Situated on the North Berwick coastline, Tantallon Castle is without a doubt one of the most stunning castles that you could possibly hope to find. The 14th century ruins perch on the cliff’s edge, providing a spectacular backdrop and one of the most atmospheric historic buildings that you will ever visit.
The original coastal fortress of Tantallon Castle was built in 1350 and was based on the design of a French chateau. The castle has a rich history, involving many kings and queens, notably Henry VII and James V. Tantallon’s most bloody days were in the 1600s when Cromwell ordered his troops to attack the castle, and a siege took place for 12 days. The castle was virtually ruined and has remained in a state of disrepair ever since. It was not until 1924 that the castle came into state care.
Tantallon Castle is approximately thirty minutes’ drive from the centre of Edinburgh, and can easily be reached by car. Follow the A1 from Edinburgh, towards Dunbar, leaving the road at the junction with the A198 (signposted for North Berwick). Follow the A198 for about six miles and you will come to a turning, from which the castle is signposted. The castle is situated right on the edge of the cliffs, and the car park is located some distance in front of the entrance. The approach to the car park is a narrow, single-lane road, so drive carefully and be ready for vehicles coming from the opposite direction. The car park is relatively small, but the castle seems to attract only a handful of visitors at any one time, so this should not cause a problem. If you are travelling by public transport, the site is not as easy to reach. North Berwick train station is about three miles away, but I didn’t notice any bus routes nearby, so you would probably need to get a taxi to the actual castle.
The castle is open all year round, but has different opening hours on certain days, and at different times of the day. During the summer, the castle is open from 09.30 until 18.30 daily, seven days a week. During the Winter, the hours are rather shorter, so it’s recommended that you phone ahead to find out what times the castle is open according to when you want to visit. From the car park, you need to go into the visitor centre to gain admission to the castle. This is simply a small, wooden building, which is always staffed and from which you can purchase your tickets, buy souvenirs and obtain drinks and snacks. Admission prices are currently as follows:
You can make savings by buying one of the Scottish Castles admission tickets, which offer entry to a number of sites within a designated period of time. These are perfect if you are in the area for a few days or live locally.
Once you leave the visitor centre, you then have a short walk of about two hundred yards along a designated footpath, when you reach a small wooden bridge, which leads directly into the castle itself. Whatever time of year you visit, you might want to take some warm clothes, as the coastal location and elevated position mean that the wind is cold and fierce but also vigorously refreshing. There are also a lot of sea birds about so watch out for little missiles!
Although the site is ruined, Tantallon Castle is still an impressive location to visit. There is something inherently spiritual about the location, and as you walk through the main gateway into the castle, you are immediately drawn to the coastline in front of you. The centre of the castle is turfed and inclines gently down towards the cliff’s edge, where metal railings are all that stands between you and the ragged rocks below. Immediately in front of the castle, out to sea, you can see Bass Rock, which still has an operational lighthouse, and instantly conjures up images of fierce storms and smugglers. As you stand by the railings, looking out to sea, there is often a lovely warm glow of sunshine and it is so beautifully peaceful that, for once, you can’t help but forget all your problems.
The ruins provide plenty of entertainment for anybody who feels a little more adventurous, with plenty of spiral staircases and battlements to explore. There are no human or recorded guides, but as you wander round the site, each of the rooms contains a metal plaque explaining the history of the room and its original purpose. There are often artists’ illustrations to provide an idea of what the room might have looked like back in the castle’s heyday. The staircases are perfect for children, who will revel in the steep climbs and twisting darkness, but elderly or disabled visitors will be restricted to the ground floor. The battlements themselves provide even more spectacular views across the coastline, although on a windy day, you might struggle to keep your eyes open. The castle’s location is such that even if you look inland, you really can’t see a thing for miles and you feel very isolated.
Beneath the castle, a dark, dank corridor leads you down some steps into the dungeon, and there is something very eerie about the cold, stone rooms. Little holes in the wall are indicated to have been toilets for the inmates, and as you peer through onto the rocks below, it doesn’t take much imagination to start thinking that the place should definitely be haunted. Given that much of the castle is now ruined, there is no furniture or exhibitions to view as only cold floors and stone walls now remain where previously banquets were held.
Sadly, much of the castle has fallen into ruin, and even sections of the castle that were visibly once open to the public are now segregated off, as the walls have crumbled and fallen. For such a towering structure of strength, it is sad to see that the building now seems very vulnerable, but the castle is absolutely oozing with charm and history. You can really imagine what it must have been like hundreds of years ago, and you can see from its position what a purposeful building it must have been. Even the name of Tantallon Castle feeds your imagination and it’s simply a beautiful, spiritual place.
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