Remains of Bunkle Castle

Remains of Bunkle Castle

Although only a few yards from the road from Duns to Reston it is very easy, particularly in summer time, to drive past the not exactly inspiring remains of Bunkle Castle without even noticing although at one time the building must have been quite an imposing structure. Built on what has been described as a natural knoll but perhaps a Norman motte the Castle has a long history as borne out by the well known Berwickshire rhyme;

'Bunkle, Billie and Blanairne
Three castles strong as airn
Built when Davie was a Bairn
They'll all gang doon,
W' Scotland's Croon
An ilka ane shall be a cairn'

The Davie referred to would be King David 1 of Scotland (1084 to 1153). More or less all trace has been lost of both Billie and Blanairne and even their exact location is in dispute.

The earliest records show the Castle as belonging to Sir Alexander de Bonkle and there is a legend concerning how the original owner refused to pay the builder who in revenge gained access to the Castle  by subterfuge while the Lord was absent and slew his wife and their baby. R. G. Johnston managed to tack down a ballad recounting these events extending to 34 verses and this was published in the History of the Berwickshire Naturalists' Club Vol.33 1953. A copy is in the Society Archives.

However in 1298 through marriage the property came into the possession of Sir John Stewart second son of Alexander, the Steward of Scotland who was created Earl of Angus by Robert the Bruce. Later again through marriage it passed into the hands of the Douglases.

Archibald the Sixth Earl of Angus in 1514 married Margaret sister of Henry V111 of England and widow of King James 1V of Scotland who had died at Flodden the previous year. This was a highly unpopular marriage and the marriage itself soon ran into difficulty so much so that Angus fled to England for safety. In 1524 he returned to Bonkyl and wrote a letter to his wife trying to effect a reconciliation. The letter (State Papers, Record Series Vol 1V p.217) commences;


"In my most humble and lowly manner I commend my service to your Grace.
It will please your Grace to know that I have been with the King your brother the which is one of the most cristened (Christian) Princes and his Grace has entreated me so marvellous well that he hath addebted me to do his Grace service and honour so far as lies in my power - mine allegiance accepted to the King (James V of Scotland) and your Grace...."
and finishes "At Bonkle the first day of November by the hand of your humble servant. Angus"

However even by the time of the Second Statistical Report (1834-45) the Castle had already fallen into a very ruinous state, the Report, written by the minister of the Parish the Rev. Archibald McConechy recording;

"Of the ancient Castle of Bunkle, once the residence of the Stewarts only small vestiges remain. It seems to have been a place of considerable strength, surrounded with a moat, which is now greatly filled up"

A Report of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland records in 1972;

"The remains of Bunkle Castle occupy a natural knoll which has been artificially scarped and levelled and has a ditch on the north, west and south sides. All that survives of the Castle is a stretch of curtain wall running north to south 20 meters long by up to 1.2m high and up to 1.6 meters thick and on the north west a large portion of masonry 4.0 meters long by 4.0 meters high and 1.0 meter thick. The interior is irregular and overgrown and no buildings or wall can be identified. The Castle is approached on the north west by a causeway and there is also a possible entrance in the south, indicated by a distinct break in the steep scarp"

However at one time there must have been quite a settlement around the Castle (which accounts for the location of the Parish Church of Bunkle) almost adjacent the Castle but now in a completely isolated rural situation.

It would appear that most or many of the inhabitants were wabsters (weavers) and there has survived the following not exactly complimentary rhyme regarding their wives;

The Wabsters' Wives of Bunkle

Laird i' the midden up to the knees,
The clartiest clatches
1 within the four seas,
Smellin' o' peat-reek oot and in
2 and girnin' 3 yellow and dun,
Beardy and runkled
4 grisly and grim
Fu' o' shern
5 up to the chin
The wabsters' wives o' Bunkle toon
Wad frichten the Turks or auld Mahoun
And boulie-backed
7 Tam o' the Green
His wife was wi' the Deil yestreen.
And gray-faced barkin't sutor Gibb
Wi' a' the wives is unco sib
And barmy breeks o' Lintlaw Mill
Grips deep o' the mooter9 for his yill
and Pate o' the Mains your wife's a witch
She's fa'en i' the fyre and burnt her mutch11.


1=  slut 2= debauched looking   3=whining  4=wrinkled 5=cow dung  6 = The Devil 7= hunchbacked 8 = unduly friendly 9 =multures (duty paid for the milling of grain)  10 = ale 11= a tight fitting bonnet.