Ruined Castles - North

Peles and Bastle Houses

These were built in response to troubled times in the Middle Ages with constant warfare and raiding between the Border families

For centuries the border between England and Scotland was known as the 'Debatable Lands". As well as bloody battles between the English and the Scots, this was a lawless area with perpetual feuds between the major border families. Raiding (or reiving) of cattle was common during the winter months. It was big business. During two raids in 1544, Reivers from Northumberland got away with 723 cattle, 108 horses and 104 prisoners.

The population lived in fortified stone houses known as peles or bastles. It wasn’t until the Union of the Crowns in 1603 when James VI of Scotland became James I of England that more settled times arrived.  The remains of these peles and bastles can be seen along both sides of the border.

The Peles were stone built tower houses built between the C13th to the C17th. They had very thick stone walls and were virtually impregnable against the reivers and were lived in by both rich and poor. They had two doors. The outer or ‘ yett’ was made of iron. The inner door was wood. Windows were small. The ground floor was used for storage, or to keep animals safe if a raid was likely. The upper floors were the living accommodation and reached by a narrow internal spiral staircase.

There are good examples at Smailholme and Greenknowe in the Borders.

Smailholme Tower  Greenknowe

Vicar’s Peles were common in Northumberland and there are good examples in the churchyard at Corbridge, Elsdon and Embleton.

Corbridge  Embleton
                Vicar's Pele

The remains of peles can be seen built into later buildings, like at Willimoteswick in the South Tyne Valley.

Others like Barty’s Pele on the Tarset Bastle Trail in Kielder forest are now just a ruin.

Barty's Pele

Bastles were larger and fortified farmhouses and most were built in the C16th or C17th. They belonging to the more wealthy. Again the ground floor was used for storage and livestock and had narrow slit like windows. The first floor living quarters being reached by an internal staircase or wooden ladder. When more settled time arrived, an external stone staircase was built to reach the first floor living quarters.

Good examples of bastles can be seen in the tiny hamlet of Gatehouse in Tarsett, North Tynedale.  Black Middens Bastle, also in Tarsett, is now a ruin and in the care of English Heritage.

Gatehouse Bastle   Black Middens Bastle

Woodhouse Bastle
near Holystone in Northumberland has been restored by English Heritage .

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