of James Douglas, or the Earl of Angus, in Douglas is to commemorate the raising of the regiment in 1689. It was build in 1892 to mark the regiment’s two-hundred anniversary.
A little further down the road, on the grounds of the estate there is also a memorial to commemorate the disbandment of the regiment.
Cameronian Regiment memorial
If you travel out of the Douglas Village and towards the lakes (or Ponds, known by the locals), just past Stable Lake (which used to see curling many years ago, a few curling stones can be seen in the village if you’re looking for them) towards the Castle remains there is a little memorial sat up on the hill with a view of the river cutting through the land – the river that has a permanent cold wind following it!
This memorial compliments the previous memorial, with one commemorating the founding and this one commemorating the disbandment. The reason for it’s location is because the Cameronians was disbanded at Douglas Castle on the 14th May 1968 by the 14th Duke of Hamilton, and the then Earl of Angus, Douglas Douglas-Hamilton.
On the 13-14th of May 2018 (50 years to the date), the village held a 50th Anniversary for the disbandment of the Cameronian regiment, with an afternoon parade, buffet and more.
For more information on the Cameronian regiment and links to the Anniversary Parades (including YouTube videos), click here: www.cameronians.org
Cameronian Regiment Memorial (for the disbandment of), Douglas. (c) Alex Damion.
Douglas Castle, you may have already figured out, was owned by the Douglas family. Again, my history isn’t great, so again this is information I have researched myself. Also, this will be limited to the Castle’s history, rather than the Douglas family line.
The first Castle was erected in the 13th century and may have been wooden or stone. But it was destroyed and rebuilt many times over the years.
During the Wars of Scottish Independence the castle was captured by the English, and given to Lord Clifford. However, Sir James Douglas recaptured it on Palm Sunday, while the garrison were at chapel attending mass. The surviving English were dragged back to the Castle’s cellar and beheaded, put atop a heap of broken wine casks and food stores and set alight. Douglas then had the wells salted and poisoned with the bodies of dead horses and the Castle burned. The massacre became to be known at ‘The Douglas Larder’.
By the 15th century, the Steward monarchy was threatened by the ‘Black’ Douglases and the Battle of Arkinholm began in 1455. Douglas’s forces were defeated, Douglas himself fled to England the Douglas Castle went to the ‘Red’ Douglases (The ‘Red’ Douglases of Angus and Fife). The Black Douglases had ended. It is believed the castle was rebuilt soon after 1455.
In 1703/1707, when Archibald Douglas was created Duke of Douglas, the Castle was rebuilt again as a tower house and encloused courtyard with a corner tower. In 1745 the Castle saw damage after a rebellion led by Charles Edward Stuart (‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’) and the Highlanders in Charles’ army, after spending two ‘wild days’ around Christmas. The Castle was later destroyed by a fire in 1755, with the exception of the corner tower (which can still be seen today).
In 1757 the castle was again scheduled to be rebuilt by the great architect Robert Adam into a grand palace, which would have been the largest in Scotland. However, Douglas died before it was completed. The Castle would have been a five story building with round towers to the front and square towers to the rear, standing in an extensive park that would have spanned the valley of the Douglas Water.
The estate was eventually passed to his nephew Archibald Douglas the 1st Baron Douglas after the ‘Douglas Cause’ (a legal dispute between the 1st Baron and the Duke of Hamilton).
In the 1930s, Charles Douglas-Home, the 13th Earl of Home, (the family line of the Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home) allowed mining of coal in the park, adjacent to the Castle, to help with the local unemployment. But this unfortunately lead to the castle’s demolishment in 1938 due to dangerous subsidence.
Today, what remains of the Castle is the 17th century corner tower, remains of a cellar block underneath and raised earth that could potentially be from the old road into the castle. A little further out, right next to the Cairn Lodge Services is the remains of the Douglas Estate Gatehouse.
In 1831/2, Sir Walter Scott published the 4th in his series “Tales of My Landlord” called “Castle Dangerous”, the last of his novels. This novel was inspired by Douglas Castle. The Castle sometimes is now refered to as “Castle Dangerous”.
