The top of a promontory, with a view over the Firth of Forth, is a pretty impressive location for any house to perch upon. That’s clearly what William Angus, First Earl of Angus, thought, when he started work on Tantallon Castle in the 1350s.
However, defence was clearly also on his mind, as this pile has the bonus of being protected on three sides by towering cliffs and the inhospitable North Sea. I think the views over to the Bass Rock alone would have swung the location for me.
Tantallon Castle has had a pretty turbulent history, enduring three sieges, in 1491, 1528 and 1651. The last, by Oliver Cromwell, led to the castle being abandoned and left to ruin. Initially its high curtain wall only had to withstand assaults from battering rams and arrows, but with technological advances in gunpowder and cannon, additional defensive alterations had to be made. You can even see a replica gun in the east tower and imagine defending the castle against attack.
I chose a very blustery day to visit, with my two daughters Eve, 9, and Hope, 6. We headed towards the castle, examining the eroded red sandstone wall of the outer gateway and reading the information boards along the way.
First we decided to take in the sea views from the outer ward, before craning our necks peering up at the castle walls. A sudden rainstorm forced us to take cover in the dovecot. I was enjoying sheltering inside, in relative warmth, but my girls had other ideas. They were keen to storm the castle, across the narrow wooden access bridge, to see where the portcullis would have once been.
We obviously choose our outings well, as Queen Victoria also paid a visit here, on 26 August 1878. Gazing up at the plaque commemorating this illustrious event, we reflected on whether or not the monarch would have been “amused”.
However, there was no time to delay, as we had the rest of the castle to explore. First up was the central courtyard, its well and the kitchen wing, complete with a lovely bread oven in the corner. Next we descended into the bowels of the pit prison, before escaping to peer out of every window we could find, taking time to discover all the nooks and crannies.
My two saw it as a personal challenge to visit all the high battlements. The views were breathtaking, and were the highlight of the girls’ visit. It was memorable for me too, as I had my work cut out making sure no one was blown away in the gusts of wind.
• Tantallon Castle is open every day from 9.30am-4.30pm.
Admission is £5 for adults, £3 for children and £4 for concessions. Annual passes are available. For further information, visit www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/