About Hailes Castle
Hailes Castle in East Lothian was a medieval stronghold, the pretty ruins of which date back mostly to the 14th century. However, some of the stonework at Hailes Castle is thought to have been constructed as far back as the 13th century, making it one of the oldest of its kind in Scotland. It is also said that Mary Queen of Scots stayed here a few times.
Free to enter at all reasonable times, exploring Hailes Castle is a fun stop along any journey. In particular, look out for its 2 vaulted pit-prisons.
Hailes Castle history
Hailes Castle was founded in 1300 by Hugo de Gourlay, from a Northumbrian family who had supported the English in the Wars of Independence. The de Gourlay land was forfeited by the Scottish Crown as was the fortified tower house they had built. The lands were then given to another Northumbrian, Sir Adam de Hepburn, who held extensive lands.
During the 15th and 16th centuries, the castle suffered 2 sieges: in 1400 Hailes withstood attack from Harry Percy in league with the Earl of March, both defeated by Archibald Master of Douglas, who then went on in 1443 to murder the castle’s inhabitants. Secondly, in July 1547 during the war of Rough Wooing, John Lord Borthwick saw the castle passed to Lord Grey of Wilton before the Regent Arran took Hailes and removed the iron gates in 1548.
In December 1451, Sir Patrick Hepburn, 1st Lord of Hailes, dramatically extended the castle. He built a massive tower of 4 storeys on the west side, as well as a lower town on the east side of the thick curtain wall. In 1567, the grand castle hosted Mary Queen of Scots as the guest of her third husband, James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell. His lands were all later forfeited to the crown.
Oliver Cromwell slighted the castle in 1650 after the Battle of Dunbar. Hailes passed through numerous hands and by the 19th century functioned as a granary. Since 1926, Hailes Castle has been protected by the state and is now under Historic Environment Scotland’s management.
Hailes Castle today
Hailes Castle is today free to visit, although it may be closed during adverse weather for safety. Much of the shell of the castle still overlooks the River Tyne as it winds its way up to Edinburgh. You can go down into the vaulted cellar beneath the 15th century range, where bread and beer were made.
Only a corner of stonework from the smaller east-side tower remains, but you can see the arched doorways and windows that marked the different levels. Once you have explored this medieval bastion, enjoy a picnic in the surrounding grounds.
Getting to Hailes Castle
Hailes Castle is a 40 minute drive via the A1 from Edinburgh. If using public transport, you can get the X7 bus from St Andrew’s House in Edinburgh to Hailes Road End, before walking the 3 miles to Hailes Castle – overall taking 1 hour 45 minutes.
From Iron Age hill forts to dramatic castles, East Lothian’s beautiful coastal landscapes are accompanied by a number of fascinating historic sites.
Nestled amongst Scotland's stunning landscapes and historic cities are a number of grand castles. Here's our pick of the best, from the domineering Edinburgh Castle to the picturesque Dunrobin.