Tantallon Castle - History and Facts | History Hit

Tantallon Castle

Auldhame, Scotland, United Kingdom

Tantallon Castle was the imposing medieval stronghold of an influential Scottish family, the Douglas Earls of Angus.

Amy Irvine

15 Apr 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Tantallon Castle

Tantallon Castle was the imposing medieval stronghold of the influential Douglas Earls of Angus for around three centuries, and was the last truly great castle built in Scotland. It sits atop a promontory opposite the Bass Rock, looking out onto the Firth of Forth.

History of Tantallon Castle

The castle was built in the mid-14th century by William Douglas, who became 1st Earl of Douglas in 1358 (after murdering his godfather, Sir William Douglas of Liddesdale).

The house of Douglas later split into two branches in the 1380s: the ‘Black’ and the ‘Red’. Tantallon passed to the junior line – the earls of Angus also known as the ‘Red Douglases’, inherited by George Douglas, illegitimate son of the Earl of Douglas. This branch of the family owned the castle for the next 300 years, updating it as warfare developed, and often clashing with the Crown.

Tantallon Castle survived numerous sieges, including by James IV in 1491, James V in 1528 and Oliver Cromwell in 1651, though after Cromwell’s siege the castle was utterly devastated and left in ruins: it was never repaired or inhabited afterwards. Tantallon Castle was later sold by the Marquis of Douglas in 1699 to Hew Dalrymple, Lord North Berwick.

In 1944, the Castle played a role in preparations for the Normandy invasion. A few weeks before D-Day, captured German radars (used by the Germans defending the French coast), were moved to the Castle and used in the training of RAF bomber crews (including 617 Squadron, the famous “Dambusters”). These bomber crews were part of a large effort to deceive the Germans about the actual location of the Allied invasion.

The night before the D-day landings, thin strips of aluminum foil were dropped in vast numbers in carefully choreographed patterns by the bombers near two locations far from Normandy. This created an illusion of large-scale approaching naval fleets on German radar. This technique had been perfected in the waters off Tantallon Castle.

Tantallon Castle today

Today, the castle is in the care of Historic Environment Scotland. The dramatic cliff-top ruins of Tantallon Castle are quite a sight, particularly its remaining curtain wall – the best example of castle architecture from the 1300s anywhere in Scotland.

Visitors can climb up to the castle’s battlements and enjoy views over the North Sea to the Bass Rock and its large seabird colonies, as well as discover more about archaeological digs at the castle and view replica guns used to defend the castle against James IV and James V.

Tantallon Castle is also a popular filming location, and appears in the film Under the Skin, starring Scarlett Johansson.

Getting to Tantallon Castle

Tantallon Castle is situated on top of a cliff, approximately 30 miles east of Edinburgh, and just under 3 miles from North Berwick. It’s easily accessible by car. From Edinburgh, take the A1, then the A11, turning north by Kirklandhill Standing Stone along the A198. The journey takes approximately 50 minutes, and a car park is available at the site, about 400m from the visitor centre.

Alternatively, take a train from Edinburgh to North Berwick, walk 5 minutes to Beach Road and take bus 120 towards Dunbar.

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