The site of what is today marked on OS maps as ‘Liddel Strength’ was once a medieval stronghold known variously as the ‘pele (or peel) of Liddel’, ‘castle of Liddel’, ‘tower of Liddel’, ‘mote of Liddel’ and ‘Liddel moat’. First mentioned in 1174, this scheduled monument is situated near the village of Kirkandrews Moat in Cumbria and was once the seat of the Cumbrian barony of Liddel. It stands 160 feet above the Scottish border on the Liddel Water, near its confluence with the River Esk and has often been confused with Liddel Castle near Castleton in Liddesdale on the Scottish side of the river.
This motte-and-bailey fortification may originally have been a ringwork with the motte added later (as it appears to lack the usual ditch) – possibly after the Norman conquest. Structures, including the keep, are thought to have been made of timber including the palisades of each of the two baileys – although the Lanercost Chronicle talks of invading Scots ‘breaking through the walls with iron tools’ (see below). A massive ditch separates the baileys on the southern side of the fortification but the defence of the northern side appears to rely on the – somewhat perilous – proximity of the steep cliff down to the river.
On or around the the 7th October 1346, the castle was attacked by a Scottish army intent on invading northern England while the English army was in France, besieging Calais. A force under William Douglas arrived outside the castle walls in the morning to be joined later that day, by the rest of the army under David Bruce, the king of Scotland. For three days the Scots did nothing; then on the fourth day they attacked and with ‘beams, house-timbers, earth, stones and fascines, succeeded in filling up the ditches of the fortress…then, protected by the shields of men-at-arms, broke through the bottom of the walls with iron tools’ and almost all of the forty defenders were slain and the castle destroyed.
The keeper of the fortress, Walter de Selby, was captured; then, rather than being held for the usual ransom, the king ordered him to be killed but not before – according to the chronicler, Geoffrey le Baker – he was forced to watch his two sons strangled in front of him (though there is contrary evidence to suggest that at least one son was taken prisoner); thereafter, Walter himself was beheaded. The Scots’ chevauchee was brought to a dramatic halt when they were routed at Neville’s Cross near Durham about a week later, at which point David began an eleven year period in English captivity.
Following the castle’s destruction by the Scots, a stone tower house was built to replace it (the archaeology is non-extant) but by 1380 the site was described as ‘utterly worthless’ and eventually passed to the future Henry IV of England, becoming part of the Duchy of Lancaster. All references to the castle ceased after 1399.
The site can be accessed on foot by turning off the road just before High Moat cottages and down a steep, rough track then continuing up the track of the old railway incline plane and on through the gates to the site itself. Beware though, the roads are very narrow and there are very few places suitable for parking. The track down to the river, just to reiterate, is steep and rough. An option is to park in the nearby village of Kirkandrews Moat and walk to the site via the established rights of way.