The Chapel of Hermitage is easy to overlook. Visitors to Hermitage Castle cross a pedestrian bridge over the Hermitage Water from the roadside parking area, and turn right to head towards the castle. We wonder how many miss the small ground-level sign pointing along a grassy path in the opposite direction from the far end of the bridge. This leads for a couple of hundred yards to an obvious stone-walled enclosure, within which you find the remains of the Chapel of Hermitage.
You enter the enclosure via a gate near its south east corner. Not far beyond, between the enclosure and the bank of the Hermitage Water, is a slightly raised mound. This is said to be the grave of the "Cout of Keilder", an English nobleman from Keilder who was said to be a giant of a man who wore impenetrable armour. Legend has it that he terrorised the area until invited to dine by Nicholas de Soules at his hunting lodge, built close to the site of the chapel. The "Cout of Keilder" was invulnerable to physical attack, but de Soules' retainers attacked him while he was crossing the Hermitage Water and the weight of his armour meant that he drowned. (Continues below image...)
Once inside the enclosure, you find a largely open area with the bottom few courses of the structure of the chapel near its north west corner. Nearer at hand, the stonework surrounds of three windows have been set against the inside of the eastern wall of the enclosure. These appear to be the surrounds of three windows that were once part of the east end wall of the chapel.
South of the ruins of the chapel are a number of gravestones dating back to the 1700s and early 1800s, which from their inscriptions appear to mark the graves of local shepherds and their families. A rather more elaborate grave marker occupies the north west corner of the enclosure, between the chapel ruin and the surrounding wall. It's not particularly obvious to today's visitors, but the surrounding landscape is marked by traces of earthworks that appear defensive in nature.
The story of the chapel is a little obscure. It is thought that Nicholas de Soules built a hunting lodge nearby in about 1240, the predecessor of the later Hermitage Castle. Yet there appear to be records of the presence of a chapel on the site from as early as 1180. This suggests the chapel might have predated the hunting lodge, and certainly the later Hermitage Castle.
The chapel is oblong in shape and measures some 45ft by 18ft within stone walls that are around 3ft thick. There is no indication that the chapel was rebuilt or expanded after its first construction, which leaves open the question of when it went out of use.
A visit to the Chapel of Hermitage should be considered an essential part of any visit to Hermitage Castle. It certainly helps set the castle in context and, although little is known about it for certain, it is easy to imagine the residents of Hermitage Castle walking, or more likely riding, the few hundred yards along the river to their place of worship.