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


Dogs Welcome
Small Carpark
Self-Service Tea / Coffee


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

Winter (1 Oct – 31 Mar): 10am to 4pm.


Near North Berwick, East Lothian, EH39 5PN


01620 892 727


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


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