Historian, presenter, writer. David C. Weinczok lives and works in Scotland and has visited over 160 castles. He works with major heritage organisations and has appeared as an expert in a BBC2 documentary. Follow him on Twitter at @TheCastleHunter
Published October 15th 2016
Scotland's last great medieval castle
There's perhaps no better way to spend a weekend in Scotland - or anywhere else - than by visiting a castle. There are thousands in Scotland, and if you live in Edinburgh then you're spoiled for choice.
Tantallon Castle is a jaw-dropping clifftop fortress just outside North Berwick. One of the last great medieval castles built in Scotland, its 90 foot tall curtain wall bears the marks of several sieges. It was the home of the Douglases, an extremely powerful family who opposed the king and eventually lost - but not without a fight.
There are several memorable features at the castle, such as the doocot (or dovecot) where birds were kept and the cannon balls on display, however it's at the top of the wall that the wow factor turns up to eleven. With clear views to the Bass Rock, a volcanic plug a mile offshore; the extensive earth works in front of the wall built during several sieges in the 1500s; the precipitous cliffs that flank the castle, making it all but unassailable; in my experience of visiting over 160 Scottish castles, this is one place that really takes your breath away.
There's one tale I especially like. Tantallon Castle was known to be one of the strongest in the kingdom, and when the king's men arrived to lay siege to it they didn't much like their odds. "Ding doon Tantalloun, ding doon Tantalloun, build a brig to the Bass" they said. Basically, that's Scots for "it's easier to build a bridge to the Bass Rock, a mile out to sea, than it is to bring down Tantallon." They were right - the siege was a failure.
View from the top - looking out to the Bass Rock from atop the wall
Tantallon Castle is easy to reach from the nearest town, North Berwick. Determined walkers can stroll there in around an hour and a half, while cyclist are only 20 minutes away and there are regular local buses that take you almost right to the gate. Tantallon Castle is run by Historic Scotland, Scotland's largest heritage organisation. Admittance is relatively cheap, but if you plan on going to several castles in Scotland then it can be very worthwhile to buy an Explorer Pass from Historic Scotland which then serves as your ticket to Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle, several Highland castles and much more.