Thursday, 5 April 2012

Hailes Castle: East Lothian- Historic Scotland

Update 26 August 2012

I managed to persuade a friend to drive to Hailes Castle on a bright sunny afternoon over the (English Bank Holiday) weekend.  The castle never fails to be an enjoyable location and I managed to clamber down to the River Tyne, with some care, and inspected a pit prison among the ruins.  There are very discreet information boards in sheltered locations around the site, and there were quite a few tourists enjoying this beautifully kept location near East Linton.  This can be approached from either Haddington or East Linton. 

View of Hailes Castle, East Lothian
from the banks of the River Tyne
near the confluence with a burn
A great soundscape location

Prof Whitestick indicating the pit prison at Hailes Castle
East Lothian, Scotland
26 August 2012

I will be staying in London over the Easter Holidays as my hip operation is scheduled soon.  I had been looking forward to visiting the Edinburgh area so instead I have dug out some notes of more attractions in East Lothian.  Coincidentally an article of mine has appeared in the Spring 2012 edition of ‘Historic Scotland’ magazine.  (

The magazine is very useful as it gives an idea of trips one can do. Several years ago there was a theme linking Historic Scotland properties to short boat or ferry trips and I can remember going with friends to Loch Leven Castle and Threave Castle.  There are quite a few properties with a pleasant boat trip and traffic free grounds.  Some examples are: Inchcolm Abbey on Inchcolm Island in River Forth, Inchmahome Priory on an island in the Lake of Menteith.  Further details of Historic Scotland and facilities can be obtained via

Hailes Castle is only about a mile and a half off the A1 near East Linton, in East Lothian and is not far from Edinburgh.  It is accessible by car and an obliging driver.  There is also another road from Haddington which takes in Traprain Law, a geological feature, a laccolith, where some Neolithic finds as well as more recent artifacts have been found.  These can be viewed in the Museum of Scotland in Chambers St in Edinburgh. ( local council has an attractive guide to this feature.  I can just about discern Traprain Law in the landscape with the Bass Rock and North Berwick Law.

However, the final approach is via a single track road, with passing places few and far between!  In the wet summer of 2011 we drove there but there was a sense of dread on the part of my friend who no doubt prayed that no vehicle suddenly appeared in the opposite direction as he drove down the narrow stretch to the castle.    

The castle is in an isolated location.  There are a few houses nearby and limited space for parking.  However, I have been visiting Hailes Castle for many years now, and have never encountered any problem regarding access or parking.

Once there and safely parked, Hailes Castle delights at many levels.  First, the castle can be enjoyed at any reasonable time and can form part of a theme of trips to other properties of Hepburn, Bothwell and of course Mary Queen of Scots.  The area occupied by the ruins is not vast and daunting, but easily explored at leisure, although the sometimes uneven terrain does require a certain measure of alertness! 

 Enjoying the sun at Hailes Castle

© Professor Whitestick

Second, the castle’s isolated location has meant that the site is never crowded, so once again allowing one to discover the ruins and grounds at one’s own pace.  The castle appears to be popular with some European tourists and I have heard quite a few Italian, French and German speaking visitors from time to time.  This has a further advantage in that one is able to listen to and for the sounds that are a part of the castle’s setting.  And it is the setting – rising, in isolation, on the banks of the River Tyne - which for me is the castle’s chief attraction and that draws me to visit it again and again over the years. There is some charm in castle ruins and Scotland’s history can tell us that it was not always the English who tore down the battlements.

On entering the grounds one passes the small ‘bridge’ over a rushing stream near the entrance, down the pathway leading to underground chambers which were the baking house and cellars; or down a narrow flight of steps, through an arch to see and hear the river flowing and gurgling down below.  Occasionally, there will be someone fishing, but always you will hear the sounds of birds – and the water, and nothing else. 

Looking down on the River Tyne at Hailes Castle
© Professor Whitestick

Across, on the opposite side lies an impressive expanse of farmland which reminds me of some landscapes in the Dutch style.

View from across Hailes Castle
© Professor Whitestick

The A1 and East Coast railway line are not far away but I have never sensed them at the castle.  My cane, though useful in negotiating steps, is not much use as a support and I would advise a stout stick. 

Other Historic Scotland properties include Dirleton and Tantallon Castles.  Preston Mill (NTS) was described in the post on East Lothian walks. (  

Haddington is the county town and is rich in history and has an attractive river walk - a Scottish version of San Antonio, TX ?   The town has an historic Scottish Kirk, the Lamp of Lothian and the River Tyne meanders its way through the town with many bridges crossing the river. 

NB The River Tyne is not to be confused with a river of the same name in England.

Hailes Castle has a connection through Lord Hailes, who styled his house near Edinburgh as Newhailes House.  I wrote about my visit to Newhailes House and have decided to add two photographs of the house.  The link is: