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Castles in Edinburgh and the Lothians

The Scottish capital of Edinburgh is a compact and compelling city, one that inspired Robert Louis Stevenson to say, ‘Edinburgh is what Paris should be.’ From Holyroodhouse, Queen Elizabeth’s Official Residence in Scotland, to Edinburgh Castle atop the Royal Mile, the majesty of the city is tough to top. However, the area surrounding Edinburgh, known as the Lothians, extends for miles and miles, with several majestic and proud castles dotting the spectacular countryside.

The official residence in Scotland of Her Majesty The Queen lies at the end of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile - the Palace of Holyrood House. Originally founded as a monastery in 1128 by David I, King of Scots, the Palace has been the principal residence of the Kings and Queens of Scots since the 15th century. Today, HM the Queen spends a week in residence at the beginning of each summer.

Atop the Royal Mile, Edinburgh Castle dominates the skyline of the city from its position on Castle Rock. Currently in the care of Historic Scotland, the castle is the second most-visited attraction in Scotland.

Just two miles from the Royal Mile, Merchiston Castle was built by Alexander Napier in 1454 and serves as the seat of the Clan Napier. Today the remnants of the castle stand at the centre of Napier University’s Merchiston campus, after a turbulent history due to the strategic position of the castle. To the south of Holyroodhouse behind Duddingston Loch lies Craigmillar Castle, a ruined medieval castle 3 miles from the Edinburgh city centre. Begun in the late 14th century by the Preston family, the castle has been in the care of Historic Scotland since 1946 and is a category A listed building.

Moving outside of the capital, 3 miles west of the centre of Edinburgh in Blackhall sits the well-preserved Craigcrook Castle, primarily 17th century in style though thought to have been begun in the 14th century. Today the category B listed building is a privately owned business residence. One mile from Craigcrook Castle is Lauriston Castle, a 16th century tower house built by Sir Archibald Napier overlooking the Firth of Forth. Care of Lauriston lies with the City of Edinburgh and after having been renovated several times it is now well preserved to reveal a fascinating glimpse into Edwardian life.

Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh & The Lothians copyright Klaus Hermesen
Edinburgh Castle © Klaus Hermesen

Cramond Tower, a 15th century tower house lies just one mile outside the village of Cramond, on the shore of the Firth of Forth. Continuing northwest up the coast of the Firth leads to Barnbougle Castle, which lies within the Dalmeny Estate. The castle has been rebuilt many times, and its current state resulted from its time as the home of the 5th Earl of Rosebery, British Prime Minister from 1894-1895.

15th century tower house Lennox Tower is located eleven miles from Edinburgh in Lymphoy, near the Water of Leith. Built by the Earls of Lennox, and having belonged to the Stewart family, the tower has had some high level visitors, including Mary Queen of Scots, Regent Morton and it is said James VI used Lennox Tower as a base for hunting. Nearby Dundas Castle in Dundas near South Queensferry was home to the Dundas family and is now privately owned.

Nine miles from Dundas and 17 miles west of Edinburgh in Linlithgow is the House of the Binns. This historic house dates from the 17th century and has been in the care of the National Trust for Scotland since 1944 when its owner signed over ownership under the condition that the history of the family of Dalyell of The Binns be preserved. Also located in Linlithgow is Linlithgow Palace, a manor built as a military base due to its position between Edinburgh and Stirling Castle. Today Linlithgow Palace is maintained by Historic Scotland.

Six miles east of Linlithgow is the 16th century Midhope Castle, located in Abercorn and 4 miles further east is Niddry Castle near Winchburgh. Mary Queen of Scots stayed here after her escape from captivity in Loch Leven Castle. Both Mary Queen of Scots and James VI both stayed at Bavelaw Castle, which sits south of Edinburgh city centre, near Roslin Castle – a partially ruined castle near Roslin, 9 miles south of Edinburgh. Nearby is the famous Rosslyn Chapel, which sits just meters from this ruined castle.

Hawthornden Castle, one mile east of Roslin, is a privately owned Category A listed building which serves today as a writer’s retreat. Nearby Melville Castle is a massive three-storey Gothic mansion which was left vacant in the 1980s but is now privately-owned and has since been restored.

Heading northeast 5 miles, Dalkeith Palace is the former seat of the Duke of Buccleuch. The fabulously designed Palace has been leased by the University of Wisconsin study abroad programme since 1985. Dalhousie Castle, three miles south of Dalkeith near Bonnyrigg, lies 8 miles south of Edinburgh and was the seat of the Earls of Dalhousie, the chieftans of Clan Ramsay. Today Dalhousie Castle is a hotel.