Here are some old photos I managed to find of the old Douglas Castle:
Collection of photos sourced from multiple web sources, including Douglasdale Real Group Facebook Page.
It’s also worth noting that the reason why the first lake is called “Stable Lake” is because this used to be where the Douglas’s Stable used to be, which can be seen on one of the photos above. Unfortunately the Stable was also demolished, I wasn’t able to find any information on when or how, but I imagine they were either destroyed at the same time the castle was in the 1930s, or years before during the many rise and falls of the castle.
Polish Memorial Garden
On the 11th June 1940, the Polish Government signed an agreement with the British Government to form a Polish Army and Polish Air Force in the United Kingdom. Douglas was one site in which the Polish soldiers (around 17,000) were housed temporarily in camps along with Crawford and Biggar (nearby villages) before being more permanently based in Fife, Angus and Perthshire.
Three memorials were erected to commemorate the Polish Army, one square memorial pillar was presented to Douglas by General Stanislaw Maczek, Commander of all Polish forces in the UK.
In 2002 the other two monuments were moved to Douglas to create a Polish Army Memorial Garden.
Polish War Memorial Garden, Douglas. (c) Alex Damion.
If you’re an avid walker/hiker like I am, there are many walks around Douglas, from the obvious walks around the Lakes (Ponds) and the river Douglas Water, to longer wooded walks up on the hills either side of Douglas. Of course, bring your decent walking shoes and a warm waterproof coat, Douglas can unfortunately be rather wet, windy and cold almost all year round. If you’re going for a walk up in the woods, you might even want to bring your wellies!
For any dog walkers, please be careful around the Douglas Estate, it is now managed by the Douglas and Angus Estate and there are many farm animals around. Sometimes the farm animals escape! On certain times of the year, Royals have been known to go shooting in the grounds too and there is a house up past the red bridge. There are a few signs up near Stable lake that ask you to keep your dog on the lead. If you walk up on the wooded walks either side of Douglas, which can be a lot quieter, dogs are welcome off-lead, but be weary of farm animals in farm land near and the occasional horse rider and motorbike/push bike. Also be aware that these woodlands are usually logging sites.
Of course, you can’t avoid at least a small walk around the lakes if you’re visiting Douglas, it’s where some of the historical sites are! Up past the Main Street and towards the grounds of the Douglas Estate, you will go past the Polish Memorial Garden on your right and over a cattle grid. Stable Lake will be on your left, and if you continue up towards the end of the lake there is a small and rather muddy car park (if you can call it that). Follow the tarmac path around the hill and you will see both the Cameronian Regiment memorial of when it was disbanded and the remains of Douglas Castle.
When you get to Douglas Castle you can either go left towards the red bridge or right following the path around. You can follow the latter path towards the lake behind Castle Douglas which will mostly lead to farm land or double back towards Stable Lake.
The path left at Castle Douglas, over the red bridge, will lead to a house, but if you continue past it you will get to two gates. The gate straight ahead will lead you through farm land, which you are welcome to walk through just be weary of the farm animals and the gate on the left (which is usually quite muddy) will lead up through the woods. The walk up through the woods, if you follow the path at the top to the right, can eventually circle back round (past the M74 motorway), but the path to the left will follow along the hill at the top which you can follow all the way to Douglas West.
Somewhere up on the walk through the woods there is a small circular stone monument of sorts, it looks like an old sundial or henge, but I wasn’t able to find any information on it.
Not far from Douglas West is the old Railway tracks that used to be for the coal mining in the 1900s, the tracks are no longer there, but you can see where the line used to be, with the odd old bridge across it. This line appears to follow Douglas Water and past Glespin where it curves off.
Up round this way, there is a large windmill farm too, which I’ve heard is open to the public to walk around and has some spectacular views over Douglas and the surrounding areas.
On the other side of Douglas, crossing Ayr road, there is also another wooded hill which is suitable for general walkers/hikers, dog walkers and bikes. Known by the locals as Paigie Hill.
