The ruins of Eglinton Castle now sit in the grounds of Eglinton Country Park. Though they appear to be a giant romantic folly, in reality, this stately home once held one of the most extravagant events of the 1800s.
The grand home was the seat of the Montgomerie family, who held the title of Earls of Eglinton. The Montgomerie family was among William the Conqueror’s most powerful allies. After his success at the Battle of Hastings, William rewarded the family with extensive lands across both England and Scotland. The original castle was burnt in 1528 by the Earl of Glencairn, who was also responsible for many raids on nearby Kilwinning Abbey during the same period.
In 1797, the earl began work on an extravagant new residence. The architect was John Patterson, who had trained under the famous Robert Adam and favored the same Neo-Classical and Gothic styles, creating what was in essence real-life fairy-tale castle. The foundation stone was laid by Alexander Hamilton of Grange, the grandfather of the American hero Alexander Hamilton.
The castle was completed in 1802, the castle layout had four towers surrounding a central, round keep that acted as the family’s country residence. At its height, it was considered only second to Culzean Castle for its grandeur.
Archibald, the 13th Earl of Eglinton, is famous for his riotous lifestyle, when he took control of the family estate he went on to become famous for an extraordinary gesture that became known as the “Eglinton Tournament.”
When Queen Victoria took the throne in 1838, the country was in dire economic straits and the government was in massive debt, so her coronation was a relatively simple affair. Archibald was a fierce critic of the toned-down ceremony and in 1839 he decided to hold an opulent medieval-style tournament, complete with a grand procession and Tilting at the List. He had intended the tournament to be attended by 2,000 members of the European nobility, however over 10,000 people applied for tickets. Despite Archibald setting strict criteria for who could attend, it is estimated that 100,000 people showed up, including the future Napoleon III of France. The only visible reminder of what was the most colorful event of Eglinton Castle’s history is the Tournament Bridge, a short walk away from the castle ruins.
The family lost their fortune in an ambitious attempt to build a new harbor at Ardrossan during the 19th century, this resulted in the castle being abandoned. It was left to decay and in 1925 the roof was removed from the building and the walls were used by the military for target practice and then for commando training during World War II. The shell of the building was then demolished in 1973, leaving one remaining corner tower, a small section of the exterior walls and scant remains of the foundations.
Know Before You Go
There is plenty of parking at the Eglinton Country Park visitor centre.
The park does not really make a great deal of the ruined castle in the grounds, or it's famous Tournament but focus more on their country park activities.