Smailholm Tower

2467 Reviews

Star Travel Rating


Review type

Things to do


Date of travel


Product name

Product country

Product city

Travelled with


Reasons for trip

Smailholm Tower is in a superb setting on top of a rocky outcrop with views across to the Eildon Hills and the Cheviot.

It is a tower house built by the Pringles, a prominent Border family. Their position as squires of the powerful earls of Black Douglas brought them the lucrative position of warden of the Ettrick Forest. Built to protect the family from the Border Reivers, the tower house is surrounded by a barmkin wall. The tower house had 9’ thick walls and the only entry was through a small doorway protected by a heavy wooden door and a yett of latticed wrought iron bars. There were domestic buildings against the barmkin wall and cattle could be brought into the enclosure during raids. During two raids in 1544, Reivers from Northumberland got away with 723 cattle, 108 horses and 104 prisoners.

In the 1550s, the Pringles moved into more comfortable accommodation in Galashiels and leased the lands. In 1635 Sir James Pringle died owing huge debts and the estate was sold to Sir Walter Scott of Harden, the great, great, great grandfather of the author, who was responsible for building the western range inside the barmkin wall to improve living accommodation. The tower house was abandoned in 1710 when the family moved into the newer Sandknowe farmhouse below. In 1773, Walter Scott the author, came to stay with his grandparents as a ‘wee sick laddie’ while he recovered from polio. He listened to his grandmother’s tales of the Border country and was fascinated by the romantic ruined tower house.

It is quite a long walk from the car park uphill across rough grassland to the tower house. Steps lead up through the barmkin wall with the foundations of the western range. A red sandstone archway with a low doorway (mind your head) still with its yett leads into the reception area with ticket office and small shop. This was originally the cellar and store room and has a vaulted stone ceiling. A new spiral staircase leads to a small exhibition area with some information about the building and a lot more about the Walter Scott connection. This is obviously a major marketing feature of the property.

A stone spiral staircase leads to the three upper stories. The first floor was the hall with wood beamed ceiling, fireplace with cast iron fire back and very thick walls. There are large square windows with stone benches. There are a series of small display cases with dressed dolls illustrating different periods in the life of Sir Walter Scott.

The second floor were the private quarters with a small fire place and garderobe in the walls. There are more display cases with scenes from Sir Walter Scott’s novels.

The third floor was another private rom with vaulted ceiling , small fireplace, small windows and yet more cases. There is an audioguide to the castle but this seems to mainly concentrate on the display cases and the scenes from the novels.

Two doors lead out to the parapet walk with a sketch map identifying the main features of the landscape. Views from here are good.

The settlement originally had a yard outside the barmkin with stables, livestock enclosure and rigs (lazy beds for cultivation of crops). None of these can be seen. The remains of the mill pond, now increasingly overgrown with vegetation is still there.

The tower now sports a grass roof reinstated in 2010/11 after problems with damp.

This is a superb setting, especially when seen from a distance set against the sky with gorse bushes and buttercups. The walk to the tower house is rough underfoot and involves a slight climb. There is no disabled access to the building (and there are no toilets either). We were disappointed by the inside which is now an empty shell apart from the ‘costume figures and tapestries of extraordinary charm and captivating interest illustrating the intimate link between Smailholm, Scott and his Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border’ A lot is made of the (rather tenuous) Sir Walter Scott connection. The Border Reiver heritage is ignored but perhaps this doesn’t bring the punters in. At £4.50 or £3.60 for seniors, admire from the bottom.

If you want to see a tower house consider visiting Greenknowe Tower on the A 6105 just west of Gordon. There is a small layby for parking and level access along a well made path to the tower house. It is the roofless ruin of fortified four storey tower house built to an L-shaped design in 1581 and a good example of a later tower house built more as a residence than for defence. It still retains its iron yett.

Unfortunately it was closed for refurbishment when we visited, although there was no one working. The gate was locked and my days of climbing gates are long gone.

Silver Travel Advisor

Join the club

Become a member to receive exclusive benefits

Our community is the heart of Silver Travel Advisor, we love nothing more than sharing ideas, inspiration, hints and tips between us.

Come feel the love on a Princess cruise. You’ll enjoy the MedallionClass experience others simply can’t, and it’s exclusively for everyone. Visit incredible destinations and be involved in the best experiences around each one of them.

Experience more with Princess and connect effortlessly with the world around you, spend time away with loved ones, take a moment for yourself, and fall in love with your holiday of a lifetime, every time.

With over 20 years of experience, Wendy Wu Tours has mastered the art of creating exceptional, fully inclusive tours which showcase the very best of each destination.

Each tour is led by a world-class guide, who will highlight the very best of their homeland, and includes authentic cultural experiences so you are not just seeing the sights, but truly immersing yourself in local life.

Say hello to ease at sea. Ambassador’s purpose is simple: they want to inspire every guest to experience authentic cruising, effortlessly and sustainably. Passionate about protecting our oceans and destinations, their ships comply with the highest industry emission standards and there is no single-use plastic on board.

On your voyage, you will receive the warmest of welcomes from the Ambassador community as you sail upon the friendliest ships afloat.

This is a global co-operative co-owned by local partners using real local experts and guides, which supports local communities, environments and wildlife. It offers travellers quirky places to stay, activity holidays and learning experiences. Not In The Guidebooks gets travellers off the beaten track into local culture with day experiences and longer, immersive adventures.

From wild wellness breaks in Wales to painting in Portugal, sustainable adventures in Mauritius to food safaris in Brazil, this is immersive, exciting travel.

Seabourn’s five intimate ships carry guests to the heart of great cities, exclusive yacht harbours and secluded coves around the world, while two new purpose-built expedition ships will combine exhilarating adventures in remote destinations with the sophisticated amenities of the world’s finest resorts at sea.

From the luxury of all suite accommodations to complimentary fine wines and spirits, and a no tipping policy, Seabourn exemplifies the definition of travelling well.