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Strathaven sits astride the A71 Edinburgh to Kilmarnock road a few miles west of its junction with the M74 motorway. The focus of the town is Common Green, in effect the market place. As this lies to the north of the line of the A71 it is easy to drive without pause through Strathaven if your destination is further west.
Do so and you miss a real treat. You see enough of Strathaven from the main road to realise that this is an unusually good looking town. It is built around the Powmillon Burn as it flows towards the Avon Water, half a mile to the south. The town takes its name, which is pronounced "Stray-ven", from the Gaelic for what later became Avondale, the valley of the Avon Water.
You also quickly get the idea that Strathaven has an interesting story to tell. The obvious clue is in the remains of the castle on a rocky outcrop looming over the main road. A stone castle was first built here in the 1300s, probably replacing an earlier wooden structure. By the 1400s Strathaven Castle was a possession of the Black Douglases, and it was amongst their castles destroyed by James II in 1455 when he suppressed this branch of the Douglas family.
Strathaven Castle was rebuilt in 1458 by Sir Andrew Stewart, 1st Lord Avondale, and as a result it is sometimes called Avondale Castle. It later passed to the Hamilton family, but fell into disuse and disrepair after the death of Anne, 3rd Duchess of Hamilton in 1716. One of the towers was struck by lightning in 1736, and the roof blew off in a storm in 1737. This was taken by the townsfolk as a cue to start recycling the stone from the castle into other local building projects.
Today's visitors to Strathaven Castle find the partial remains of a tower house built in the shape of a parallelogram, and probably originally five storeys high. The remains have at some point been consolidated by the liberal application of concrete to the inside of the main walls, giving the impression of a defensive structure of the 1940s rather than the 1450s.
But the place still has a certain atmosphere and you can readily imagine this as the starting point of the various secret passages to different parts of the town that are reputed to exist, or the place where the wife of one Lord was entombed within the wall and left to die.
Strathaven itself is remarkable for the number of brightly harled or pebbledashed buildings, giving the slightly surreal impression that you are walking through the set of a children's TV series. The overall effect of the collection of pinks, yellows, reds, blues and greens that dot the town is extremely attractive.
The town is also interesting for its extremely nice looking collection of pubs, many of which have also gone for the brightly coloured approach. As you look around this extremely well-kept town, you can't help wondering how it maintains such obvious economic vitality.
The answer lies further north, in East Kilbride, whose dramatic growth over recent decades has had a positive impact on attractive places to live within easy commuting distance: and on Strathaven in particular.
The rock on which Strathaven Castle is built is an excellent vantage point from which to view the town. Another is Kirk Hill, to the east, now the imposing home of Strathaven's war memorial. From either, the most significant features on the skyline are two spires. One is white and comes complete with a clock. This belongs to the East Parish Church, superbly located next to the Powmillon Burn at the end of Allison Green. The other is plain stone and belongs to the Rankin Church, a little to the west.