Tantallon Castle

Seventh Stop: Tantallon

Hairy stud blocking Tantallon Castle.

It was only through the generosity of our friends and neighbours that Ashleigh and I were able to visit more amazing castles than we were originally planning on. Roger brought us over to his friend Mike’s house one evening for tea and cookies. We sat in front of the fireplace while he told us stories about his exciting past; partly working for the Hudson’s Bay Company (a Canadian connection!) and about his grandfather who happened to be one of the survivors of the Titanic tragedy. Mike actually worked at Crichton Castle (a previously visited castle) as a tour guide, which granted him and up to four other people free access to all the castles in the Lothian area. He kindly offered to take Ashleigh and I on a small road trip one day to a couple castles, the first being Tantallon. The great ruin sat on the edge of the cliff overlooking the North Sea, and we had an exciting view climbing as high as we could up on the impressive curtain wall.

View of the North Sea from Tantallon’s ramparts.

The earliest record of Tantallon Castle is a map, dated before 1300, marking the area with the name Dentaloune, which could be the corruption of an early Brythonic phrase ‘din talgwn’ meaning ‘high fronted fortress’. However, it wasn’t until around 1374 that William Douglas, owner of Tantallon after the convenient murder of his godfather, built the curtain wall castle which ruins are still seen today. The castle was built more as a status symbol than a line of defense, its design being outdated to the castles of the time. Tantallon Castle passed through many hands, but more or less stayed within the Douglas family, a family that caused a lot of trouble for the Scottish Crown. Around 1490, Archibald “Bell-the-Cat” turned against the Royal house and struck a treasonable deal with Henry the VII of England against James the IV of Scotland. In retaliation King James IV besieged Tantallon Castle but it did not suffer much damage as Archibald quickly submitted. Despite all of this, Archibald was back in favour as Chancellor of Scotland a couple of years later… to err’ is human, I suppose. A couple decades later the old Archibald died and his grandson, the new Archibald Douglas, became owner of Tantallon, and was far more annoying than the first. Together with his wife Margaret Tudor, they conspired to take her son, the young King James V of Scotland, to England. It was unsuccessful, and as punishment Tantallon was only taken away from Archibald for a year because he said he was sorry and asked for it back very nicely. In 1525, once again Archibald Douglas conspired against the crown with the support of the English king and took the young King James V into his custody, becoming Lord Chancellor of Scotland. Unfortunately for him, the King escaped to his mother in Stirling and banished Archibald north from the land. The impertinent Archibald Douglas didn’t obey, so King James V bombarded Tantallon Castle with cannons for 20 days, although the King’s guns could not be brought close enough to the walls to do substantive damage due to the deep outer ditch. The King lifted the siege and returned to Edinburgh, at which point Archibald Douglas counter-attacked and captured the King’s artillery. Realizing that he was in over his head, Archibald fled to England in 1529, leaving the castle to James. It was during this time that King James V added much to the castle, strengthened the tower, gate, and walls, leaving it closer to what it looks like today.

Tantallon’s castle design is unique in Scotland, its defences comprising of a single ‘curtain wall’, which is simply a massive barrier with a tower at each end and a heavily fortified gatehouse in the center. The curtain wall is 50 feet high, 300 feet long and 12 feet thick with several small chambers inside. The other end of the castle is protected by relatively small walls as the tall sea cliffs provide enough of a defense.

Tantallon Castle layout, Scotland

In March 2009, psychology professor Richard Wiseman released a photograph taken at Tantallon, which appeared to show a figure standing behind railings in a wall opening. The image, taken in May 2008 and sent to Wiseman as part of a research project, was described in The Times as showing a “courtly figure dressed in a ruff”. Wiseman stated that no costumed guides were present at Tantallon, and that three photographic experts have confirmed that the image had not been manipulated. Why don’t you judge for yourself, does this photo look ‘photoshopped’?

Tantallon's photogenic ghost, Scotland

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