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Tantallon and Dirleton Castles Review

Updated on September 18, 2017

The Tales of Two Castles

Both Tantallon and Dirleton Castles are in ruined state but you can tour them safely and completely. These are hands on walking tours so you will be able to actually see the castles both interior and exterior. They are also located near each other, so can be toured on the same day.

We toured Tantallon first and even though it was a cloudy day, I was able to see the ruins of Dirleton Castle from the top floor of Tantallon. One of the gentlemen from the ticket/gift shop also provided us with an impromptu history lesson to enhance our visit.

July 2017 update:

We had the opportunity to revisit Tantallon Castle on our second trip to Scotland. This time the weather was more accommodating and allowed us to picnic while there. Of course, we chose the areas where the former kitchens were located. Another group were also picnicking next to us.

I am happy to report that everyone was very diligent to clean their picnic remains and leave the areas in pristine condition.

Tantallon Castle Ruins

This photo of the castle was taken on the walk from the gift shop.  You can see at least two different shades of color of the stone on the walls from the reinforcing efforts.
This photo of the castle was taken on the walk from the gift shop. You can see at least two different shades of color of the stone on the walls from the reinforcing efforts. | Source

Tantallon Castle

Note: visitors are allowed to walk through almost all of the remains. As with most of the castles we toured, there are the prisoner cells in the basement. The castle housed the local constable and prisoner barracks. This castle has a prisoner pit also. During it's heyday, the local would come to the castle to seek the constable to handle legal "issues". The prisoner pit and cells were rarely empty.

Tantallon castle overlooks the high cliffs of the Firth of Forth (a fjord - long narrow inlet). This castle survived three sieges over three centuries. It is the definition of fortress. It was built in the 1350s by the Earl of Douglas, William Douglas. Thirty years later, the fortress passed to the Douglas family's Earl of Angus.

These Earls held onto the castle for the next three hundred years. It survived sieges in 1491, 1598, and 1651. After the 1651 siege attempt by Oliver Cromwell, the fortress sustained heavy damage and it was abandoned.

Tantallon Castle - Inside view

Photo taken from the top floor of the castle looking towards the sea.  This castle had a dark and foreboding atmosphere about it.
Photo taken from the top floor of the castle looking towards the sea. This castle had a dark and foreboding atmosphere about it. | Source

Medieval Castle

This medieval castle was built to withstand assaults from archer arrows and rock throwing trebuchets (a type of catapult).

It was first built with red sandstone. But with the advances in military technology, the new gunpowder cannons broke through the sandstone. It had to be re-fortified.

Following the siege of 1598, the fortress was modified to allow for gun holes in the outer walls and postern gate area. There are several archer slots still remaining in the curtain wall.

The archers would watch through these narrow slots and take aim at anyone whom they deemed to be an enemy. As you can image, the archers were mostly protected by the narrow windows. The main injuries these archers received were located in the arms and shoulders, the most exposed areas of their bodies. We also noted that every castle we visited on this trip has narrow spiral staircases that lead from floor to floor. These were very narrow, and the people of that time needed to be quick and thin to navigate through these stairways.

View of Bass Rock from inside the Castle

This Photo View of Bass Rock from Inside the Castle through an Archer's Slot window ruin.
This Photo View of Bass Rock from Inside the Castle through an Archer's Slot window ruin.

Bass Rock

Not far into the Firth of Forth is the Bass Rock. This rock continued to draw our attention. It has a lighthouse built upon a prison built upon the rock. Most notably is the rock color. It appears to be white at first, until you see that the color comes from the estimated one hundred and fifty thousand of white birds (gannets) nesting on it. They will stay on the rock until October when it is time for them to migrate.

The Bass Rock was a strategic stronghold during the Scottish and English Wars. It is believed to have been formed by a volcano some three hundred million years ago.

The Bass Rock

The Lighthouse Built over the Prison - Bass Rock
The Lighthouse Built over the Prison - Bass Rock | Source

Haunted Castles

It is interesting to note that almost everywhere we went in Scotland, there appear to be ghost stories. Tantallon is no exception. This castle has its own ghost. The latest sighting (ghost in a photograph) was in 2008. You can check it out on the Internet. Just search on Tantallon Ghost. We carefully reviewed our digital photographs to see if a ghost showed up after the fact. No ghost sighting for us.

i have also included a YouTube video of this Ghost for your amusement.

Ghost of Tantallon Castle

Tantallon Castle

A markerTantallon Castle -
Tantallon Castle, North Berwick, East Lothian EH39 5PN, UK
get directions

Dirleton Castle

The Dirleton castle ruins can be seen from the upper levels of Tantallon, as I mentioned earlier. It is another medieval castle built around 1240. This castle changed hands several times. It was built by the De Vaux family.

It guards the road to Edinburgh from the Port of North Berwick. In the 14th century, the Haliburton family had control of the castle and repaired it from damage received during the Scottish Wars of Independence.

The Ruthven family acquired it in 1505. They were enemies of Mary, Queen of Scots, and her son King James VI. They further fortified the castle in the 1600s, just in time for Oliver Cromwell to take siege of the castle in 1650. After that last siege, John Nisbet acquired the castle ruins and built a new residence nearby.

Dirleton Castle

Dirleton Castle View from the Interior
Dirleton Castle View from the Interior | Source

The Dirleton Gardens

This castle, known more as a keep, boasts one of the most beautiful gardens that we toured. The gardens themselves have a history as well. They were originally planted in the 1600s and have been redesigned and maintained by the Nesbit family until the 1920s when the castle was transferred to state care. In 1993 it was restored to its 19th century design.

We found these gardens to be the most unique and well kept on our travel. They are a must see for anyone touring the area of North Berwick.

Dirleton Gardens

The most impressive Gardens noted on this trip - Dirleton Gardens
The most impressive Gardens noted on this trip - Dirleton Gardens | Source

More on Dirleton

This castle also has a basement area still used for weddings. It really did not look very romantic to me, but I suppose some may be attracted to it because of the history. The basement was originally used as the storehouse for food and other goods.

Inside Dirleton Castle

Dirleton Castle - More Inside Views
Dirleton Castle - More Inside Views | Source

Pigeon Anyone?

Outside the castle we also saw one of the most intact and well preserved 16th century doocots. The doocot is a beehive-shaped structure that houses around 1000 pigeon nesting boxes.

These were used to provide food for the residents of the castle. Inside the structure, you can see where a keeper would climb a rotating ladder to reach the pigeon boxes in a full 360 degree turn.

The Doocot

The Doocot -Pideon House
The Doocot -Pideon House | Source

Dirleton Castle

A markerDirleton Castle -
at Castle, North Berwick, East Lothian EH39, UK
get directions

Which of These Two Castles Would You Tour First?

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Fun Fact

Fun Fact: The Scottish word for Dessert is Pudding. All deserts, cake, ice cream etc is considered pudding. Note: They do not have any kind of "American" pudding - like Jello brand. They do have something called "Black Pudding" which is a food type all its own.

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