Dirleton Castle – the classic Scottish fortress
The photogenic Tantallon Castle nearby gets most of the castle publicity in this part of Scotland but Dirleton Castle is still one of my favourites. The structure of it alone takes me back to being a kid playing with my medieval lego. High unassailable walls, the remains of a moat, rugged foundations and more. Legoland designers had this place in mind I think. Internally too the castle holds a labyrinth of passages and staircases within. What I wouldn’t have given to have lived near this place when I was a boy….
We love a bit of history and Dirleton is not short of a gory story or two. At the end of the 13th Century Scotland was embroiled in the wars of indpendence with England. Border strongholds like Dirleton Castle were to see a lot of military action at this point. Records show it fell in and out of Scottish hands during the time of Robert the Bruce. The Oliver Cromwell invasion of the mid 17th Century saw Dirleton Castle faced with 1600 of his English forces. The defenders relented and the leaders were gruesomely hanged from the castle walls. He was a nice man that Mr Cromwell.
Fortunately the history was not entirely invasion and slaughter. Dirleton Castle has been a home for several noble famillies over the centuries. It started with the de Vaux’s in the 13th Century. Then it was the Haliburton family who restored it after the damaging independence wars. Next were the Ruthvens of the 16th Century who greatly improved the castle grounds. Dirleton Castle has that great combination of military stronghold and decadent home. I can picture the invaders and defenders furiously fighting over its ownership but can equally envisage the bustle of life over a huge hearth in a relentless kitchen.
Nowadays Dirleton Castle is a hugely atmospheric ruin that is surrounded by some lovely gardens. Many thanks to the Ruthvens for that. There is also a bowling green. The castle highlights are a vast basement that was clearly a hub of activity and a spooky prison space. On my visit I actually had the whole place to myself and braved the walk down to the pit. Apparently, I lived to tell the tale.