Step back into a fascinating part of history

The remains of Haining or Almond Castle
The remains of Haining or Almond Castle

More than once in this column I have described historical hotspots which have several buildings with interesting stories to tell.

One of my favourites is Muiravonside which today is associated with the historic parish church and popular country park but has other surviving remains that take us back to a much earlier period.

Muiravonside House.

Muiravonside House.

Earliest of all is the remaining gable end of the 12th century Manuel Nunnery which stands on the banks of the Avon. Its formal name was St Mary of Manuel (or Emanuel) and was built around 1150 for a group of Cistercian nuns during the period when monastic houses were springing up all over Scotland.

Although a royal foundation, the nunnery was never wealthy and the number of resident nuns always low. So too was their behaviour given that an attempt was made to close them down in 1506 because “they led a life alien to the Cistercian rules”!

It was abandoned not long after the Reformation of 1560 and gradually disappeared through river erosion and stone robbing.

Fortunately we have the surviving gable which William Forbes helped to consolidate and several drawings from the 18th century which show a small but elaborate building which was by then in a decayed state.

Not far away are the remains of Haining Castle built in the early 15th century by the Crawfords. It passed by marriage to the Livingstons around 1550 and changed its name a century later when James Livingston was given the title of Lord Almond. He later became the first Earl of Callendar.

Like Callendar House, it eventually came into the ownership of the Forbes family though it was already a ruin. For decades it lay abandoned within Manuel Works where Stein’s manufactured refractory bricks.

With the closure of the works there are plans to preserve the remains of the castle and make them more accessible to the public.

Although the present parish church building was opened in 1806 there was a chapel associated with the castle long before the Reformation. According to Papal records it had a “baptistry, burial place and priest from time immemorial” and probably stood closer to the castle than the present building.

In 1648 the area was separated from Falkirk and given parish status in its own right. The graveyard has some interesting stones including one undated which has a carved figure of a quarryman hammering wooden wedges into a stone face.

Muiravonside Country Park was formerly the estate of the Stirling family who extended and refurbished the original mansion house which was probably built by the Rosses around 1604. Another family associated with the place were the McLeods, most famously Alexander, a close friend and aide de camp of Bonnie Prince Charlie who fought at Falkirk and Culloden in 1746.

The Stirlings who acquired the lands in 1835 were also great military men and there is an interesting little family graveyard with memorials to some of them.

Muiravonside House was demolished around 1970 though the outline of the building foundations remains not far from the present café. There are also some fine farm buildings and a lectern style doocot which is a 19th century rebuilding of a much earlier version.

Finally in the country park, spanning the Avon, is the sensational 12 arch aqueduct carrying the cast iron bed of the Union Canal for over 800feet. Standing 86 feet above the river it is Scotland’s longest, highest and most impressive, designed around 1820 by Hugh Baird the engineer of the canal.

Take a trip to Muiravonside and step back into a fascinating part of Scotland’s history.