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Dirleton Castle

Castle (Medieval)

Site Name Dirleton Castle

Classification Castle (Medieval)

Canmore ID 56735

Site Number NT58SW 1

NGR NT 51609 83929

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Digital Images

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Administrative Areas

  • Council East Lothian
  • Parish Dirleton
  • Former Region Lothian
  • Former District East Lothian
  • Former County East Lothian

Archaeology Notes

NT58SW 1 51609 83929

NT58SW 1.01 5160 8396 Piper's Hole

NT58SW 1.02 51456 83965 Tower

NT58SW 1.03 51620 84022 Dovecot

NT58SW 1.04 51527 83923 Garden

For Castle / Mains Gateway to NW see NT58SW 40 51645 84028.

(NT 5152 8396) Dirleton Castle (NR) (remains of)

(NT 5162 8402) Dovecot (NR)

OS 6" map, (1968).

Architecture Notes

Dirleton Castle, and its associated dovecot, are fully described, planned and illustrated in the MoW official guidebook.

J S Richardson 1950.


M.O.P.B. & W. Guardianship Monument

David Thomson. Head Gardener at Archerfield. Created a pair of flower gardens at Dirleton.

NMRS Print Room:

Wood Sketch Book II, 3 sketches


Publication Account (1985)

Dirleton was described as a "castellum" c1225. Sited on a rocky, igneous outcrop at the east end of a gentle ridge and commanding the east-west coastal route, its principal structures were built by the de Vaux, an Anglo-Norman family granted the barony of Dirleton in the 12th century. In 1298, however, the castle was taken by Edward I.

There are three main periods of construction. Most recent are the 16th century additions of the Ruthvens enclosing the inner court or close at the south -west corner. During the preceding two centuries, 14th and 15th, the Halyburtons had raised most of the east block-including cellars, bakery, kitchens and chapel. Below the chapel is a prison; below this, a pit-prison which, like others of the lower chambers, has been hewn out of the natural rock. The outer wall of this block was built against parts of the earlier curtain wall-re-used to provide further support for the new tunnel-vaulting. And the imposing main entrance and drawbridge also date to this period.

In its original form, however, Dirleton consisted of an enclosing wall or enceinte following very much the line of the present wall. Circular towers, now overlaid by later building, once occupied the south-east and north-north-east angles; in the south-west corner stood the main block, very much as it still is. Off the triangular inner court a semi-circular and a rectangular tower both project outwards; also the principal 'drum' tower of well-dressed masonry, with 3m thick walls to an overall diameter of some 11m. At first-floor level it contains the roughly hexagonal Lord's Chamber, with stone seats-three of them in window openings.

There is a 16th century beehive-shaped doocot in the grounds, and a 17th century bowling green whose surviving yew trees are a reminder of an earlier, formal planting within the 'garth'.

Dirleton is one of south-east Scotland's most attractive villages, and its present form can be traced back with certainty to the early 16th century.

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

Watching Brief (July 2003)

NT 516 839 A watching brief was maintained in July 2003 during the excavation of a series of small shallow pits for a new fence line to run along the N and W sides of the High Green area, to the W of the Great Hall. There were no features or finds of archaeological significance.

Watching Brief (February 2005)

NT 5158 8393; NT 5158 8401 A watching brief was undertaken in February 2005 during the excavation of two substantial pits in the terraced areas to the N and W of the castle rock. These pits were to be used for the replanting of trees. There were no finds or features of archaeological significance.

Watching Brief (19 July 2011)

NT 5160 8393 and NT 5164 8392 A watching brief was maintained on 19 July 2011 during the excavation of two small trenches for new interpretation boards. One trench was located within the castle compound while the other was positioned adjacent to the present footbridge.

The trench within the castle (NT 5160 8393) revealed bedrock with no sign of weathering and was too uneven to represent the courtyard surface. The other trench (NT 5164 8392) appeared to be cut against an artificial terrace. The terrace presently defines the S edge of the main defensive ditch and also provides a platform for formal planting. The terrace may form part of the elaborate gardens associated with the 16th-century occupation of the site, which included a central parterre (presently a bowling green and a series of other compartments defined by low earthworks to the E and S). The terrace also serves to provide an access point to the bridge. Whether the rocky outcrop was complemented by a ditch in the 13th century is unknown. However, it is possible that the present terrace represents a rationalisation of a route leading up to an earlier bridge point, perhaps at a lower level.

Archive: RCAHMS (intended)

Funder: Historic Scotland

Kirkdale Archaeology 2011

Information also reported in Oasis (kirkdale1-122358) 25 February 2013

Watching Brief (23 May 2012 - 24 May 2012)

NT 5162 8396 A watching brief was maintained 23–24 May 2012 during the excavation of three trenches. The trenches were being dug to establish the composition of the deposits between the slab floor of the Great Hall of the Haliburton Range and the vault crown of the underlying cellars. A significant effort seems to have been made to try and consolidate the floor, probably in the early to mid-20th century, and this work involved the removal of the original infill deposits.

Archive: RCAHMS (intended)

Funder: Historic Scotland

Paul Fox, Kirkdale Archaeology 2012

OASIS ID: kirkdale1-310790

Watching Brief (16 October 2018)

A watching brief was carried out by CFA Archaeology Ltd at Direlton Castle, East Lothian during the installation of a new steel barrier and handrail down the west side of the west stair stone steps leading up to the Close. It consisted of 14 postholes running alongside the current steps. No archaeological features or deposits were uncovered and no artefacts were recovered.

Information from OASIS ID: cfaarcha1-330988 (L Watt) 2018


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