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Made from cowhide, this shoe sole has an elongated toe. Shoes of this type usually date from late 1100s to 1300s. They were fashionable among elites and nobles whose duties did not require practical footwear, making these shoes symbols of social status. The ends were sometimes stuffed with moss.

This sole was found with over 150 other shoe soles during the excavation of the moat at Caerlaverock Castle, Dumfries and Galloway, between 1955 and 1966. The sizes of individual pieces within the Caerlaverock shoe assemblage indicate that women, adolescents, and children lived and worked at the castle alongside men.

In Scotland shoemakers were known as ‘soutars’, and those who worked with higher grade leather were called ‘cordiners’. The leather used in shoemaking underwent processes including cleaning, scraping, tanning, and currying or oiling. These made the leather durable and workable. The master shoemaker cut the shoe leather using a crescent-shaped knife, then their apprentices and journeymen (a qualified worker) sewed the shoes. Until the mid-1400s shoes were sewn inside out and then turned the right way around.

Asymmetrical soles like this were made in the medieval period, when shoemakers made individual shoes for the left and right feet. Later they started to shape both shoes to the same dimensions, which was easier and more economical.

Caerlaverock Castle

Caerlaverock’s triangular shape is unique among British castles. A walk around the castle gives a sense of its strength, economy of form and pleasing geometry.

Three lengths of defensive curtain wall are linked at their three angles by high corner towers. On the north side is an impressive twin-towered gatehouse, where the Maxwells had their private rooms.

The Maxwells repaired and upgraded Caerlaverock over the years. The impressive machicolations (slotted defences) at the top of each tower date from the late 1300s or early 1400s – by which time the Wars of Independence with England had taken their toll.

Inside the castle walls is the remarkable Nithsdale Lodging, built in the 1630s by Robert Maxwell, 1st Earl of Nithsdale. Its attractive façade, with its ornate Renaissance stone carvings, is a sharp contrast to the severe castle walls.

Tale of two sieges

Caerlaverock was besieged and captured on numerous occasions, but two sieges in particular stand out.

The first, in July 1300, involved Edward I himself. The small garrison surrendered within two days of facing the full might of the English king’s army. A contemporary account of the siege is one of the most fascinating recorded for any castle in the British Isles.

The second siege, in 1640, was the castle’s last. It was brought about by Lord Maxwell’s loyalty to Charles I during his struggles with the Covenanters. The garrison held out for 13 weeks before surrendering.

Afterwards the castle was stripped of valuable fixtures and fittings and its great south curtain wall demolished so that Caerlaverock could never again be used as a place of defence.

Natural history

Many rare animals and plants live in the castle grounds, which lies next to Caerlaverock Nature Reserve.

There are 15 habitats in the grounds, including:

  • semi-natural ancient woodland
  • swamp and ponds
  • unimproved grassland

That so many nationally important habitats survive is testament to Caerlaverock’s protection as a significant historical site.


Find out more about Caerlaverock Castle


Date Made
Late 12th century-14th century
160 x 80mm
Time Period
Property Information
Caerlaverock Castle
Object Number
Access Status