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The Border Reivers

Gilnockie Tower


In 1455 the “overmighty” Black Douglasses were crushed in the Battle of Arkinholm, Langholm. The Maxwells now began a steady rise to dominance in this area, but like their predecessors, their chief lived many miles from Langholm. Among the other landholding families in the area during the reiving times up to 1603 were the Armstrongs, the Irvines, the Littles, the Beatties, the Glendinnings, the Elliots and the Scotts.


The main reiving season was in autumn and early winter after the major farming work was finished. Reiving could be across the Border, or between Scot and Scot or Englishman and Englishman. It has been romanticised in ballad and novel, but, as with the American West, the reality was often more squalid and cruel.

Of over forty “places of strength” recorded in the area in the late 16th century, only three remain in visible form. Some of these vanished places of strength were probably wooden buildings, modest stone houses or bastle houses, rather than full scale towers.


Hollows Tower, also widely known as Gilnockie Tower, Canonbie, (NY 3823 7856) is the best preserved building, having been re-roofed in 1979-1980. A tower at Hollows belonged to the famous Johnnie Armstrong, and it was attacked by Lord Dacre in 1528. Some authorities believe that the existing building is partly or completely of a later date. Another dispute is over the name Gilnockie Tower.

There is a strongly held tradition that this tower stood at the east end of Gilnockie Bridge on the “Gilnockie Castle” site. The evidence concerning this question is incomplete and contradictory.

The 17th Century >>>


More information about Hollows Tower can be found on the Clan Armstrong Association website

The first purpose built Reiver Trail on the Borderland starts at the former Clan Armstrong Museum. From there you can take a tour of the reiving sites in Eskdale, Liddesdale and Teviotdale. >>

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