Learn the history behind Scotland's ancient castles and buildings
Hailes Castle is 1.5m south west of East Linton off the A1.
Parking is available.
Grid reference – NT 574 757.
Prices and opening times
Hailes Castle is free to visit and open year-round.
Sitting a mile and a half south-west of East Linton, Hailes Castle resides in a beautiful riverside setting that’s just perfect for an afternoon of exploration followed by a picnic in front of the bubbling waters. The castle as we see it today was built in the 14th century by the Hepburn family, but today it’s under the ownership of the Historic Scotland organisation. As the site is currently unmanned there is no admission charge to enter, and you’re free to spend as much time at the site as you like.
As with many castles of this age, Hailes is a collection of ruined walls and outbuildings, but what sets it apart is the beautiful location in which it sits. Surrounded on all sides by fields and woodland, the castle can be best used as a start and end point for a pleasant walk in the East Lothian countryside, although as there’s no car park you’ll be forced to park somewhere along the single track road which leads to the site.
Because Hailes is one of the more out-of-reach castles in the Historic Scotland catalogue, you will often find that you will be the only person walking around the site, especially mid-week. This makes it a perfect spot to get away from the hustle and bustle of the Lothian towns, so if you’re on your own don’t forget to take a blanket, flask of tea and a good book for a bit of countryside relaxation.
The castle was initially developed as a fortified tower house by Hugo de Gourlay sometime before 1300, which makes it one of the oldest constructions of its kind in Scotland. The de Gourlays, a Northumbrian family, supported the English in the Wars of Independence, and their land was forfeited by order of the Scottish Crown. Hailes Castle and lands were then confirmed upon another Northumbrian, Sir Adam de Hepburn, who, in the reign of David II, had a charter of the lands of Traprain, and Southalls and Northalls (now united and called Hailes) in Haddingtonshire, as well as the lands of Mersingtoun, Cockburnspath, and Rollanstoun in Berwickshire.
Within the 13th century curtain wall is the 14th century keep, to which ranges were added in the next two centuries. The major remaining works is the West Tower, a square donjon, which dwarfs the remains of the central tower that the Gourlays built in the 16th century. 15th century work includes a roofless chamber in which the remains of what appears to be an aumbry and a piscina suggest it was a chapel rather than a hall. There is also a vaulted basement bakehouse and brewhouse from this period. The original tower was used as a dovecot after it ceased to be occupied. Of the East Tower, only a finger of stonework remains.
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