Torwood’s glory days are lost in the mists of time

Torwood Castle
Torwood Castle

For most people these days Torwood is little more than a small hamlet on the road from Larbert to Stirling, its glory days as a great royal forest lost in the mists of time.

But if you take a closer look you’ll find many remnants of the past which carry us back over 2000 years to when our iron age ancestors were the power in the land.

Hidden on the wooded slopes is the great ‘broch’ of Tappoch, a huge stone circular structure, 80 feet in diameter with walls nearly 20 feet thick containing rooms, passages and stairs and enclosing a 30 foot diameter courtyard.

Today it stands only a few feet high but in its heyday it might well have risen to 20 or more like those still found in the north-west of Scotland.

Brochs are rare in the Lowlands and scholars have never quite managed to explain its southern location. It has been excavated on several occasions and the evidence suggests that it may have been occupied by the ‘Caledonian’ tribes who faced the Roman invaders in the 1st century AD.

A year or so ago Geoff Bailey cleared the surviving stonework of weeds and it is now possible to see the original layout.

It is one of Scotland’s most important historical monuments.

A much later survivor is Torwood Castle built in 1566 for Alexander Forrester of Torwood whose family had been official keepers of the Royal Forest since 1400.

This was a period of family feuds and the Forresters often found themselves in conflict with their neighbours the Bruces and Livingstons.

Today the castle is a ruin but it is possible to imagine how grand it once was – much more so that the familiar tower houses. The building had a lengthy period in the modern era in the hands of a gentleman called Gordon Miller who almost single-handedly cleared and repaired what was left of the building and if some of his ‘improvements’ were a bit eccentric he at least helped ensure that it is still there.

Today it is run by a Trust but the future is uncertain.

In the late 15th century the forest of Torwood played an important part in supplying the dockyard of James IV at Airth with the oaks required to repair the great wooden ships of the Scottish navy.

At that time the forest spread across what is now the main road covering much of the lands of Glenbervie formerly called Woodside. It features in many a tale of retreating Scottish armies which found shelter from their enemies within its shade.

Most famous of all the trees was a hollowed out oak known since time immemorial as ‘Wallace’s oak’ where the great hero was said to have hidden in 1298 after the failed battle of Falkirk. It had a girth of over 20 feet and probably stood in or close to Wallacebank Wood now part of the golf course.

It was depicted in 1771 by Alexander Nasmyth in a drawing which also includes a view of the ruined castle. It was a place of pilgrimage at the time and when it finally fell down around 1779 bits of the timber were carved into souvenirs. The Prince Regent, later George IV, received decorated boxes from Sir Walter Scott and John Russell the Falkirk clockmaker, and the Earl of Buchan, who was a great Wallace enthusiast, had a snuff mill sent as a gift to George Washington who was the current champion of those fighting ‘oppression’.

Where is it now I wonder? I must ask Barack when I see him next.