Fatlips Castle

One of the better-preserved pele towers of the Borders – most likely thanks to its position atop the treacherous Minto Crags – Fatlips Castle commands an impressive view: south over the Teviot, west toward Denholm and Hawick, and east toward Jedburgh. Constructed in the 16th century by notorious reivers the Turnbulls of Barnhills, Fatlips stands above Barnhills Bed, and looks down toward the ruins of Barnhills Tower. A fanciful legend states that the Turnbulls had hewn an underground passage, connecting their two strongholds.

Fatlips, sometimes also called Minto Tower, is four-stories high with an attic, a vaulted basement, and a 19th-century parapet walk. Somehow surviving the 1st Earl of Hertford’s burning of Mantoncrake (Minto Crags) in 1545, when its sister tower at Barnhill did not, Fatlips passed into the hands of the Elliots in 1705. The castle was renovated and refurbished in the mid-late 19th century, to designs by Sir Robert Lorimer, as a shooting lodge and private museum of arms and armaments. Later (and currently) the property of the Minto estate, Fatlips fell into disrepair and disuse in the 1960s. Thankfully, a local grass-roots campaign, supported by the Minto estate, raised the necessary funds to pay for a full-restoration of the castle, which was completed in 2013. You can now access the tower and climb to its parapet walk, using the key kept on loan at the petrol-station in Denholm village.

The origins of the name Fatlips are contentious. Some believe it is a reference to the familial traits of the original owners, the Turnbulls of Barnhill. Others, that Fatlips refers to a curious tradition of later visitors – according to Robert Chambers, in his book Pictures of Scotland, one of the pleasures of a visit to Fatlips was that “every gentleman, by indefeasible privilege, kisses one of the ladies on entering the ruin.” Perhaps the most fanciful of stories regarding the origin of Fatlips is that of the goat, who when grazing on the Dunion, saw the approach of an invading English force and fled north to Fatlips, where its presence was interpreted as a warning of said invasion, thus preparing the castle’s defenders for attack.