Last updated on September 28th, 2020
Hailes Castle in East Lothian
The 14th-century Hailes Castle in East Lothian is located in a beautiful setting next to the River Tyne that’s just perfect for an afternoon of exploration and picnics. It’s managed by Historic Environment Scotland and entry is free of charge.
Category: Castle, River
Suitable for ages: 5 to 10 years, 11 to 18 years, 18+ years, 65+ years
Ideal for: Couples, Families, Groups, Solo travellers
I rate it: 6 out of 10
About Hailes Castle
Located a mile and a half from East Linton in East Lothian, Hailes Castle sits in a beautiful riverside setting that’s perfect for an afternoon of exploring followed by a picnic next to the gentle River Tyne that flows behind it.
The castle was built in the 14th century by the Hepburn family but is now in the ownership of Historic Environment Scotland, and it’s often regarded as one of East Lothian’s hidden gems.
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.
The castle is surrounded on all sides by fields and woodland and it can be best used as the start and end point for a walk into the East Lothian countryside, although as there’s no car park nearby you’ll be forced to park somewhere along the single track road which leads onto the site.
A favourite walk with dog-walkers is to take the riverside path that runs from the picturesque village of East Linton almost all the way to the castle, and along the frequently-muddy track you’ll discover a secluded glen and quiet woodlands on the 3 and-a-half mile route.
The ruins of Hailes Castle are a great place to let the kids run around and it has to be one of the nicest historic attractions in the area if you visit on a bright summer day, especially if you combine it with a visit to nearby Seton Collegiate Church.
Things to do at Hailes Castle
There a quite a few areas to explore amongst the ruins of this historic attraction and children will be kept happy for a good hour or more as they poke around every hidden nook and cranny.
The biggest building within the 13th-century curtain wall is the 14th-century keep to which ranges were added in the 15th and 16th centuries.
The other main building is the west tower which dwarfs the remains of the central tower that was built in the 16th-century, and there’s also a vaulted bakehouse and brewhouse from this time that can be seen in the basement area.
One of the most interesting sections of Hailes Castle is the huge dining room which features the remnants of a massive but long-extinguished fireplace and I think it’s amazing that this dilapidated ruin was once the focal point for grand banquets and feasts.
If you look up you can see holes in the walls where roof joists would have held up the floor above and it’s obvious that the dining room would have had an impressively high ceiling.
Because Hailes is one of the more out-of-reach castles in the Historic Environment Scotland catalogue you’ll often find that you’re 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 East Lothian’s 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.
As the site is currently unmanned there’s no admission charge to enter either, and you’re free to spend as much time at the site as you like.
Find more Scottish forts with my Guide to the Best Castles in Scotland.
There are a couple of points to note about this historic attraction though. First off, it’s located pretty much in the middle of nowhere so it can be a real pain to find. Do yourself a favour and look for it in your satnav before you head off.
Alternatively, you can do what I’ve done and download an Ordnance Survey map of the area onto your phone.
The OS map is ultra-helpful when it comes to finding walks like the one from East Linton previously mentioned and I whole-heartedly recommend you check them out. Buy OS Landranger maps direct from Ordnance Survey.
The second point to note is that the parking outside the castle is pretty poor so if there’s more than a couple of visitors you’ll have to find a space on the single-lane road that runs alongside it. Other than that, this is a nice wee attraction in East Lothian, and one that’s definitely recommended.
- Unlike many Scottish castles, Hailes Castle is completely free to visit.
- It’s a great spot for a picnic. There’s a good spot at the back of the castle next to the River Tyne.
- Although it’s not exactly the biggest historic attraction in Scotland kids will love exploring the ruins.
- It’s quite remote and hard to find so get your bearings on Google Maps before you head out.
- Car parking isn’t great as there are just a couple of spaces in a layby outside the castle. Be prepared to have to park a fair distance away and walk.
- Combine a visit with The National Museum of Flight which is only 15 minutes away by car. The historic fishing town of Dunbar is about the same to drive on the A1.
Photos and video
Address and map
Hailes Castle is 1.5m south-west of East Linton off the A1.
Grid reference: NT 574 757.
Tickets and opening times
Special offer! Click this affiliate link to purchase a Historic Environment Scotland Explorer Pass from Viator. Your 5-day or 14-day pass allows free entry to more than 77 castles, cathedrals, distilleries and more throughout Scotland.
Hailes Castle is free to visit and open year-round.
Website: Historic Scotland
Getting there: Car park available on the roadside
Getting around: Stairs
On-site conveniences: None