Nestled amidst the rolling fields of East Lothian lies a historic gem that begs exploration – Yester Castle and the Goblin Ha. The once-mighty Yester Castle, now a picturesque ruin, was built in the 13th century by Sir Hugo de Giffard, guardian of Alexander III of Scotland and a reputed warlock and necromancer.
The castle’s main claim to fame is the mysterious underground chamber known as the Goblin Ha, a gothic vault believed to have been constructed by hobgoblins under Sir Hugo’s command.
In this article, we’ll embark on a journey into the heart of East Lothian through dense woodland and across rolling farmland to explore the mysterious moss-covered ruins of Yester Castle and the eerie depths of the Goblin Ha.
|Address:||Gifford, East Lothian, EH41 4PG.|
|Opening Hours:||Yester Castle is accessible 24/7, 365 days a year.|
|Parking:||No on-site parking. Car parking in Gifford village. Roadside verges on the B6355 near Danskine Loch (postcode EH41 4PJ).|
|Facilities:||None on-site. Nearest facilities are in Gifford high street (1.6 miles from the castle).|
If you’re looking for an unusual walk in East Lothian I highly recommend the route that leads to the enigmatic Yester Castle – a historic structure that’s believed to be one of the most haunted buildings and Scotland and one that’s infamous for the vaulted room beneath it that was supposedly used for mystical rites and incantations nearly 800 years ago.
The castle is really just a collection of ramshackle walls that won’t take much more than half an hour to look around, but it’s an exceptionally atmospheric place thanks to the previously-mentioned Goblin Ha – a dimly lit chamber accessed via a narrow staircase which, legend has it, is a portal to the supernatural world.
If you want to visit Yester Castle you’ll find it 1.5 miles southeast of Gifford in the midst of farmland not far from the foot of the vast Lammermuir Hills. This part of rural East Lothian has few villages so facilities are limited, although the pretty village of Gifford is a real highlight thanks to its charming market square and village green.
There are two main routes to get to Yester Castle (detailed in the section below) but as is usual with narrow countryside roads there aren’t many places to park, which is why you might prefer to leave the car at home and cycle to the starting point at Daskine Loch instead.
Once there you’ll find a well-managed path leading through woodland which sees few visitors other than the occasional local dog walker, making the castle an ideal destination for anyone looking for peace and quiet.
The castle itself is almost completely in ruin except for the section above the Goblin Ha which is accessed by a small archway that’s around five feet in height, as well as a rather creepy stone staircase known as ‘the gateway to hell’.
There have been numerous accounts of unexplained occurrences and sightings in the vicinity of this staircase, but all I’ll say is to take care when you go down there as the stones are incredibly slippery and there are no handrails.
Once inside the main hall, you’ll find that it’s only lit by two grates in the wall on one side so it’s pretty dark in there and you’ll be welcome of a torch if it’s a dull day.
In it’s heyday there would have been two levels to the chamber, as can be seen by the holes in the walls which would have secured the floorboards, with each level accessed by the doorways that are now covered by iron grates.
The chamber itself is dark and dank so it certainly lives up to its spooky history, but there’s not much to see so you’ll be in and out in about 5 minutes. However, before you leave, check out the northeast corner of the hall where you’ll find the stairway that leads down to the ‘Devil’s Hole’.
The cavern at the bottom was most likely used for collecting water, but a local legend says it was actually used by Sir Hugo De Giffard to enter a mystical realm. If you decide to go down there I suggest using a torch as it’s very dark, and be mindful of the steps as it’s also quite steep.
When you resurface back into daylight you can poke around the exterior of the castle, but to be honest, there’s not a huge amount to see, although the remaining walls do present a few photo opportunities.
Castle fully explored, the options are to return on the same route back to Daskine Loch or extend the walk to Gifford. Sadly I didn’t have time to include this additional walk in my visit, but there’s a path that follows the Gifford Water past Yester House and on towards Lady’s Wood on the outskirts of Gifford.
If you’d like to know more about this route, consider subscribing to OS Maps Premium (link further up this page) which has detailed maps of pretty much every walking trail in Scotland.
The origins of Yester Castle can be traced back to the 13th century, courtesy of the enigmatic Sir Hugo De Gifford. Known as the Wizard of Yester, Sir Hugo was a figure shrouded in tales of mystical rituals and supernatural dabbling who was reputedly a necromancer as well as the guardian of King Alexander III of Scotland.
Positioned strategically at the merging of two rivers, the original structure was triangular and fortified by a ditch on the side opposite the rivers, but since its abandonment in the late 1500s it has been subjected to the theft of its stonework and it’s now a shell of its former glory.
Though Hugo De Gifford is the person most commonly associated with Yester Castle, it changed hands in the early 14th century, passing to the Hay family through marriage.
The Hays, an influential noble family from Peebles, held the castle for over 200 years until they moved to the newly built Yester House in Gifford, abandoning it completely except for the Goblin Hall which was used as lodging for the estate’s falconer.
Despite its ruined state today, the castle maintains its historical significance and is protected thanks to the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland which has designated it as a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
This will hopefully ensure that no further stonework will be robbed from this fascinating piece of Scotland’s history.
Hidden in a scenic woodland near the village of Gifford in East Lothian, Yester Castle can be a bit tricky to locate, although there’s more than one route to get there.
The best option (in my opinion) is to follow the path along the Gifford Water from Danskine Loch which is only around one mile and can be easily walked in around 30 minutes.
From the gated entrance next to Danskine Lodge, follow the pathway through the woodland, cross a small bridge over a stream, and voila, the ruins of Yester Castle come into view.
It’s also possible to find the castle by parking at Castle Park Golf Course (ask for their permission), following the eastern perimeter of the golf course, crossing an old stone bridge (built in 1717), and continuing up the steep bank which originally led to the castle’s main entrance.
1: Yester Castle isn’t your typical tourist spot. Its atmospheric ruins are shrouded in mystery and folklore, providing a unique experience for all visitors.
2: The most famous feature of Yester Castle is the Goblin Ha, a subterranean vault believed to be the site of Sir Hugo’s dark sorcery. This underground chamber, carved out of the solid rock under the castle, still stands in good condition and its design is rarely seen elsewhere in Scotland.
3: The castle’s ruins are cloaked in a verdant canopy of trees which gives the site an ethereal, otherworldly aura. Though it’s a relatively small structure, the combination of picturesque woodland and ancient ruins presents a scene similar to the famous Rosslyn Chapel – but without the tourist crowds.
1: If you head to Danskine Loch by car you’ll find that there are signs at the site asking that visitors do not park their cars there.
Unfortunately, the road is narrow and the verges aren’t suitable for parking, so the best option is to head east past Danskine Farm, find a parking space on the verge near the first crossroad, and then walk back to the gate opposite Danskine Loch.
2: It won’t take long to walk around Yester Castle as it’s quite small, but the surrounding woodland has some lovely paths running through it which are worth exploring. Alternatively, take a short drive into the Lammermuir Hills where you’ll find umpteen signposted walking trails.
A great starting point is: (What 3 Words – ///inflamed.land.segregate) (Lat/Long – 55.864552, -2.620482). At this location there’s room for a few cars to park and there are paths heading in all directions into the hills.
3: After any rainfall, the trails in Yester Castle’s woodland become horrendously waterlogged so I recommend wearing waterproof walking boots (link to reviews).
Things to do
Exploring the Area: Yester Castle is a fascinating place to visit in East Lothian. You can spend time exploring the ruins after a leisurely walk through the surrounding woodlands or simply use it as a waypoint for a longer walk from the Lammermuir Hills to the quaint village of Gifford.
Discovering Goblin Ha: Goblin Ha, also known as the Goblin Hall, is an underground chamber that lies beneath Yester Castle. Legends say it was built by goblins and the eerie atmosphere is guaranteed to captivate anyone with a penchant for the supernatural.
Photography at the Castle Grounds: The picturesque landscape of East Lothian, combined with the haunting beauty of the castle ruins, makes for a fantastic photography opportunity. The wildflowers, the ivy-clad walls, and the changing seasons ensure no two visits ever look the same.
Enjoy Waterside Views: There are two lovely freshwater bodies located a short walk north of Yester Castle. Head to the B6355 and cross over the road to Danskine Loch which has a circular footpath around it, or drive to Garvald Mains Farm (postcode EH41 4LP) and follow the footpath to Donolly Reservoir.
