04 December 2009

North Berwick: Tantallon Castle

Two weeks ago, Nana and I headed to North Berwick with the ISC. After a morning hike along the beach to Dirleton Castle (previous post), we caught a bus out to Tantallon Castle, at the mouth of the Firth of Forth, just opposite Bass Rock.

Tantallon Castle was home to a branch of the Douglas family called the "Red Douglases." Built in the 14th century, it is a pretty typical coastal castle, consisting of a large curtain wall (seen from the lip of the outer ditch to the south, below) across the inland side of a coastal promontory.

You can also see the castle's dovecote in the photo above, and Bass Rock in the background. (A dovecote is a pigeon coop. Pigeons were considered good eatin' back in the day.)

To get an idea of the layout of the castle, here's a rough plan, courtesy of Wikipedia (click to enlarge):

Tantallon is also typical of coastal castles in that it is situated to protect a natural harbor or haven--see also Lindisfarne Castle (previous post). The view below shows the small haven Tantallon was built to protect.

The castle isn't just remarkable for its location: Tantallon, like Dirleton, is also very well preserved. Most of the curtain wall and gatehouse are structurally sound, and views from the top of the wall like those below are well worth the six-story climb . . . though you'll notice that, by this point in the afternoon, the rain was starting to interfere with the photos!

This next shot of the gatehouse, taken from the top looking down, clearly shows where wooden floors would have separated the tower into six stories; note how the fireplaces are aligned to make use of the same chimney.

By the way--did you notice that Tantallon, like just about every other building on the eastern side of Scotland, is made of Old Red Sandstone?

A couple other oddities from our visit to Tantallon:

First, for reasons known only to him/herself and God, a biplane stunt pilot chose this rainy, blustery day to practice stalls over the castle. I couldn't get a shot of the plane against the clouds, but I could get a shot of Nana staring up into the sky, wondering what the heck that pilot was thinking.


Second, Bass Rock (shown below) deserves a bit of explanation--even though we weren't able to visit, as the island isn't open to tourists during the off-season.

Bass Rock, like Arthur's Seat and the Castle Rock in Edinburgh, as well as nearby North Berwick Law, is a remnant of an old volcano. Also, like Fidra, which I mentioned in our Dirleton post, Bass Rock has a Robert Louis Stevenson connection: it was here David Balfour was brought after being kidnapped for the second time.

Bass Rock is most famous today as a bird sanctuary, and bird watchers from all over Europe come to take a gander at its gannets (har har), as well as puffins, Eider ducks, cormorants, and various gulls.

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