a rocky 100ft cliff promontory between the Fife towns of Kirkcaldy and
Dysart stands the impressive double towered royal ruin of Ravenscraig
castle, planned by King James II of Scots (1437-1460) on land originally
held by the Ramsay family. On three sides it was protected by the sea,
while on the landward side there was a great dry ditch, now partly
infilled giving a false impression of the original defenses. The name
Ravenscraig appears to relate to the rock crag or craig where ravens
gathered hence 'Ravens-Craig' and as a name seems to pre-date the
construction of the castle.
Originally the two D-plan towers, one on the east side and one to the west
were linked by a machicolated battlement wall above the main entrance,
which was accessed by a simple wooden bridge. What is strange about this
design is the west tower is some three levels higher than the east tower,
which sat level with the machicolated battlement, although two of its
vaults were below the inner courtyard level. The courtyard behind the
towers was enclosed by a low wall since it was protected by the sea,
though an oblong tower house possibly a kitchen and storage area was
perched on the far south end of the court but this may have been a later
addition to the plan.
The present ruin dates almost entirely from the 1460/63 period which is
very surprising as in addition to its traditional arrow slit gun loops
of a 1450's style (for breach loading weapons), it has several
wide-mouthed oval gun ports for small muzzle loading cannon which should
technically be of a 1500's date,(examples of such gun ports are found at
in its outer spur work built between 1510/20). It is claimed that
Ravenscraig was one of the first castles in Scotland to be designed
specifically around the use of and defense against artillery. Certainly it
appears to have been highly advanced in its use of gunports and its tower
walls were almost 15ft thick, making them resistant to limited
The design origins of Ravenscraig appear to stem from King James II's
fascination with cannon.
fascination resulted in his own death in 1460 during the siege of
castle, when one of his own guns the 'Lion' exploded tearing his leg off
and wounding his ally George the 'Red' Douglas of Tantallon castle.
Douglas was well enough several days later to crown the next King, James
III of Scots (1460-1488) at Kelso Abbey.
Five months before his death King James II arranged for Walter Ramsay to
resign his lands in Fife including Ravenscraig to Queen Mary of Gueldres.
It appears that "the building operations, began at the very commencement
of Mary's widowhood," and "were carried out with great vigour under the
direction of Master David Boys as Master of Works." According to Queen
Mary's accounts Boys received some £600 towards the building work which
covered a wide range of items. Carts were bought for transporting the
stonework to Ravenscraig, even vast quantities of oats were stockpiled.
One report states "we have a large supply of oats from Fife for horses
transporting building stones to Ravenscraig." A boat was also hired "to
convey timber from Menteith to the works there." In 1461 fourteen great
timber joists were felled from the banks of the river Allan then
transported to Stirling at the cost of 7 shillings. Andrew Balfour then
received £2,10 shillings for cutting planning and transporting these joists
to Ravenscraig. After Mary’s death in 1463 work appears to have stopped
overnight with the upper levels of the towers incomplete.
1470 King James III bestowed Ravenscraig to William Sinclair (St
Clair),4th Earl of Orkney, in exchange for his castle in Kirkwall and "his
haill right to the Earldom of Orkney." It was the Sinclairs who added the
high crowstepped gabled roofs to the D-plan towers instead of completing
these towers as cannon platforms which was probably King James II's
original intention. During the 1650's Ravenscraig, like so many other
Scottish castles suffered some damage as Oliver Cromwell's army marched
north into the highlands of Scotland. By the 1800's the castle became used
as a quarry and was stripped to build cottages and walls locally.