Hume Castle is a real oddity. It stands three miles south of Greenlaw on the top of an outcrop that gives it incredible views in all directions. It is difficult to imagine a more dominant position from which to try to control a broad swathe of the Borders.
And yet... Even from a considerable distance it is clear that Hume Castle looks like no other castle in Scotland. And as you get closer you get the feeling that all it needs are a few sand dunes and a couple of camels to be an ideal stand-in for the French Foreign Legion desert fort in Beau Geste. In fact, if you strip away the imaginary camels and sand dunes, what you are left with is a genuine medieval castle whose fragmentary ruins were overlaid by a folly in the years leading up to 1789.
The original Hume Castle was the hereditary power base of the Hume/Home family and said to be one of the most formidable defensive castles in the eastern Borders. The first castle appeared here some time in the 1200s. It evolved over time, but was strengthened and modernised in the 1540s when French and Scottish forces built new ramparts and artillery platforms within the castle.
These did not prevent an invading English army under the Duke of Somerset (see our Historical Timeline) capturing the castle in 1547. The English spent £700 strengthening the castle further, but it was recaptured in a night attack by the Scots in 1549 with considerable assistance from spies able to tell them where the weak points in the new defences were.
Life during this period must have been particularly difficult for the residents of the settlement that spilled down the slope to the south of the castle. Nothing remains of this bar the odd lump and bump in the landscape.
Hume Castle was again captured by the English in 1569, then held by them for three years. The castle last saw action in 1651, when it stood against Cromwell's invading army. A heavy artillery bombardment proved the protective strength of the castle vaults: but also proved the futility of trying to hold out against such a well equipped army. After the defenders had surrendered and left, Cromwell's troops destroyed the castle with explosives.
In about 1770 the 3rd Lord Marchmont, a member of the Home family, bought the site and built the outer shell of walls you see today, apparently on the line of the curtain wall of the original castle, as a landscape ornament.
The new castle was used as a lookout and beacon station during the Napoleonic Wars, and on the night of 31 January 1804 a sergeant in the Berwickshire Volunteers on watch here mistook the fire of some charcoal burners on the Cheviots for an invasion beacon, and ordered the lighting of the beacon at Hume Castle. The result was the "Great Alarm" in which beacons were mistakenly lit across southern Scotland, and 3,000 volunteers turned out to repel a French army that never arrived.