tower house
14th century


post FK10 1PP
NX 888 924
s of A907
1/4m n of River Forth


tours available


National Trust


Alloa Tower

the surpringly modern tower at alloa

Almost Modern

Going inside Alloa Tower is a little strange -- outside, it looks like a medieval tower house -- tiny windows, stone parapets....and inside, it's a surprisingly modern living spce. Not only does it have this weird, almost out-of-place oval turnpike staircase (from 1710) and atrium, the high-ceilinged rooms are large and bright. I could move in here. Excep for the lack of heat, of course. And possible lack of cable connections.

The tower was built in the 14th century as a defensive house. While it currently stands alone in a small park, the original castle would have had a courtyard and range of domestic buildings surrounding it - a larger, more luxurious hall, perhaps, residences, a larger kitchen. The tower would also have had extensive gardens, although nothing remains. The current tower measures approx. 19m x 12m with a circular staircase in the southwest corner. Alloa is one of the largest of the tower houses in Scotland, and is the oldest building in Alloa.

The walls are very thick (some of the "window alcoves" are nine feet deep!) and the basement and second floor are vaulted. The current rooms are probably much taller than the original tower, it is likely that they were divided into more than one floor (no other castle we've seen has twenty-foot ceilings, but I suppose it's possible). There is also an internal well and the original medeival pit dungeon! .Despite the modern windows, the tower still has a very medieval feel inside, with simple plastered walls and four-part groin vaults in the main rooms.

The timber roof on the top floor is quite rare and is in very good condition. Most towers were either un-roofed on purpose (to avoid having to pay taxes when the building was abandoned) or left to ruin and the original timber roofing simply rotted away without maintenance. Having a roof in good condition is surprising, and having one with original medeival beans is rarer still.

one of the corner bartizans / the main entrance to the tower

A number of other buldings and houses have been added to the tower, or build nearby. A fine mansion was built adjoining the castle tower in the 18th c.; it burned to the ground in 1800, taking with it many works of art and antiques. A later castellated house on the ground was demolished in 1959, leaving the tower standing alone.

Despite the fact that the tower isn't site on a hill or motte --as most towers are, for defensive purposes-- the land here is flat, and from the rooftop you can see for miles. There are large bartizans on the four corners, and another over the modern entrance to the tower (a later insertion).

The view from the tower is impresive - looking out over Stirlings and Clackmannanshire (and the absolutely ginormous parking lot of the Tesco's just down the path). Much of the land surroudning the current twer would have been part of the estate.

looking out from the top of the tower towards Stirling


The tower has belonged to one family, the Erskines, Earls of Mar, since it was given to Sir Robert Erskine in 1340. The tower was under royal cointrol between 1446 and 1467, when the Erskine lord fell from favor, but the family rebounded from this and even gained another title in the next century.

It also has a Mary, Queen of Scots connection: Not only were the Erskines her custodians and regetns, the wayward Queen and her lover, Lord Darnley, were reconciled here in 1565 (she made the family Earls of Mar for their service). James VI visited the castle, as well.

Another Erskine, "Bobbing John" was a leader of the Jacobite Rebellion in 1715, for which he forfeited the castle. It was restored to his son, however, in 1729. The current Earl of Mar and Kellie is the hereditary keeper of Stirling Castle -- continuing a long and distinguished history of service to the Stuarts.

The tower still belongs to the Earls of Mar, but it is in the care of the National Trust. The tower was opened to the public in 1996 after restoration work returned it to how it may have looked in 1712, about the time the domed, Italianate staircase was aded by the 6th Earl of Mar, John.


I really liked Alloa Tower. We made the rounds of the four Clackmannan "Tower Trail" -- which includes Alloa Tower, Clackmannan Tower, Sauchie Tower, and two castles, Campbell and Menstrie. There are others in the area, of course, but these are well-signposted and you can pick up a brochure at the local tourist office.

There is a short DVD presentation available on the main floor, whith a history of the family and some inforamtion about the tower, but I found the docents on each floor to be far more entertaining and knowledgeable.