Paigie Hill is famous with the locals, as it’s a Douglas tradition to walk up the hill on the 2nd of January, usually just the men (although the women have their own walk, free of the men). It started 30 years ago when just a few men from the village decided to ‘blow away the New Year celebrations cobwebs’. But in 2013 68 men took part.
You can get there by walking down Springhill Road, which leads up a track past a farm as loose stones guide you up. When you get to the tree line, you have a choice of continuing on or turning right.
The path up will lead you past the treeline and up on the hill. As Scotland has a law called “Right to Roam” you are welcome to wander on this barren hill, which has a few views around the landscape where you can see for miles.
The path on the right will follow the hill through the trees, the majority of this is usually fairly clear of mud until you decide to wander off the track. Along the way there are little tracks that you can explore which I believe are for push bikes, but can be explored on foot, some are labled with yellow painted carvings in the trees or beer cans that have been cut and stapled to the trees. The path does eventually lead down the hill towards the A70, if you follow the path a little way past the tree line you can follow it to the right towards a farm house, and down towards the local cemetary, the road right will lead past the local School and back into Douglas.
It is also possible to turn off left when you get to the top of Springhill Road, one grassy/muddy path will eventually lead to an area which has a large tent made up and a very basic swing seat that looks over the view of the hill, but be careful if you have a dog, last time I was there there there was a little bit of broken glass.
There is also word that Mainshill near Douglas will also be redeveloped, it’s an old coal site and will eventually have a woodland including paths for pedestrians and cyclists and a carpark.
Collection of photographs of walks around Douglas. (c) Alex Damion.
As well as the usual farm animal (mostly sheep, but some beef cows and of course the Highland cow just outside the village!) and horses that lives in the village, there have been many wildlife spotted in the area, from the common birds like Jackdaws, Dunnocks, Blackbirds, Robins, to the more uncommon such as Oyster Catchers, Spotted Flycatchers, Sandmartins and Whooper Swans. I also have heard a Tawny owl calling one evening.
Buzzards are also pretty common in Douglas, as they are in most parts of Scotland, having been dubbed the ‘Scottish Pidgeon’ for a reason. Even Sparrowhawks have been sited, in areas around Douglas Red Kites and Peregrine Falcon’s have been residents. It was also even rumoured that the very rare Osprey has been spotted in the area.
Other animals, as well as birds have been spotted, such as mice, badgers, foxes, deer and even weasles. I also wouldn’t be surprised if pine martins also live in the area and maybe even wildcats since they were introduced to Scotland.
A collection of animals photos, (c) Alex Damion. (c) Adrian Hooper.
Douglas is a film set!
Only a few years ago, in the Summer of 2017, a film crew decended upon Douglas which was received with mixed emotions from the locals.
This film crew, Mammoth Screen, closed off roads, mainly the Main Street, to film part of the Agatha Christie’s Ordeal by Innocence three-part drama, aired, eventually, in April 2018.
Ordeal by Innocence had a cast of Bill Nighy, Catherine Keener, Matthew Goode, Eleanor Tomlinson, Anthony Boyle, Ed Westwick (although due to sexual assault accusations, his character Mickey Argyll was replaced by Christian Cooke), Luke Treadaway, Morven Christie, Crystal Clarke, Ella Purnell and Alice Eve.
The filming saw a small facelift to the Main Street of Douglas, with the Cross Key’s Pub been given a new lick of paint, two flats being turned into temporary shops complete with boxes of vegetables and homeware tools outside and a number of old vintage cars parked along the road. Of course, the temporary shops were dismantled and the cars disappeared, but the paint on the old pub remained (with a few minor tweeks for the landlord).
Not all the cast of the three-part series was seen in Douglas, unfortunately Bill Nighy wasn’t spotted, however, Luke Treadaway and Crystal Clarke were prominent stars on the Main Street.
The mixed reception with the locals was split between those in favour of Douglas gaining popularity (especially the local busineses such as The Cross Keys who got a new face-lift and The Scrib Tree), and those who had to endure the filming going on into the early hours of the morning – luckily it was on a weekend!
