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Largo Castle on the Fife coast, belonged to Sir Andrew Wood who obtained a license to erect a tower there in 1491 as a protection against ‘pirates’. For ‘pirates’ read ‘English’ and Sir Andrew was to prove more than a match for them!
In 1498, five English ships ‘with great artillery’ appeared off of Dunbar. Sir Andrew, who was an admiral in the Royal Scots Navy and has sometimes been described as Scotland's Nelson, put to sea with two ships The Yellow Carvel and The Flower. The victory went to the Scots ‘by the Wisdom and Manhood of their Captain’ and all five English ships were captured and brought into Leith to the delight of King James IV of Scotland.
Henry VII of England did not share his euphoria and despatched Steven Bull with ‘Three Great Ships’ to exact revenge. Off St Abb’s Head Sir Andrew’s two ships again closed with the English. Sir Andrew gave the orders to: ‘charge the artillery, ready the crossbows and raise fire-pots to the mast heads’. The battle was fought ‘from sun rising to sun set’. Once more the victory went to the Scots. Steven Bull was captured and his ships taken to Dundee. King James was doubly delighted and ‘rewarded Sir Andrew richly’.
Steven Bull and the English were sent home (minus their ships) and warned that if they ever returned to Scotland they would not be ‘so well treated, nor escape’.
In 1741 the Old Castle was demolished and replaced by a mansion in the taste of the times. This was abandoned in the 20th century and now presents a pitiful appearance.
One tower from the old castle was spared, however, to become the pigeon house we see today. This is later, probably 17th century, and formed part of the barmkin wall. Its antiquity is proved by its vaulted basement and a quarter-foil gun loop in a window sill.
All attempts to preserve this little tower have been in vain and it continues to deteriorate.
Largo’s other famous son was Alexander Selkirk – known to the world as Robinson Crusoe – who would have known the old Largo Castle as it stood proud in his day.
Born in 1676, Selkirk proved an unruly youth and Largo was well rid of him when he joined a privateering expedition to the South Pacific. Having fallen out with his captain (much in character) he was marooned on the smallest island of the Juan Fernandez group, 400 miles from Chile. He survived this ordeal but succumbed to tropical disease off the coast of Africa some 14 years later.
In 1868 a tablet was erected on Juan Fernandez by Commodore Powell and the officers of the British Screw Frigate HMS Topaze in recognition of Selkirk and his home town of Largo. Its inscription states:
‘In memory of Alexander Selkirk, mariner, a native of Largo, in the county of Fife, Scotland, who lived on this island in complete solitude for four years and four months. He was landed from the Cinque Ports, 96 tons 18 guns, AD 1704 and was taken off in the Duke, privateer, 12 February 1709. He died lieutenant of HMS Weymouth AD 1723 aged 67 years.’
Article by Scottish Castles Association member Brian McGarrigle.
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