Scottish Medieval Castles: Tantallon Castle

North Berwick, East Lothian, Scotland
(56.0564°N 2.6506°W)

Mid 14th Century
Open to Visitors

Tantallon Castle is a ruined mid-14th-century fortress sitting atop a promontory opposite the Bass Rock in Scotland.

The Castle was built in the mid 14th century by William Douglas, the first Earl of Douglas, and remained the property of his descendants for much of its history despite several sieges (by King James IV in 1491, and by his successor James V in 1528).

Tantallon is made of a single wall blocking off the headland, with the other three sides naturally protected by sea cliffs. The curtain wall (over 15 metres/49 ft high, 3.6 metres/12 ft thick, and around 90 metres/300 ft long) is built of the local red sandstone and has a tower at either end and a heavily fortified gatehouse in the center. Alongside the curtain wall is a deep, rock-cut ditch, with a larger second ditch around 100 meters (330 ft) away.

The castle was built before the age of gunpowder artillery, so it had defenses planned for trebuchets, battering rams, and bows and arrows. To defend Tantallon against artillery, later owners filled in-wall chambers to help withstand cannon shot, added gun holes from which to fire at the enemy, and built extra gun defenses outside.

The ruins of Tantallon were sold, in 1699, to Sir Hew Dalrymple, who allowed the castle to decay further and be quarried to a certain extent for stone.

View of Tantallon Castle and the Bass Rock by Alexander Nasmyth, 18th-19th century.
View of Tantallon Castle and the Bass Rock by Alexander Nasmyth, 18th-19th century. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Archaeological Excavations

Historic Scotland excavated several areas of the site between 2013 and 2014 and located:

  • The walls of early buildings in the outer ward;
  • What they think may be the line of the original entry across the outer close to the castle; and
  • Evidence of some hastily erected ravelins.

“The results of the recent excavations have shed light on hitherto unknown parts of the castle: last year, excavation in the castle’s courtyard revealed a wall that divided this courtyard into two zones, one perhaps more residential in nature and the other more of a service area. The remains of 14th century ranges  and the demolished remains of a stone building in the castle’s outer close were also discovered, whilst excavated pottery, animal bone and other evidence has revealed how people lived during medieval times.”

Richard Strachan, senior archaeologist at Historic Scotland

Visit Tantallon Castle

Facilities

Dogs Welcome
Giftshop
Exhibition
Restrooms
Small Carpark
Self-Service Tea / Coffee

Hours

Summer (1 Apr – 30 Sep): 9.30am to 5:30pm.

Winter (1 Oct – 31 Mar): 10am to 4pm.

Address

Near North Berwick, East Lothian, EH39 5PN

Phone

01620 892 727

Prices

Ticket typeAdmission Price
Adult £6
Concession (60yrs+)£4.80
Child (5-15yrs)£3.60
Child (Under 5Free
Member / Explorer Pass HolderFree

Location

Similar Castles

British Medieval Castles: Kirby Castle. Image courtesy of Walwyn and Flickr Commons.

Kirby Castle

Kirby Castle is a ruined fortified manor house in Leicestershire built by Lord Hastings in 1480.

Barnard Castle tower.

Barnard Castle

Barnard Castle is a 12th-century fortress passed to the hands of Richard III.

More to see in Scotland

Spynie Castle. History, Facilities and Opening Hours.

Spynie Castle

Spynie Castle was founded in the late 12th Century by the Bishops of Moray.

Scottish Medieval Castles: Linlithgow Palace

Linlithgow Palace

Linlithgow Palace was the residence of the monarchs of Scotland in the 15th-16th centuries.

Scottish Medieval Castles: Stirling Castle

Stirling Castle

Stirling Castle is one of the largest and most important castles in Scotland.

Medieval Scottish Towns: Linlithgow

Linlithgow

Linlithgow in West Lothian was once home to one of the great royal courts of Europe

Books about Medieval Times