Wednesday, June 17, 2015

British Isles #13: A Day of Castles

We headed back inland this morning from the foamy coast. The first place we visited was the ruined 13th century Hailes Castle, situated on the River Tyne, strategically en route to Edinburgh. It is so close to the river it is a wonder that high waters haven't carried this relic away over the years. Historic Scotland explains that this is one of the oldest stone castles left in Scotland, part of it dating back to 1220, later additions date from the 13th and 14th centuries. This was a lovely ruin of red sandstone that we had all to ourselves. It's not very large but still interesting to explore and situated on a very peaceful riverbank. Hailes (and all castles we visited this day) was under an hour from Edinburgh.

River Tyne through door at Hailes Castle
Dovecote at Hailes Castle
 Called a doocot in Scots, the alcoves are intended to house nesting doves or pigeons for eggs and meat. 
Hailes Castle on the River Tyne
Next, we ambled north to the coast of the Firth of Forth to visit Tantallon Castle, which would prove one of our favorites. It is strategically located on an ocean cliff, though it was so foggy we could only hear the waves of the ocean crashing into the coast, I assume the ocean spray lends a hand to the heavy fog and mist here. But in my mind's eye, this is just how I picture a mighty fortress. Tantallon was built in the mid 1300's. This castle gets high marks for it's moody Medieval feel and lots of corridors to roam, stairs to climb, and in clear weather I think it must have the most fantastic views of the Firth of Forth and the island of Bass Rock. This castle is truly mighty and huge.

Tantallon Castle cloaked in the mists
Tantallon Castle
Looking down through the stories of Tantallon Castle  - once there would have been wooden floors separating all these levels., 
Just a short jaunt west took us to Dirleton Castle and Gardens where the castle has stood since the 13th century. Three noble families have called the castle home and added to the surrounding gardens. It would make a lovely spot for a picnic in fair weather. For us, it was drizzle and wind. We took shelter exploring all the nooks and crannies and vaulted rooms of Dirleton, which also gets top marks for exploration. There are many rooms intact here, some with stone ceilings, too. There are stairs to climb and windows to peer out of, from which to imagine different times. It is so easy to time travel with these sorts of castles.
Dirleton Castle
Dirleton Castle perched on hill
Dirleton Castle
Corridors of Dirleton Castle
Vaulted ceilings of Dirleton Castle
Cellars of Dirleton Castle (or a Hobbit home)
Lastly of the day of four castles was Craigmillar Castle just outside Edinburgh. On a nice day you can see the town from atop the castle. Even though we visited four castles we weren't rushed at all. Granted you could spend a lot more time at each if you chose, there is enough to see and enjoy, but sometimes the weather quickens our pace, or the setting sun as we like to arrive at our destination before nightfall, when street signs and landmarks are still visible. We probably spend 30 minutes at castles the size of Hailes and around an hour at the larger fortresses.

Historic Scotland calls Craigmillar "one of Scotland's most perfectly preserved castles." I can attest to that as so many of the rooms were intact and still covered (great for rainy days) and it is so immense in size. This was possibly the most fun castle to explore due to the size and number of dim rooms, nooks, crannies, spiral staircases and alcoves.  

It was the first castle on this day that we shared with other visitors, though it was so expansive we barely noticed anyone except a young pair of brothers playing hide and seek in the stones as we explored. We didn't mind at all; I just kept thinking "what a grand place for a child to visit!" I loved the front of this castle and just inside the doors were two giant and bending trees. This was one of my favorite features in all the castles we visited. Oh just to sit on the bench with a book and tea. This castle is also quite large and imposing, a labyrinth to explore. Another easy favorite! After this we headed into Edinburgh, checked into our hotel and went in search for a couple of much needed pints.

My favorite courtyard and Half of the Hide n Seek Duo

Craigmillar Castle just outside Edinburgh

View from top of Craigmillar Castle

Courtyard just inside front door

Craigmillar Castle Corridor and stairs

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