Tantallon Castle

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Last Updated: by Craig Neil.

Tantallon Castle is a semi-ruined mid-14th-century fortress located 3 miles east of North Berwick in East Lothian. It sits atop a promontory opposite Bass Rock, looking out onto the Firth of Forth. This castle was the last mediaeval curtain wall castle to be constructed in Scotland.

Historic Environment Scotland is in charge of managing Tantallon Castle, which is accessible to the general public. Visitors can explore the castle’s impressive architecture, enjoy stunning views of Bass Rock and the surrounding coast, and learn about the castle’s fascinating history on self-guided tours.

Tantallon Castle
Address:North Berwick,
East Lothian,
EH39 5PN
Opening Hours:1 Apr to 30 Sept:
Daily, 9.30 am to 5 pm. Last entry 4.15 pm

1 Oct 31 Mar:
Daily, 10 am to 4 pm. Last entry 3.15 pm
Admission Price:Adult £6.00
Child £3.60
Senior £4.80
Parking:Free on-site parking
Contact:01620 892 727
Facilities:Gift shop, toilets, bike rack, picnic area, water refill, drinks machine

Overview

Craig Neil at Tantallon Castle

Tantallon Castle, located in East Lothian, is a semi-ruined mid-14th-century fortress that’s renowned for its formidable red sandstone walls overlooking the Firth of Forth. Once the stronghold of the Douglas family, this castle offers visitors a glimpse into Scotland’s medieval history alongside magnificent coastal views and dramatic ruins.

Visitors to the coastal town of North Berwick can explore one of the finest mediaeval fortifications in Scotland by heading south along the coastline for 3 miles, where they’ll find Tantallon Castle. Despite the fact that the castle is essentially in ruins, Historic Environment Scotland (HES) has set up walkways that allow visitors to explore the castle while reading information panels that explain its fascinating history.

There are lots of reasons to visit Tantallon Castle, with the view from the top of the castle walls probably being the highlight, but there are a couple of other points of interest that are worth mentioning. First, it’s home to the last fortified curtain wall built in Scotland. Second, a nearby sandstone outcrop forms the smallest harbour in the country, so if you like exploring unusual places, Tantallon Castle is definitely worth a visit.

William Douglas, 1st Earl of Douglas, constructed the castle sometime around 1350. It served as a stronghold of the Douglas family for centuries and saw several sieges, most notably by King James IV in 1491 and then by Oliver Cromwell in 1651, both of which resulted in significant damage.

Today, the castle’s towers provide stunning panoramic views of the surrounding seascape and countryside. You can imagine the grandeur of it in its heyday as you walk through the great hall and private chambers, while the top of the curtain wall is a great spot to watch the seabird colonies that call this part of East Lothian their home. If you want to explore the coastline to see even more wildlife, Seacliff Beach is situated nearby, which is known for its giant rock pools.

Bass Rock

The Highlights

1: Tantallon Castle has an interesting history that’s explained on several information boards throughout the site. If the kids find history as interesting as watching paint dry, they can run around the many hidey holes in the castle’s walls.

2: The view from the top of the curtain wall is amazing, so take your binoculars (my recommended optics). If you’d like to see Bass Rock close up, take a trip to North Berwick to join a sightseeing cruise from the Scottish Seabird Centre.

3: The nearby Seacliff Beach is well worth adding to your visit. Especially if you have kids (or dogs) with you. There are rough tracks behind the beach that can be followed for several miles if you’d like a nice walk after visiting Tantallon Castle.

Visiting Tips

1: The castle isn’t particularly well sign-posted so it’s best to use a sat-nav. The postcode is EH39 5PN.

2: The east of Scotland is chock-a-block full of interesting castles. One of my favourites is Craigmillar Castle, which is located just a few miles outside of Edinburgh and is a short drive from Tantallon. There’s also Dirleton Castle, which is located 5.5 miles west of Tantallon on the A198.

3: If you’re in the area, you might like to take a walk up nearby North Berwick Law which offers lovely views across the Firth of Forth.

Tantallon Castle

Tourist Information

The views from the top of the curtain wall is amazing, with the enormous Bass Rock in the near distance and the East Lothian countryside stretching away to the east and west, and there’s enough wildlife in the area that any nature lover will be kept entertained for hours.

Looking in the opposite direction, you can take in the sight of Berwick Law with its whalebone arch perched on the top, while to the east, you can see Seacliff Beach where you’ll discover Scotland’s smallest harbour hidden amongst the rocks.

If you visit the east tower, you’ll find a replica of the gun that was used to defend the castle against James IV and James V, while children can happily go on a fact-finding quiz created by HES that’s guaranteed to keep them occupied for an hour.

Moving back to the castle entrance, you’ll find information displays about the castle’s history under the stewardship of the Red Douglas’, while nearby you’ll find paths that will take you on a lovely walk to Seacliff Beach. This is one of the best beaches in East Lothian due to the number of rock pools you’ll find in the sea-carved sandstone, but it’s also worth visiting because the beach is beautifully clean and the sea is great for swimming in thanks to the protection it gets from the cliffs that enclose it on either side.

seacliff beach

History

The 1st Earl of Douglas, who succeeded his father as Clan Douglas’ chieftain, constructed the castle in the middle of the 14th century. It was principally designed to be a status symbol, although at this point in Scottish history, the concept of curtain walls had already been superseded in favour of tower houses. As such, Tantallon Castle was the last curtain-wall castle built in Scotland, and while only the landward section remains today, at one time the enormous stone wall enclosed the entire site.

