3 Apr 2010

Dirleton Castle: Romantic clutter at its best

Before we begin, I need you to lie down with me. No, no - not like that. Lie down here, where the walkway bridges the gap over the old moat at Dirleton Castle.

Once you are in position (ahem) you can imagine the drawbridge as it once was, being pulled upwards through the tall pointed arch and banging shut against the inner rounded one. Imagine the receding sound of horses’ hooves and the gargling chains as the gate is closed.

Located in East Lothian, Dirleton Castle is a patchwork of genteel history. Over the first 400 years of its existence it was home to three different noble Scottish families: the de Vauxs, the Haliburtons and the Ruthvens.

If you look at the stones you can see the shifting styles of the centuries: the square sandstone blocks of the 13th century, the rougher mismatched stone combined with sandstone window and doorway flourishes of the 14th and 15th centuries, and finally the collage of rubble the Ruthven’s used to rebuild the castle in the 16th century.
The Wars of Independence brought the first bought of violence and damage to the castle, and then it wasn’t until Cromwell and his men trashed the place in 1650 that it finally met its downfall. Between this time, Dirleton was a seat of wealth and grand design, as its owners lorded over the area stretching around Dirleton and nearby Gullane.

My favourite room in Dirleton is the Lords Hall, part of the de Vaux Towers. The towers are among the oldest sections of the castle, built in the 1200s.

All over these ruins there are windows and spaces between the stones where the light pours in, but in this room it is almost ethereal. A string of window seats run like keyholes along the wall, and the light glows through onto the stone benches. The entire space is quite enclosed, creating a beautiful sense of seclusion, and each echo off the stones seems to fill up the room like a cloud.
Heading down now into the cellars, where the wine, ale and food stores would have been kept.

Today there are chairs piled up against one end, in preparation for weddings or other events. Imagine
raising a toast to your beloved in the belly of an 800-year old castle. Not a bad way to start a life together.

Further down there is the prison, and below that a deep pit which I could not photograph because it was too dark. Just imagine a small, cold space, only three metres square with little ventilation, and the grubby face of a desperate man staring up at you, standing in the light.
After you have walked the stone staircases and peeked in all the rooms, take a stroll through the surrounding gardens and pretend it is all yours.

The best time to visit Dirleton is during the height of summer, when the gardens are in bloom. And of course, since you are already so close, it would be a shame not to travel the extra distance to Gullane and a bite of cake or visit to the beach.

Thank you for visiting. I wish you a romantic, medieval castle-loving holiday weekend.

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