Places to Visit in Scotland
- Tantallon Castle, East Lothian
The Bass Rock
Located on the coast, east of North Berwick and only 25 miles from Edinburgh, Tantallon Castle is a popular tourist spot. Its location on a cliff overlooks not only the sea but the Bass Rock, three miles out to sea and rising to a height of 350 feet.
Like all the lighthouses around Scotland's shores, it is now automated and no longer manned by the keepers. The island is a wildlife sanctuary and looks white in this illustration because of the huge number (over 150,000) of nesting seabirds, particularly gannets. Bass Rock is now a tourist attraction and you can view the seabirds either from boats which go out to the island or by remote video-cams at the Scottish Seabird Centre in nearby North Berwick.
The "Black" and "Red" Douglases
The story of Tantallon is closely linked to that of the Douglas> family, one of the most powerful in Scotland. It was probably built in the middle of the 14th century by William Douglas, who was related to "Good Sir James" who had fought with Robert the Bruce. William became undisputed head of the House of Douglas by killing his powerful godfather and became the first Earl of Douglas. William's heir, James Douglas, was killed at the Battle of Otterburn in 1388 in which the Scots defeated an invading English army led by Henry Percy, (Hotspur). In the aftermath the House of Douglas was split into the "Red" Douglases of Angus, Fife and Lothian and the "Black" Douglases in the south west.
The earls of Angus pursued a vendetta against the Black Douglases, using Tantallon as a base. An Earl of Angus was injured in the same accident which killed King James II> at the siege of Roxburgh Castle in 1460. Nevertheless, he crowned King James III> at Kelso Abbey a week later.
The 5th Earl committed treason in 1491 by agreeing to deliver King James IV> into the hands of Henry VII> of England and Tantallon was besieged by royal forces. Despite this, he later regained favour. But in 1513 his two sons were killed at the Battle of Flodden, fighting for the self-same King James IV.
In 1514, the 6th Earl married the widow of King James IV> and the young King James V> was cared for at Tantallon. However, he became a virtual prisoner, escaped, and returned to besiege the castle! The Earl was sent into exile and the castle became royal property for a spell. Mary Queen of Scots> later stayed at the castle, in 1566.
One of the Ruins Cromwell Knocked About
The real damage to Tantallon was done in 1650 when, following raids on Cromwell's lines of communication during the Civil War, heavy cannon were brought up and wreaked serious damage for 12 days before the garrison surrendered. Afterwards, the Earl of Angus moved to Lanarkshire and the castle and barony were sold to Sir Hew Dalrymple, Lord President of the Court of Session but he allowed the castle to decay further.
The castle is now owned by Historic Scotland> who from time to time organise events such as jousting tournaments at the castle.
Exploring the Castle
Despite its ruinous state, you can still clamber around a rabbit warren of towers and stairs and climb to the top of the battlements and look down on the sea crashing on the cliffs below.
The defences of the castle consisted of an outer ditches and the main curtain wall of the castle overlooking these ditches. Further battlements stretched back along the promontory on which the castle is built. Of course, the defenders would probably regard the seaward side as impossible to attack because of the cliffs and rough seas. And in the distance is the ever-looming Bass Rock.
Most of the illustrations in this feature were taken on a bright, sunny, summer afternoon. But it looks entirely different when the skies are louring overhead and the sea is grey, as in this picture. Even the presence of a dovecote on the left of this picture does little to reduce the threatening nature of the scene.
How to Find Tantallon Castle
From Edinburgh, take the main A1 road east. You can fork left along the A198 coastal road via Musselburgh, Prestonpans and the golf courses of Luffness and Gullane, stopping by Dirleton Castle. Tantallon is then three miles further east of North Berwick. Alternatively, you can take the faster route along the A1 via Haddington and turn left onto the A198 after East Linton and the Preston Mill and Phantasie Doocot.
For a detailed location map, see this StreetMap UK map of the area. (Note that you can access a larger scale map of the area via that Web page).
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