The sad ruins of Almond Castle, originally known as Haining Castle, stand in a heavily overgrown part of an industrial estate on the site of what was previously a brickworks. The castle is little known, yet it stands between Linlithgow and Falkirk close to the Union Canal and the main line railway, and only ¾ of a mile south of the M9 motorway.
Before saying anything else about Almond Castle we should start off with - literally - a health warning. Someone has at some point sought to prevent access to the castle by surrounding it with a tall mesh fence topped off by triple strands of barbed wire. Someone else at some point since has pulled down part of that fencing, opening up access once more.
If you do decide to approach the castle, do so only with the utmost care: and we'd strongly advise against entering. Scotland has any number of crumbling castles complete with stones ready to drop on the heads of the unwary. But we know of no other structure whose physical decay produces such a palpable sense of danger. Ill-attached pieces of masonry seem primed to tumble from doorways and walltops throughout the structure, and the vaulting which covers the entire main part of the keep, three storeys above your head, is in an obviously poor state and looks as if it could collapse in its entirety. And if all that were not enough, the vaulting which covers the basement, and provides the floor for the accessible level of the castle, has also partly collapsed and looks like more could easily give way.
Almond Castle is best reached from the car park serving Muiravonside Parish Church. A path cutting up past the church leads parallel with the canal, and you then take a right turn at a footpath junction near a bridge over the canal. This takes you down a path which emerges on an industrial estate, and you then go ahead and slightly to the right, around the corner of an industrial unit and along a tree-lined road paved with the bricks which were once made on the site. The castle can be glimpsed behind the trees ahead and to your left. The total walk from the car park is perhaps three hundred yards.
The origins of Haining Castle probably date back to the early 1400s when William Crawford of Manuel was recorded as being the landowner. The castle was built as an L-plan tower house of four storeys and an attic with its main doorway being found (unusually) on the long south east face. The door gave access to the first floor of the castle. There was a vaulted basement at ground floor level, and it seems this may have been reached only via a hatch in the eastern extension of the "L". Intermediate floors would have been made of wood, and there was a massive stone vault beneath the roof.
In 1542 the castle passed by marriage to the Livingston family. They updated it and brought the accommodation into line with what was then fashionable and desirable by building a more comfortable extension at the south west end of the castle. Fragmentary parts of this can be glimpsed through dense vegetation in the header image on this page, to the left of the tower house. The Livingstons embarked on a second stage of expansion at the castle in 1586. This involved the building of a range of rooms along the south east wall of the original castle, in effect a forework. The purpose was to make the structure appear more like a mansion than a castle, and to provide extra accommodation. Very little of this still remains above the basement level.
In 1640 the castle became the property of Sir James Livingston, the younger son of Alexander Livingston, 1st Earl of Linlithgow. He had been given the title of Lord Almond by King Charles I in 1633, and on acquiring the castle changed its name to match his title. Haining Castle thus became Almond Castle. The Livingstons backed the losing Jacobite cause in the 1715 uprising, and in the aftermath their lands and estates, including Almond Castle, were forfeited to the crown. The castle was subsequently purchased by the York Buildings Company, who in 1783 sold what was already a ruin to William Forbes.
When Almond Castle was visited by David MacGibbon and Thomas Ross, the authors of a definitive guide to castles published in 1892, it stood "in the middle of a cultivated field" and most of the 1500s additions to the structure were still in evidence: though a surrounding ditch, described in 1860 as 16ft wide, had disappeared. A visitor in 1958 also described the castle as standing in cultivated farmland. The area has since been used by a brickworks and is now partly abandoned and partly used for light industry.
Meanwhile Almond Castle seems to have become steadily more structurally unsound and steadily more overgrown. The sad thing is that the core structure is still mostly there - if only just - and you get the feeling that it would still be possible to consolidate the remains and produce an attraction well worth visiting. But if the roof level vaulting were to collapse then all hope of restoring any sort of life to the castle would be lost for all time.
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Grid Ref: NS 757 773