Dirleton castle was built as a residence for the nobleman, John de Vaux in the 13th century, but defence was an important part of its design.
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The castle changed hands between the English and Scots several times during the 13th and 14th century wars of independence. Robert the Bruce, in 1314 after the battle of Bannockburn, demolished the north and south-east corners so the castle would be useless to the English, should it fall into their hands again.
The remains of the Castle passed from the de Vaux family, by marriage, to the Halyburton family in the mid 1300s. They rebuilt it and added a great hall. In 1515 the Ruthven family acquired the estate by marriage. At this time the medieval castle was turned into a magnificent renaissance house. They lost the castle and grounds due to their involvement in plots against the crown. In 1625 it was sold to Sir James Douglas by Sir Thomas Erskine, who had received it from king James VI. In 1650, Oliver Cromwell’s army besieged and took control of the castle. After a short period of use as a field hospital, it was left to decay.
A Berwickshire family, the Nisbets, bought the Dirleton estate in 1663 and began the gardens in the grounds. More gardens were added in the 1800s and again in the 1920s. The garden is particularly noted for its long herbaceous border—the Guinness book of records says it’s the world’s longest. A 16th century stone dovecote survives in the grounds. A bowling green surrounded by yew trees is another feature in the grounds.
The castle was acquired by Historic Scotland in 1923.
Dirleton village, three miles west of North Berwick on the A198
Edinburgh and Lothians area
Tel. 01620 850330
Open: April-end Sep, daily, 9.30am-5.30pm; Oct-end March, daily, 10am-4pm; closed Dec 25, 26 and Jan 1, 2
Historic Scotland property; parking nearby; shop; tea and coffee; gardens and grounds accessible for wheelchairs.
All photos © by Barbara Ballard