Enjoy a Picnic: If you’re visiting in warm weather you’ll find a number of spots around the castle ruins that make for an ideal location to lay out a blanket and enjoy an al fresco lunch. If you’d rather sit indoors, I recommend the Goblin Ha Hotel in Gifford (postcode EH41 4QH).
Historic Origin: Yester Castle has a history dating back to the 13th century. Sir Hugo de Giffard, known as the ‘Wizard of Yester’, built the original stone keep sometime before 1267. The Giffards were a powerful family in the area and Sir Hugo was reputed to be a necromancer (a type of occultist).
The Goblin Ha: The most fascinating feature of Yester Castle is undoubtedly the Goblin Ha, a subterranean chamber located beneath the castle. The name ‘Goblin Ha’ is derived from the ancient Scottish word ‘Ha’, meaning hall.
Legend of the Goblins: Stories say that Sir Hugo de Giffard made a pact with the devil and conjured an army of goblins to build the Goblin Ha. Goblins are supposedly grotesque creatures that are mischievous rather than evil.
Unique Architectural Feature: The Goblin Ha is architecturally significant for its barrel-vaulted ceiling, which is a unique feature among 13th-century buildings. This design was advanced for its time and indicates a high level of craftsmanship.
Role in Warfare: The castle had a strategic function during the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 14th century. It served as a fortified location and was used by the Scottish during the Battle of Neville’s Cross in 1346.
Things to do nearby
Traprain Law. Haddington EH41 4PY. Distance: 15 miles.
A hill in the middle of East Lothian with the remnants of a hill fort dating back to 1,000 BC. A 1-mile path leading to the summit from a small car park offers panoramic views across the surrounding countryside. Traprain Law is also known for the semi-wild herd of Exmoor ponies that live on it.
Hailes Castle. Haddington EH41 4PY. 14-minute drive.
A 13th-century castle situated on the banks of the River Tyne. The majority of the castle is roofless but most of the walls are still intact and there are notable features like the brewery, kitchen, and great hall to explore. Parking is limited to roadside spaces but entry is free.
Lammermuir Hills. Distance: 2.5 miles.
The Lammermuir’s are a range of hills in the south of Scotland that border the county of East Lothian and the Scottish Borders. Visitors can explore the ancient hill forts at White Castle and Addinston, go for woodland walks in the Yester Estate, and climb the highest point of the hill range at Meikle Says Law (1,755 feet/535 metres).
Whiteadder Reservoir. Address: Duns, TD11 3SJ. Distance: 8 miles.
Whiteadder Reservoir is a body of freshwater nestled in the heart of the Lammermuir Hills in East Lothian. Covering an area of approximately 3 km², the reservoir is not only functional but also a popular destination for leisure activities such as fishing, sailing, and swimming.
Lennoxlove House. Address: Haddington, EH41 4NZ. Distance: 7 miles.
Lennoxlove House is a historic 14th-century mansion that features an L-plan tower that was built in the late 1300s and a great hall that was added in the 1600s. The house is filled with an impressive collection of art, furniture, and historical artefacts.
Although it’s the seat of the Dukes of Hamilton and serves as a private residence, it’s occasionally open for public tours and private events.
Frequently asked questions
How do you get to Yester Castle?
From Gifford, you can walk to the castle by following the Gifford Water to the east. Alternatively, you can get there by taking the Castle Park Golf Club’s perimeter path and keeping the Hopes Water to your right.
The easiest (in my opinion) route starts from the B6355 opposite Danskine Loch, where a path follows the Gifford Water to the west. This path is one mile to the castle from the gated entrance on the B6355.
Can you walk on Yester Estate?
The Yester Estate in East Lothian is private property. The main house, Yester House, and the surrounding land are owned privately and are not open to the public. However, Yester Castle can be visited by the general public as it’s located on land managed by the Woodland Trust.
Who built Yester Castle?
Yester Castle, located in East Lothian, was built by Sir Hugo de Giffard, guardian of Alexander III of Scotland and known as the ‘Wizard of Yester’. Born around 1220, he was rumoured to be an alchemist and a sorcerer.
When was Yester Castle built?
Construction of Yester Castle began in the 13th century, sometime before 1267 according to historical records. It’s said that Hugo de Giffard made a pact with the Devil and used an army of hobgoblins to build the infamous ‘Goblin’s Hall’.