On 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, not 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 Tantallon castle 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 bombardment.
The design origins of Ravenscraig appear to stem from King James II's fascination with cannon. Sadly this fascination resulted in his own death in 1460 during the siege of Roxburgh 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 7shillings. Andrew Balfour then received £2,10shillings 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.
In 1470 King James III bestowed Ravenscraig to William Sinclair (St Clair), 4th Earl of Orkney,in exchange for his castle in Kirkwall and "his hail right to the Earldom of Orkney." It was the Sinclairs who added the high crow-stepped 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. Andrew Spratt
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