The castle passed into the hands of the illegitimate son of the Earl of Douglas in the late 14th century and it was at this time that the Douglas clan divided into two factions, the Red Douglas’s and the Black Douglas’s, with the Red Douglas’s taking control of Tantallon.

While the two clans feuded for the next hundred years the castle became the main stronghold of the Red Douglas’s until a traitorous act by the 5th Earl handed it to James IV of Scotland. Although previous earls had allied with the Royal House of Stuart, the 5th Earl struck a deal with Henry VII of England against James IV and in retaliation, the Scottish king successfully besieged Tantallon Castle.

Tantallon Castle

While the Red Douglas’s eventually found favour with the Scottish government it seems they had other intentions with England, and in 1525 with support from Henry VIII, the 6th Earl successfully took custody of the 16-year-old Scottish King James V. However, the king managed to escape and several years later took revenge on the Earl with a massive bombardment of Tantallon Castle that lasted for a full 20 days. Although the king lifted the siege after being unable to bring down the curtain wall the Earl fled to England, leaving James V free to capture the castle.

The castle passed in and out of the hands of various Scottish nobles for another hundred years until its fate was sealed during the English civil war of 1650, when Oliver Cromwell’s forces laid siege and finally breached the castle’s defences. After this defeat, Tantallon was left in ruins, never to be inhabited again.

Tantallon Castle

Things to Do

Explore the Castle: Tantallon Castle is a semi-ruined mid-14th-century fortress in East Lothian. Visitors can explore the East Tower, the impressive curtain wall, and the North Range. A visit to the castle can be rounded off by taking a walk to nearby Seacliff Beach.

Stunning Coastal Views: Perched on a cliff overlooking the Firth of Forth, Tantallon Castle offers breathtaking panoramic views of the coastline. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, a photographer, or just someone who appreciates beautiful landscapes, the view from Tantallon Castle is definitely worth seeing.

Bird Watching: The cliffs beneath the castle are home to a variety of sea birds. With a bit of patience and a pair of binoculars (link to binocular reviews), visitors can enjoy seeing hundreds of seabirds of all types. Look out for the distinctive gannets, razorbills, and puffins on their way to and from Bass Rock.

Picnic with a View: The castle grounds provide a perfect setting for a picnic. Pack some snacks, find a spot on the grass or one of the picnic benches in the grounds, and enjoy a light lunch with a view. The sound of the waves crashing against the cliffs promises an unforgettable picnic experience.

Tantallon Castle

Book Tours

Things to Do Nearby

Seacliff Beach. North Berwick EH39 5PP. 6-minute drive.
A wide, golden sand beach that offers superb views of the North Sea and Tantallon Castle. A large area of raised rock bed that creates rock pools when the tide goes out. The beach is part of the Seacliff Estate which provides a paid parking area.

North Berwick Law. North Berwick EH39 5NX. 10-minute drive.
A large volcanic plug that rises 187 metres above the coastal town of North Berwick. Berwick Law has well-trodden paths that allow relatively easy access to the whalebone sculpture at the top. The summit is famed for the stunning views across East Lothian and the Firth of Forth.

The Scottish Seabird Centre. The Harbour, North Berwick, EH39 4SS. 10-minute drive.
An environmental visitor centre that aims to educate and entertain visitors with displays and exhibitions about Scotland’s coastal marine wildlife. The centre features a viewing platform that overlooks Bass Rock, and it is the departure point for pleasure cruises around the rock.

North Berwick. East Rd, North Berwick EH39 4LG. 9-minute drive.
A very popular historic former fishing village that is now a tourist destination thanks to its golden beaches and proximity to the Scottish Seabird Centre and Bass Rock. The village high street includes a collection of gifts shops, restaurants and cafés.

Tyninghame Beach. Dunbar EH42 1XW. 14-minute drive.
A very clean and less-visited sand beach that is separated from Seacliff beach by a lengthy section of shingle. There is a rough path that follows the coast south past Whitberry Point and St. Baldred’s Cradle local nature reserve. Tyninghame beach has a paid parking area.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who built Tantallon Castle?

William Douglas constructed Tantallon Castle around the mid-1300s.

Is Tantallon Castle free?

Access to Tantallon Castle is via paid entry. Tickets can be purchased at the entrance. For the latest news on ticket prices visit the Historic Environment Scotland tickets page.

What was filmed at Tantallon Castle?

Under the Skin (2013), Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998), Shawn’s Dark Xmas (2012).

Who destroyed Tantallon Castle?

Tantallon Castle was besieged several times throughout its history, but after succumbing to cannon fire from the forces of Oliver Cromwell in 1651 it was abandoned and left to fall into ruin.

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Craig Neil

Craig Neil is the author, photographer, admin, and pretty much everything else behind Out About Scotland. He lives near Edinburgh and spends his free time exploring Scotland and writing about his experiences. Follow him on Pinterest, Facebook, and YouTube.