Dirleton Castle - History and Facts | History Hit

Dirleton Castle

Dirleton, Scotland, United Kingdom

Dirleton Castle is an imposing medieval fortress and previous noble residence, which is now a picturesque ruin not far from Edinburgh.

Lily Johnson

14 Apr 2021

About Dirleton Castle

Dirleton Castle is an imposing medieval fortress and previous noble residence in Scotland, whose picturesque ruins may be explored today and detail 800 years of history!

Dirleton Castle history

First built in the 13th century by royal steward John de Vaux, Dirleton Castle was the home of the de Vaux family until 1298, when it was captured during the Scottish Wars of Independence. Attacked by the forces of Edward I – also known as the Hammer of the Scots – Dirleton suffered much damage, before passing through a number of different hands.

Dirleton Castle would later become home to two further noble families – the Haliburtons in around 1356, and the Ruthvens in around 1510, each of whom made changes and additions.

The Haliburtons rebuilt the damaged castle and left behind some fascinating ruins, including a chapel and an ominous pit prison. The Ruthvens too made their mark on Dirleton, adding the Ruthven Lodging, gardens, and pigeon house, all the while being involved in some particularly dramatic political intrigue.

In 1566, Patrick, 3rd Lord Ruthven lead a group to kill the private secretary of Mary, Queen of Scots, while in 1582 his son William lead a plot known as the Raid of Ruthven to capture the 16-year-old James VI, later James I of England and Ireland. Both were eventually executed, and in 1600 two of Patrick’s remaining sons Alexander and John were killed by James VI under suspicious auspices during the Gowrie Conspiracy.

In 1650 the castle would again see conflict when it was devastated by the siege of Oliver Cromwell following his victory at the Battle of Dunbar. It was slighted, or put beyond military use, and abandoned not long thereafter.

Dirleton Castle today

Now situated on land owned by the Nisbet family, Dirleton Castle offers visitors an intriguing glimpse into medieval and early-modern Scotland. Though largely lying in ruins, guests can explore its many interesting features, from the vaulted basement to the ornate chapel.

A highlight of the site is also its several imposing towers, including the main keep or donjon which was built in the 13th century, making it amongst Scotland’s oldest castle remains!

Dirleton Castle is also home to a sprawl of picturesque 19th and 20th century gardens, which charmingly features the worlds longest herbaceous border at 705 ft! One of the country’s best preserved pigeon houses, or doocots, may also be found in the grounds, which was added in the 16th century and would have been an important food source for the castle’s inhabitants.

Getting to Dirleton Castle

Dirleton Casle is located in the village of Dirleton in East Lothian, just off the A198, with a small public car park available near the site. North Berwick train station is a 45-minute walk away, or alternatively the 124 bus may be taken, which stops right outside the castle.

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