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Publication Account

Date 1985

Event ID 1016137

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Publication Account


Tantallon's situation is spectacular, perched on a small but lofty sea-girt promontory. Though there may have been some kind of castle before 1300, the earliest reference to "Temptaloun" comes in 1374 from the 1st Earl of Douglas and Mar, who held the barony of North Berwick as a tenant of the Earls of Fife. With virtually unscaleable 30 m high sea-cliffs on three sides, Tantallon's curtain wall comprises a single, huge linear barrier of reddish sandstone, thrown across the landward side. Over 15m high and 3.6m thick, it is flanked by a D-shaped East Tower and a circular Douglas Tower with pit-prison.

In 1529 James V laid siege and battered the castle with cannons and other artillery. Surrender was finally agreed by negotiation rather than destruction, however, as the besiegers had run out of gunpowder (with further supplies apparently available only from France!). Then, in reinforcing the walls, James subsequently enlarged the Mid-Tower, thereby concealing the earlier drawbridge, portcullis and barbican.

Beyond the ditch, extensive earthworks represent defences thrown up against the King's cannon; but others further out date from the mid 17th century. For here at Tantallon, during the English Civil War, 30 horsemen established themselves to harry Cromwell's lines of communication. General Monk attacked with cannon for 12 days in 1651 and very much reduced the flanking towers.

The main block of domestic buildings-hall, kitchen, bakehouse-lies north of the courtyard; also the remains of a sea-gate and probably of a landing stage in the bay immediately north-west of the castle. Outside the curtain wall, the 17th century rectangular doocot contains two chambers. Offshore lie the ruins of the 15th century St Baldred's Chapel and Bass Castle (NT 601872)-a largely ruinous structure dating in its present form from the 16th century. The lighthouse buildings are built on top of the governor's house. The Bass can be visited seasonally from North Berwick, and its innumerable breeding colonies of sea-birds- gannets, guillemots,puffins, gulls-make early summer a particularly interesting time: similarly the cliffs around St Abbs Head (NT 9169).

Information from 'Exploring Scotland's Heritage: Lothian and Borders', (1985).

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