The three-part series was originally scheduled to air at Christmas, but due to the sexual assault accusations surrounding Ed Westwick at the time, the release date was pushed back and eventually aired at Easter in April 2018 with Ed Westwick’s scenes redone. Due to insufficient evidence, the case against Westwick was dropped.
Recently, another film crew decended upon Douglas once more, filming a few shorts in the St. Bride’s Graveyard and a small alleyway on Main Street leading to garages. Luckily the film crew had packed up just after night fall, but clearly the area is picking up popularity between the film industry! However, not much was said of this film crew, it’s unsure what the filming was for.
Collection of Photos from the Agatha Christie’s Ordeal By Innocence filming.
(c) Alex Damion.
Where to eat and drink?
Douglas has a few places to drink, from the two pubs on the Main Street, The Cross Keys Inn and The Countryside Inn and a cafe which has just been granted a licence to sell wines and spirits; The Scrib Tree up on the Ayr Road.
On Ayr Road, there is also a recently opened Bakery where the old Post Office used to be, up by the entrance to Main Street is a local Indian takeaway and behind the Crossburn Services there is another little cafe; Crossburn Kitchen Cafe & Take-away. There are also a few other shops, including a local newsagents, which sells everything from your newspaper, milk, to cool drinks in the fridges.
Unfortunately the old Douglas Arms Hotel has been closed for many years now, after having been driven to dispare. There had been rumours that it had been bought in the last few years, but so far it has been left untouched. Which is a huge shame, as if this hotel could be brought back up to scratch and with the right marketing, the area could have a huge boost in tourism.
The Cross Keys Inn (known as ‘The Keys’ by the locals) is an old pub on the Main Street. It sells many drinks, from beers, ales, wines and spirits, and has a few TVs which air Sky Sports, At The Races and BT Sports, all can be watched by the old crackling open fire or a round of pool on the pool table near the back.
They occasionally have live music (TheWORDS, Billy Crawford, Midtown Riot, Hooch Hounds, Bracken and Losferwords), which can be very busy with the locals of Douglas and the nearby villages.
Unfortuantely, however, the pub doesn’t sell hot food as there is no kitchen available, but it does offer the odd crisps or pork scratchings!
The Countryside Inn is the other pub in Douglas, having been taken over by new management in the last few years, which not only is a place to drink, but also has a restaurant which can seat up to 50 people. The Inn also has a large function room for parties and weddings.
The Scrib Tree is another nice little place, selling mostly coffees, cakes and small things for breakfast and lunch. However, there have been a number of great reviews for their food. With freshly made soups and speciality sausage rolls and scotch eggs!
Where to stay?
Unfortunately there aren’t many places to stay in Douglas, the only ones I were able to find were the Holiday Cottages on the Douglas Estate.
I was also able to find one property on lastminute-cottages.com, but it doesn’t seem to be available to book at the moment.
Otherwise, I would recommend staying somewhere outside of Douglas, such as the New Lanark Mill Hotel (another great area to visit in South Lanarkshire) or possibly somewhere in the Borders, such as Biggar.
Douglas is one of those areas that is ideal if you drive. If you don’t drive, and you’re relying on public transport, be prepared for very limited means of travel around the area, especially getting to Douglas!
Unforutnately there is only two bus services that goes to Douglas. There is a Whitelaws bus that goes to Douglas from Lanark, the number 259 (to Glespin) which goes through Rigside, Sandilands (occasionally) and Kirkfieldbank (occasionally), which can be caught from Lanark Bus Station. It takes approximately 40 minutes, depending on what route it takes (whether it goes through Sandilands and Kirkfieldbank or not).
There is aslo a number 9 bus (Stuarts Coaches) which does the same route but runs on weekends and week day evenings when Whitelaws doesn’t run.
Here are a few useful references to websites for more information:
Black Douglases and Red Douglases
Sir James Douglas “Black Douglas”
General Stanislaw Maczek
Cross Keys Inn, Douglas
The Douglas Heritage Museum
Douglas Paigie Walk
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