Recently we took a brief holiday of sorts- although we were technically doing research- and travelled around Scotland to various castles and historic locations. We are Historic Scotland pass holders/members, and this is a membership we highly recommend. Once you become members, you can visit all Historic Scotland locations for free within a 12-month period. Although you can definitely get your money's worth from the membership even if you're just here for a short period of time and visit a handful of sites. We’ve certainly made the most out of our membership this past year and were thrilled to have the chance to utilise it more during this holiday.
One of the more beautiful places we went to was Dirleton Castle and Gardens. The quote from the title was inspired by one of the information boards at the Castle and proved to be all too true. On this trip, we took our car, but it’s easily accessible via East Coast Lothian bus 124 with the stop on Princes Street near Waverly Station. What is nice is that you aren’t far from the city (it takes about 50-60 minutes), and you have the ability to visit such a beautiful historic site.
As you walk through the entrance gate, you realise what a gem is hiding just behind the garden walls. The size of the garden is quite surprising because, as if by magic, the space just opens up as you walk along through the grounds. Mind you, this is all before you get a proper view of the Castle!
The old, gnarled trees that can be found throughout the gardens are simply spectacular. In fact, I can comfortably say that these particular trees are my favourite that I’ve come across in Scotland. They have character, maturity, and have lived an interesting life. For any Disney fans out there, one gnarled tree actually looked like the Grandmother Willow tree from Pocahontas. Looking at it, I half expected Grandmother Willow’s face to emerge and start telling me all she’s seen and the history that has unfolded around her in these lovely gardens. This is what is wonderful about Scotland- it is not hard to let your imagination take flight and soar- it’s what I love about this glorious land.
We eventually made our way to the magnificent Dirleton Castle ruins. And what a sight to behold. It was a beautiful morning and the sun was burning through the haze and warming up the day. It highlighted the varying hues of orange and yellow sandstone blocks that make up the Castle. There was just enough of a gentle breeze blowing which stirred the Scottish flag just perfectly high above the Castle. I stopped halfway across the bridge that takes you over the former moat and into the front gate and looked around as it afforded me a higher vantage point. I was delighted to see that our neighbours were gorgeous horses and fluffy sheep grazing on the grass. All I could think to myself was, if this isn’t Scotland, I don’t know what is!
Dirleton Castle, like so many throughout Scotland, is quite fun to explore. There is so much I could talk about, but, as usual, I will highlight a few features that I found particularly fascinating and leave the rest for you to explore when you hopefully come visit. According to Historic Scotland, Dirleton Castle was owned by three families over the centuries: the de Vaux (13th century), the Haliburtons (14th and 15th centuries), and the Ruthvens in the 16th century. Therefore, there were quite a few changes, additions, and renovations done by each family who clearly wanted to put their own ‘stamp’ on the Castle.
One of the first features I would like to point out is a bit of a macabre one- the murder hole. Sounds ominous doesn’t it? Well, that’s because it was. As you cross the bridge, and enter the Castle Gatehouse, make sure to look up and look for the hole above your head. This was used to help protect the portcullis gate by dropping boiling liquids down onto any unwelcome visitors; quite gruesome a thought, but a simple and effective tactic I’m sure.
Moving into the Castle, and continuing with our theme of punishment, you can find the infamous prison and pit. Interestingly, rank and social standing made a difference even in prison. The prison was used to hold prisoners of higher rank, but the pit was reserved for
‘common people’. According to Historic Scotland, the hole measures little over 3 metres (10 ft) square, had very little ventilation, and no light. Certainly not a place you would want to spend any amount of time.
In a more personal space and identified as one of the most important rooms in the Castle, you come across the Chapel. There are subtle clues to help identify its former use including some altar stones and a basin in which the priest rinsed the altar vessels.
For me, one of the more impressive rooms in the Castle was the well-preserved kitchen. It truly is a magnificent room to take in and appreciate the hard work that took place there over so many years. There are two gigantic fireplaces and I can just imagine the bubbling cauldrons of food in preparation for a feast or banquet.
There is a server next to the kitchen and the dishes would be passed through the open serving hatch. They would then be laid out on a stone counter (as seen in the picture below) waiting to be taken by staff out into the great hall.
The last building I would like to discuss is actually outside the Castle and can be found as you explore the gardens- the Dovecot (pigeon house). Once I ducked into this beehive-shaped building, I was immediately surprised to see over 1,000 neatly placed recesses in the wall. Each space provided enough room for two pigeons. The
cacophony of cooing when the space was being used must have been quite overwhelming. The dovecot was an important building for the Castle occupants. The information board inside the small building stated that hundreds of pigeons would be needed for one feast. And, as not to waste, their droppings would be used for fertiliser and tannery purposes.
As I said at the beginning of this post, the gardens really are quite splendid. So, make sure to take your time to explore them, and just sit down on a bench and enjoy the Scottish sunshine.
If you are interested in learning more about the Castle, you can check out their website here. Also, if you are looking for a great place to eat, after our Castle exploration, we ate at the Castle Inn (pictured below) which is just across the street. It was quite cosy, and we all enjoyed delectable meals- my fish and chips were fantastic.
And lastly, when you visit Dirleton Castle, make sure to watch out for the ghost that roams throughout as evidenced by the picture below.
Until next time- Explore & Discover!