One of the oldest stone castles in Scotland, Hailes Castle may not immediately strike you as the most magnificent place to visit, but its history and charm make it a wonderful place to stop. It stands on high ground, making it hard to defend, but dates from a more peaceful time in Scottish history.
The original building dates from the thirteenth century, but it has changed significantly over time, particularly being extended in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Initially it was the fortified mansion house of the de Gourley family, whose support for the English in the Wars of Independence lost them their land. Robert the Bruce gave it, instead, to Sir Adam de Hepburn.
The last member of the Hepburns to hold it was James (4th earl of Bothwell), who murdered Mary Queen of Scots' second husband, kidnapped her and forced her to marry him. They went, from Hailes, to Edinburgh, where she would abdicate. This small, seemingly inconsequential castle has certainly played its part in British history.
A curtain wall provides a clear entrance, and this is still evident today. Two towers are also visible. They're too ruined to climb, but give you a sense of the structure of the place.
The castle, like all in the area, has a dovecot, the neat rows of stone boxes instantly recognisable as you look around. Initially, however, this was the central tower. The castle has been subject to a range of restructurings over the years.
The chapel offers nooks and crannies to explore, with internally remodelling over time reworking doorways and windows. It is also billed as a dining hall, being a large space which could have had various uses over the years.
Downstairs are vaulted kitchens, with store areas and stone ovens. The castle is sufficiently remote that food planning, storage and cooking would have been a significant challenge.
Two pit prisons are closed off, but marked out on either side of the castle, and you can only imagine the horrors of being thrown down one. With the river so close by, they must have been absolutely appalling.
There is limited shelter, so you would not want to visit in bad weather. In good weather, however, this is a glorious picnic spot. Managed by Historic Scotland, entrance is free. There is no shop, and no facilities.
Getting there is a little difficult. The closest village is East Linton (1.5 miles away). You really need a car, and one that can cope with narrow winding roads (the A199) as you head along the hillside to the castle. There is very limited parking outside the castle, but also relatively few visitors using it.