One of the largest and best-preserved medieval Scottish fortresses lies 8 miles away near the town of Borthwick, 12 miles southeast of Edinburgh at Borthwick Castle. A mile south of Borthwick is Crichton Castle, a ruined castle with very distinctive design including Italian-influenced courtyard, Crichton Castle’s care is in the hands of Historic Scotland.

10 miles north of Crichton Castle is Preston Tower, a ruined tower dating back to the 14th century and purchased by the National Trust for Scotland in 1969. Two other historic houses, Hamilton House and Northfield House both sit very nearby, as is Fa'side Castle, a 14th century keep which was once owned by Robert the Bruce who granted the castle to the Seton family. Currently the castle is privately owned.

Redhouse Castle, lying 4 miles from Fa’Side, is a four-storey manor house made of red sandstone. Luffness Castle lies four miles northwest along the coast from Redhouse Castle, and is privately owned by the family of the Earl of Hopetoun since the 1st Earl of Hopetoun purchased the castle in 1739.

Nearby Ballencrieff Castle was built in 1507 when King James IV ordered his private secretary James Murray to build himself a house there. Five miles further along the coast on the way to East Berwick lies Dirleton Castle, a medieval fortress 19 miles east of Edinburgh. The ruins and gardens are maintained by Historic Scotland. Four miles from Dirleton south of North Berwick in the village of Kingston is Fenton Tower, a refurbished 16th century tower, which is a private residence used as tourist accommodation.

Linlithgow Palace, Edinburgh & The Lothians copyright Alistair McMillan
Linlithgow Palace © Alistair McMillan

To the very northeastern tip of the East Lothian region on the North Sea, 3 miles east of North Berwick, lies Tantallon Castle, a ruined 14th century fortress and Historic Scotland property which sits opposite the famed Bass Rock looking out into the Firth of Forth. Literally just around the corner standing proudly on a ridge above Seacliff beach lie the ruins of Auldhame Castle, built in the 16th century.

Dunbar Castle is situated ten miles south of Tantallon Castle on the shore over the harbour of the town of Dunbar. Its location meant that since the 7th century Dunbar Castle served as a central defensive fort, and the castle today remains one of the mightiest fortresses in Scotland. An apartment in the northwest part of the castle ruins is an almost inaccessible apartment rumoured to have belonged to Mary, Queen of Scots.

The ruins of Innerwick Castle are located five miles from Dunbar overlooking Thornton Glen. The castle was built in the 14th century and was a Clan Stewart stronghold. The Historic Scotland property Hailes Castle is a 14th century castle 12 miles east of Innerwick Castle, 23 miles east of Edinburgh.

In between the towns of Haddington and Dunbar lies Whittingehame Tower, a 15th century tower and currently a private residence, while the unfinished Barnes Castle is situated 3 miles northeast of Haddington, and though it was never finished, what was built was very modern for its time. Near Barnes Castle lies a 14th century historic house by the name of Lennoxlove House, set in woodlands half a mile south of Haddington. Though privately owned, Lennoxlove is open to tours.

The ruined Yester Castle south of Gifford near Haddington was built before 1267, most likely by Sir Hugo de Giffard, and is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, 23 miles southeast of Edinburgh.

Edinburgh & the Lothians castles

Bullet Point Auldhame Castle
Bullet Point Ballencrieff Castle
Bullet Point Barnbougle Castle
Bullet Point Barnes Castle
Bullet Point Bavelaw Castle
Bullet Point Borthwick Castle
Bullet Point Craigcrook Castle
Bullet Point Craigmillar Castle
Bullet Point Cramond Tower
Bullet Point Crichton Castle
Bullet Point Dalhousie Castle
Bullet Point Dalkeith Palace
Bullet Point Dirleton Castle
Bullet Point Dunbar Castle
Bullet Point Dundas Castle
Bullet Point Edinburgh Castle
Bullet Point Fa'side Castle
Bullet Point Fenton Tower
Bullet Point Hailes Castle
Bullet Point Hamilton House
Bullet Point Hawthornden Castle
Bullet Point House of the Binns
Bullet Point Innerwick Castle
Bullet Point Lauriston Castle
Bullet Point Lennox Tower
Bullet Point Lennoxlove House
Bullet Point Linlithgow Palace
Bullet Point Merchiston Castle
Bullet Point Midhope Castle
Bullet Point Niddry Castle
Bullet Point Northfield House
Bullet Point Palace of Holyrood House
Bullet Point Preston Tower
Bullet Point Redhouse Castle
Bullet Point Roslin Castle
Bullet Point Tantallon Castle
Bullet Point Whittingehame Tower
Bullet Point Yester Castle

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