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The Turnbull Strongholds In The Borders


bedrule castle
Shenachie Norman Turnbull has acquired this to scale recreation of the original Bedrule Castle and is working with others to restore the foundation to its original form.

by Norman Turnbull
Turnbull Clan High Shenachie

Turnbulls were once a very powerful Border Clan.

The Castle at Bedrule was a well fortifiable dwelling for the Turnbull Clan. The castle stood on high ground at the head of the Rule Valley. To the right of the castle at the other side of the river Rule and to the left over the high hill of Ruberslaw can be seen Fatlips Castle another part of the Turnbull Stronghold in the valley.

Bedrule castle was built by the Comyns, another notable name in Scotlands history. The murder of Red John Comyn on the 10th February 1306 in Dumfries, by Robert The Bruce improved Bruce’s political ambitions by such an extent that within weeks he was crowned King of Scotland at Scone . The death of Red Comyn saw their lands forfeited to the Douglas family, and they in turn installed the Turnbulls. The Turnbulls proved themselves as loyal to the Douglas Clan as they were patriotic to their King.

Bedrule thus became the main seat of the Turnbulls and lay in their heritable possession until nearly the end of the 18th century. Bedrule Castle unfortunately was destroyed like so many others by an English raid in 1545.


fatlips snow
Brian Turnbull, Kelso, Scotland, contributed this serene view of Fatlips Castle taken during some of the Borders record winter snows this year. Photo by Thomas Ogilvie.

In time, the Turnbulls became a famous Border Reiver Clan seated not just at Bedrule Castle but also at Fatlips Castle atop the Minto Craggs with Barnhill at the bottom of the same craggs. After the horrendous defeat of the Scottish Army at Flodden Field in 1513, Lord Dacre led a five thousand four hundred strong English army north. It was the heroism of one George Turnbull who rallied 700 Turnbull’s along with the Kerr’s, Douglas’s and Scots that led to the defeat of the invaders further up the Rule at the battle of Slateford. ( Plaque on bridge )

The ancient name of Roule stretches back as early as 400 AD when they settled in the region as a sect of the Boernician Race. They held Lairdships in the area under the Barony of Douglas. The name is thought to have come from the Rule Water, a tributary of the river Teviot. Dominating the landscape in this area is the 1392 ft craggy peak Ruberslaw.

The first clan chiefs Alan Roule and his son Richard are recorded between the years 1214-1249. In 1296, Adam and Thomas Rule signed allegiance to Edward the 1st of England, Edward Longshanks, known as The Hammer of the Scots. This at the time would have been done for self preservation . In fact many of the Scots nobles were as rich in English titles as in Scots. The country was in total disarray; the Scottish throne lay empty and the battles of Stirling Bridge and Falkirk led by the Great William Wallace had still not happened.

The changes over the coming years saw the Roules or Turnbull’s fight valiantly for the freedom of Scotland . The battle of Bannockburn in 1314 brought peace for a time to their territory, but as it is Scotland’s history, many other turbulent times lay ahead. In many of these different conflicts the Turnbull’s would be present especially if they involved the ‘’Auld Enemy. ‘’

We should all know the story of William Roule and Robert the Bruce. In 1313, King Robert The Bruce was hunting in the Great Caledon Wood near Stirling. The King was with a small band of his closest and most trusted friends and companions, two of whom were Sir James Douglas [The good Sir James] [The black Douglas] and his close friend William Roule of Bedrule. William Roule was referred to as Scotland’s Goliath
for his strength, courage and unique build. He was well known throughout the land for his athletic sporting prowess. The story goes that a wounded wild bull lunged ferociously at the King who unfortunately had no weapon in his hand at the time to defend himself from the onslaught. Our hero William Roule jumped between the King and the bull forcing the great beast to the ground and turned it’s heavy head around, held it steadfastly down until the other hunters could finish off the wounded animal.

The grateful Robert said from that day hence William would be known as Turn-E-Bull, the man who saved his King. A title and rich lands were given to the hero as well as the name change . In 1315, William Turn-E-Bull was granted estates at Philiphaugh in Selkirkshire. However he had to pay one broad arrow on assumption day of the virgin each year . William Turn-E-Bull took his family motto as I SAVED THE KING .

Not only did William save the King but remember this is the year before the famous victory by Bruce over the English at Bannockburn which gave Scotland its independence for a time. Scottish history could have been very different, if it had not been for the spontaneous bravery of William Roule. The Turnbull name is therefore one to hold with great pride.