Between Whittinghame Tower and Nunraw near Garvald in East
Lothian, on a rough grassy ridge beside the Pappana water stands the rose
coloured ruin of Stoneypath Tower. Originally held by several great Scots
families of note,the Dunbars, the Douglases on two occasions, the Lyles, the
Hamiltons and eventually the Setons.
The Dunbars, originally known as Gospatrick changed their
name to Dunbar after their principal East Lothian coastal fortress. And are most
noted in history because of this fortress since it was here in 1338 that Patrick
Dunbar's young wife Black Agnes resisted a lengthy siege by the English.
Fortunately, Alexander Ramsay of Dalhousie castle raised the siege by bringing
supplies and troops in by sea. The Dunbar's Tower of Stoneypath was a classic L
plan keep and probably dates from the late 1300's when it passed from them to
the Douglases of Dalkeith. Interestingly Dalkeith castle (before it was replaced
by the present Adam's style Palace) was originally an L plan keep and may have
proved inspirational in Stoneypath's construction. Though some historians have
suggested that Stoneypath dates from the mid 1400's when it was held by the
Lyles since the heraldry inside is of the Lyles and not the Dunbars or Douglases.
The Dalkeith Douglases were nephews of the notorious border
Lord William Douglas "the knight of Liddesdale "from
Hermitage castle, who in
1342, for some unknown reason, killed Alexander Ramsay the hero of the Dunbar
siege. Because of this he was ambushed and killed in 1353 in Ettrick forest by
his Godson another William Douglas (later 1st Earl of Douglas). His Liddesdale
lands and Hermitage castle were claimed by his Godson. Which was contested
unsuccessfully by the Dalkeith Douglases as their inheritance.
In the rebellion of 1363 against King David II of Scots
(1329-1371) William 1st Earl of Douglas and George Dunbar (Black Agnes's son)
having seized Dirleton castle and ambushed some Ramsays they believed were in
league with the King marched west to the battle of Lanark where they were
defeated by King David and his familiar Archibald "the Grim" Black Douglas
(William's devious cousin). To compensate for his rebellion William was forced
to give most of his Liddesdale lands to Archibald by the King.
gave these to his allies the Dalkeith Douglases. Which would later become a bone
of contention with William's illegitimate son George the "Red" Douglas of
Tantallon castle, near
Stoneypath as already mentioned was held first by the Dunbars
and was known as a "warsteed" one of the "seven warsteeds of Dunbar". There is
still much debate as to which "seven" castles made up the "warsteeds". A
possible list would include obviously *Dunbar castle, Stoneypath then
castle near East Linton,
Byres castle near Haddington and Luffness castle beside
Aberlady-all in East Lothian; then Coldbrandspath Tower (Cockburnspath) and
Billie castle near Chirnside in the Borders. By the late 1300's these "warsteeds"
had passed to other Dunbar vassal families by peaceful and violent means.
Stoneypath to the Dalkeith Douglases through marriage, Hailes to the Hepburns
also through marriage, Byres to the Lyndsays, Luffness to the Bickertons then on
to the Hepburns, while Dunbar castle, Coldbrandspath and Billie were all
forceably seized by the Douglases after 1400. (*There is the possibility that
Dunbar castle itself was not regarded as a "war steed" since it was the family
seat ,therefore Fast castle near St Abbs may have be the missing seventh "war
In 1384 William 1st Earl of Douglas died and was succeeded as
2nd Earl by his legitimate son James. Who in 1388 was assassinated at the battle
of Otterburn by his own armour bearer Bickerton of Luffness. Though the real
mastermind behind the murder was probably Archibald "the Grim" since he seized
the title 3rd Earl of Douglas, despite the claim to the Earldom by James's
illegitimate half brother George the "Red" Douglas. Also Bickerton was himself
murdered outside Luffness before he could be arrested and questioned. Then his
assassin Ramsay of Waughton castle mysteriously disappeared leaving no loose
ends to link James's murder back to Archibald, who as Earl of Douglas seized the
remaining lands in Liddesdale originally held by his cousin William the 1st
In 1398,George the "Red" Douglas with his allies the Lyndsays
of Byres and the Nisbets from Nisbet castle attacked the lands around Dalkeith
castle and Stoneypath tower as well as Dalkeith Douglas land interests in the
west demanding the return of his father's Liddesdale lands. Why the Nisbets
became entangled in this Douglas conflict is unclear since they were vassals to
the Dunbar family. Perhaps their lands had suffered at the hands of the Dalkeith
Douglases. Eventually in 1400 the "Red" Douglas and his allies marched west to
Bothwell castle for a meeting with Archibald "the Grim" and agreed to end his
assaults on Dalkeith and Stoneypath in exchange for some of the Liddesdale
By 1446 Stoneypath was in the hands of the Lyles who unlike
the previous owners kept a low profile politically until 1488 when they were
described as 'rebels' for supported Hepburn of Hailes and Archibald 'Bell the
Cat' Douglas at the battle of Sauchieburn, near Stirling resulting in King James
III's (1460-1488) murder.
In 1548 Stoneypath and Nunraw Tower appear to have been
stormed by the English during the wars of the 'rough wooing' where by use of
castle burning they hoped to force the marriage of the infant Mary Queen of
Scots (1542-1587) to the English Prince Edward. The raid on Nunraw was supported
by Douglas of Whittingham who was one of several East Lothian Lords known as
'assured Scots' ,who favoured the marriage alliance and were willing to fight
their own countrymen to achieve this goal.
By late 1548 Stoneypath and several other towers were retaken
by the Hamiltons under the Earl of Arran and 'assured Scots' such as Cockburn of
Ormiston and Douglas of Longniddry had their homes slighted for their
collaboration. Although it is unclear whether or not Whittingham Tower was
attacked at this time.
In 1611 George Lyle resigned Stonetpath to Alexander Hamilton
of Innerwick castle near Dunbar. By 1616 it had passed to Archibald Douglas of
Whittinghame and eventually on to the Setons, most noted in history for their
medieval Seton Palace (replaced by modern Adam mansion) and it's small
Local tradition has it that Cromwell's men removed the roof
during his sacking of East Lothian castles in the 1650's. Although at some point
in the 1700's it was used as a quarry to build houses locally. During MacGibbon
and Ross's study of the ruin two interesting features were still present, an
overhanging toilet and a stone clad conical cap on the turnpike stairwell, now
sadly gone. There is the possibility of it being reconstructed and lived in as a
home. But hopefully the new owners will not be as bloodthirsty and warlike as
the Tower's medieval families.
Jan 2000 A.D.