The view from the top of Torwood Castle stretches across ancient woodland, and takes in Roman forts, secret caves where William Wallace hid and a 2000-year-old broch – should you dare to lean far enough over the edge for a glimpse.

As the wind whips across its exposed ramparts, Gary Grant clambers over stacks of stones to point to gaps once filled by windows and doors; there’s the exit point of a secret spiral staircase, vantage points where castle protectors shot arrows at enemy raiders and the expanse of the surrounding woods which supplied Scottish kings with timber for their ships.

The 450-year-old castle and surrounding lands, with links to Wallace and the Battle of Falkirk in 1298, Roman legions at the nearby Antonine Wall and the Picts across the valley who held them at bay for two centuries, could, he says, rival Edinburgh and nearby Stirling castles when it comes to history.

Yet while they are lovingly maintained famous symbols of Scottish history, Torwood Castle has spent generations in ruins.

And despite its location up a narrow road just off the exclusive village of Torwood near Falkirk - a millionaire’s row of posh bespoke built houses and home to several footballers - for years the towering 16th century castle was no more than a magnet for vandals, fly-tippers and the occasional rave.

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Outside, its cobbled courtyard had long since vanished under a thick carpet of weeds, soil and shrubs, while inside, spray paint graffiti stained its ancient walls and rubbish piled high in its dark recesses.

Today, however, with Gary spending most evenings occupying in a tiny, dark room in a corner of an upper floor, Torwood Castle is slowly but surely coming back to life.  

Despondent at the state the castle he first got to know when he was just 12 years old as he trawled the area with his metal detector, he moved in five years ago to become ‘king’ of Torwood Castle.

While wrangles in the background rumbled over the trust charged with looking after it, Gary poured thousands of pounds of his own money into making what he could secure and halting the decay.

Mountains of rubbish were cleared to reveal atmospheric basement cells, a medieval kitchen complete with huge fireplace and a main hall where gatherings would once have been held.

The Herald: Torwood Castle keeper Gary GrantTorwood Castle keeper Gary Grant (Image: Gordon Terris)

A previously hidden spiral staircase emerged, a stone figure, minus head, hands and feet but thought to be a fertility goddess, was unearthed, and traces of the castle’s story took shape.

While outside, Gary led the attack to hack away undergrowth uncovering a deep well thought to date from Roman times, and the stone foundations of a brewery, bakehouse and animal pens.

Now with a new group of trustees in place and Gary appointed chairman of the Torwood Castle Charitable Trust, the castle’s future finally looks just a little bit brighter.

In his surprisingly cosy room – hidden in one of the few parts of the castle not explosed to the elements – Gary, with dog, Meg, and cat, Freddo for company, keeps watch at night thanks to an array of screens linked to a CCTV system powered by a wind turbine on the castle roof.

By day, he leads a small group of dedicated volunteers striving against the odds to repoint ancient stonework using bucket after bucket of lime mortar.

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It’s a bizarre lifestyle, especially when he talks of strange bumps in the night and otherworldly spirits for flatmates – apparitions and even ghostly voices have been known to make their presence felt.

“It’s not that bad staying here,” he insists, yanking back a curtain to reveal a recently installed lavatory and sink, the gleaming white porcelain incongruous against the thick, ancient stone walls and dusty floors.

Behind another curtain is a mini kitchen area, a stove, a kettle and his handful of belongings in a space shared with power tools, lawnmowers, and a lot of spiders.

“The wind turbine gives me power and if the wind doesn’t blow for four days in a row, I have generators and a mains supply,” he points out.

“I’m even getting quite used to the ghosts now – they look after me.”

His connection with the castle began with its previous owner, a former WW2 Swordfish torpedo bomber pilot, Gordon Miller, who bought it for just £500 in 1957.

The Herald: Torwood CastleTorwood Castle (Image: Gordon Terris)

The overwhelming restoration task, however, was limited to stabilising some stonework and creating new stairs using materials commonly used at the time but which might leave modern restoration experts reeling.

He was living in the castle when a young Gary with his metal detector and keen interest in history strayed onto the grounds.

“I was coming through the field,” he recalls, “and he shouted out of the window ‘get out of my field!’

“I looked up and said ‘uh-oh, some nutter stays in that castle, I better keep away’.

“He said he was fixing up the castle, so I thought I’d have a look.”

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Gary, whose dyslexia made writing and reading difficult, discovered a talent for working with his hands, and under Gordon’s tutelage learned how to construct keystone walls, carve stone and identify ancient castle features.

At the same time, he learned its rich history; of the Romans who occupied forts along the nearby Antonine Wall and drank from the rich sources of sandstone filtered fresh water to the area’s fascinating links with William Wallace.

He is said to have retreated to the area’s thick forests after defeat in the north, hiding in the hollow of a giant oak tree, so enormous it also accommodated several of his men.

Known as the “Wallace Oak”, it is said to have become a place of refuge for several years, while deep within the woods is hidden a small network of caves which also provided shelter from the enemy.

Said to 22ft in circumference in the 18th century, the tree was raided by souvenir hunters and was said to be dead by 1835.

The Herald: Torwood Castle keeper Gary GrantTorwood Castle keeper Gary Grant (Image: Gordon Terris)

Intriguingly, Gary points to a rare and old Spanish sweet chestnut tree just beyond the castle’s grounds, its branches twisted in an array of directions and its trunk hollow with space large enough for a man to hide in, and a collection of stones around its base to held prop it up.

“They say it’s not Wallace’s tree,” he concedes, “but then they also say that Wallace and his men held meetings inside the tree and that’s Alice in Wonderland stuff.  

“And why were all these stones put around it to protect it if it’s not a special tree?”

The area is rich in history, he adds, from the geological features carved during the Ice Age that gave it a supply of fresh water which in turn attracted Romans and Picts, to the nearby Iron Age Tappoch Broch. Dating from 500 BC, it is one of the best preserved lowland brochs.

Having sheltered Scottish armies in the 13th and 14th centuries, the forest of Tor Wood played a key role in the 15th century, supplying oak for great wooden ships under repair at the dockyard of James IV at nearby Airth on the edge of the Forth.

The castle was built in 1566 for Alexander Forrester of Torwood, whose family were keepers of the Royal Forest. It is now a focal point for Clan Forrester, with a clan gathering due at the spot in the coming weeks.

“There’s centuries of history in this area,” says Gary, “but people don’t know it’s even here.”

With the revived charitable trust in place, there are fresh hopes for a new lease of life for the castle.

Work to repoint the north gable wall is almost done largely thanks to plasterer, Robert Jones, who like handyman Paul Leslie, visited one day and became hooked on the story of the castle and its caretaker.

And while it’s still a long way from being able to welcome hordes of tourists – a new road and proper car park will have to be constructed first - there are hopes a nearby windfarm might provide some funds, and a new GoFundMe page has been launched.

Currently standing at £3,000 it is a long way from the estimated £50,000 for the new aluminium roof Gary longs for.

“With me being dyslexic, it’s been hard to get everything set up,” he adds. “This has been a challenge for me but I felt I was being steered by Gordon and the spirits. The energy here was telling me to do it.

“My hope is to one day move out, and the castle to be open to the public.

“We need a millionaire to come in, someone who doesn’t want this for themselves but who wants to give back to Scotland this forgotten history.

“I just want to save it for Scotland.”

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