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Address: Dirleton, East Lothian, EH39 5ER
Website: Historic Environment Scotland
Contact details: Telephone: 01620 850 330
Dirleton Castle can be found a short distance away from Yellowcraig beach in the quiet East Lothian village of Dirleton, and although it’s not one of Historic Environment Scotland’s biggest sites it’s actually one of my favourites.
The castle is in a great location for tourists thanks to nearby beaches like Yellowcraig and Gullane, but you’ve also got North Berwick just up the road with its quaint craft shops and cafes, and dramatic Tantallon Castle a little further round the coastline if you’re in the mood for even more Scottish history.
There’s not a huge amount going on in Direlton village but the castle is a great place to visit and it’s got a couple of secrets that I bet you wouldn’t expect in a sleepy hamlet like this.
First off it has the biggest herbaceous border in the world, and even if you’re not particularly interested in gardens I think you’re going to like the one that Dirleton’s got on show.
Second, the entrance towers are some of the oldest in Scotland, and even though much of the castle is in ruin those towers are somehow still standing in an amazingly well-preserved condition. Look and learn Barrat, Persmimmon and Taylor-Wimpey…
Other points to note as you visit Dirleton Castle are the dovecote that housed more than a thousand pigeons (a popular food source in the middle ages) and the cavernous underground cellars where grains and beer were stored throughout the lean winter months.
You can read all about this attraction in my Complete Guide to Dirleton Castle.
Address: Hailes Castle, Haddington, EH41 4PY
Website: Historic Environment Scotland
Contact details: Hailes Castle is unmanned.
The sleepy, rural area between Haddington and East Linton is one place in Scotland that you’ve possibly got no intention of visiting, but I can at least suggest one good reason why you should try to head out there – Hailes Castle.
This 14th-century ruin is a bit of a hidden gem in my opinion, not just because it’s free to enter (I like free) but because it’s set in a remarkably peaceful riverside setting next to the River Tyne.
There are loads of great walks in this part of East Lothian and I think it’s the perfect place to forget about the hustle and bustle of Edinburgh (just 40-minutes away by car) but it’s also an interesting historic attraction.
Like Dirleton Castle, Hailes is really just a collection of ramshackle ruined walls, but you can still get a real sense of how grand it must have been back in the 1300s, and if you stop to read the information panels you’ll discover that at one time there was a brewery and a bakehouse on the site – probably installed to keep the gigantic dining room stocked with food and booze.
Apparently the Hepburn family were renowned for entertaining guests and they must have had a great time in this peaceful setting next to the river, and while you won’t be able to have your own grand banquet in the castle grounds I think the bank of the River Tyne is a perfect spot for a summer picnic.
Just don’t forget to pack your Scotch eggs (which you can learn how to make in my Guide to Traditional Scottish Food You Have to Try).
You can read all about this attraction with my Complete Guide to Hailes Castle.
Address: Law Road, North Berwick, East Lothian
Website: East Lothian .gov
Contact details: Telephone 01620827459 (Countryside officer)
If you’ve already been to some of my earlier suggestions you might have seen an enormous hill dominating the landscape around East Lothian’s north-east corner of coastline near North Berwick.
This giant landmark is Berwick law, a volcanic plug that protrudes from the earth to a height of nearly 190-metres above the surrounding countryside, and it offers the best viewpoint in the entire county.
It’s easy to find Berwick Law as it’s well signposted from North Berwick so if you’re in the town to enjoy its beaches, shops or seabird centre you may as well spend an extra hour or two to climb to the top of the enormous rock that shadows the southern edge of the former royal burgh.
There’s a winding path that runs all the way to the top of Berick Law from the car park down below, and although it’s not a long walk it’s quite steep so it’ll likely take you the best part of two hours to get up and down it.
Once you get up there prepare to whip your camera out because the views are absolutely fantastic. To one side you can see Tantallon Castle, towards the sea lies North Berwick with the Bass Rock a short distance away, and to the other side are East Lothian’s best beaches of Yellowcraig and Gullane.
The Law has been used for hundreds of years as a lookout post (can’t blame them – you can see for miles in all directions) and there’s an old WWII bunker still up there gazing out across the Firth of Forth for any signs of a long-since-vanished German invasion.
The very top of the enormous pinnacle is home to a strange sight that I bet will confuse you just as much as it did me if you don’t know what it’s all about.
Two enormous whale bones sit at the top forming an arch, with the reason for their existence being that they’re a monument to Scotland’s whaling industry that at one time saw the animals hunted throughout the north sea.
Thankfully the whaling industry has died out in the UK but the two bones (don’t worry – they’re fibreglass replicas) are a reminder of how times have moved on.
You can read all about this attraction in my Complete Guide to North Berwick Law.
Address: Yellowcraig, North Berwick, EH55
Website: East Lothian .gov
Contact details: Telephone: 01620827459
Yellowcraig Beach is a great place to spend a sunny afternoon if you’re looking for a nice place to visit in East Lothian.
It’s long enough that you can find a quiet spot, clean enough that you can let the kids run around without worrying they’ll step in something they shouldn’t, and diverse enough that you won’t get bored.
The beach is entered via a decent-size car park that’s got a picnic area and public toilets on one side while the other has a nice little children’s play park, and the surrounding area has lots of paths running through a combination of woodland, wild grassland and sand dunes.
In fact, this area is so nice you could spend the entire day there without even stepping foot onto the beach, especially if you decide to follow the John Muir Way that threads it’s way through Yellowcraig from Prestonpans to North Berwick.
But it’s the beach that’s the main draw and I have to say it’s one of my favourite stretches of coast in the whole of East Lothian – apart from bank holidays when it gets a bit too busy.
Unfortunately, this is one gem of an attraction that’s seemingly been discovered by the entire county and when the holidays begin it gets quite hectic, so if I was you I’d try to visit it mid-week instead of the weekend.
Just off the shore you can see the nature reserve of Fidra Island that was the inspiration for the book Treasure Island, while golf courses can be found to the east and west along with fields of thick grasses that are a haven for birds and insects.
Behind the beach are wide sweeping arcs of sand dunes that make a great hidden-away picnic spot, and a network of rough paths join the site together so you won’t have to go traipsing off-road too much to explore it.
You can read all about this attraction in my Complete Guide to Yellowcraig Beach.
Infographic about East Lothian
Well that just about wraps it up for this guide to the best places to visit in East Lothian and I hope I’ve given you some ideas for days out in this often-overlooked county.
Like I mentioned earlier, it’s easy to get to most of the attractions listed in this article from Edinburgh, so if you’re a long-distance traveller and want to explore a little bit of the ‘real’ Scotland away from the usual tourist traps I seriously recommend you give East Lothian a look.
There are loads of other attractions I could list and I’m planning to add more to this page over time so don’t forget to check back and discover even more great places to visit in the coming months.
Thanks for reading, and as always, happy exploring.
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