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Hailes Castle

A beautifully sited ruin incorporating a fortified manor of 13th-century date

Hailes Castle

A beautifully sited ruin incorporating a fortified manor of 13th century date, extended in the 14th and 15th centuries.

There are two vaulted pit-prisons.

A Hidden Gem

Hidden away in the pretty valley of the River Tyne stands the remarkable castle of Hailes. It is one of Scotland’s oldest stone castles, dating from the first half of the 1200s.

Hailes Castle served as a fortified noble residence for over 300 years. The puzzle is its location, for the castle is overlooked at close quarters by high ground, making it very difficult to defend. The reason may be that, when it was built, this part of Scotland was peaceful.

Hailes is associated with two noble families – the de Gourlays and the Hepburns. We know very little about the former, but much about the latter, for all the wrong reasons!

The castle of the de Gourlays

Very few stone castles in Scotland date from the 1200s. Hailes is among them. It was built around 1220 by one of the de Gourlays, a family that appeared in East Lothian in the reign of William I (the Lion) (1165–1214). They were knights of the powerful Balliol family, who settled in County Durham after 1066.

The de Gourlay castle is remarkably well preserved. It is readily distinguishable from the later work by its cubed blocks (known as ashlar) of red sandstone.

The masonry is remarkably similar to the early 13th-century medieval chancel of the parish church, at Prestonkirk, in nearby East Linton. Castle and chancel were probably both built by the same stonemasons, at Lord Gourlay’s request.

This first castle looks more like a lightly fortified manor house than a formidable fortress. The central hall block is flanked on either side by the chamber tower and kitchen tower; the latter has a fine rock-cut well.

The castle of the Hepburns

The de Gourlays forfeited Hailes during the Wars of Independence with England. Into their shoes stepped the Hepburns, tenants of the earls of Dunbar. They rebuilt the castle, partly to repair damage done during the wars (Hailes may have been one of the three East Lothian castles captured by Edward I in 1298, the others being <Dirleton> and Yester).

They also wanted to upgrade the accommodation. The present stone curtain wall, tower house and hall/chapel are their handiwork.

The Hepburns’ castle occasionally had brushes with war and siege, but its greatest claim to fame is its association with James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell. He became Mary Queen of Scots’ third husband in 1567. He may well have been born in the castle.

Following his flight into exile after Mary’s capture, Hailes Castle quickly declined. A subsequent owner, Sir David Dalrymple, purchased Whitehill House, near Edinburgh, in 1709. He renamed it Newhailes in memory of the ancient castle.

  • The location – hidden in a pretty valley, and well worth walking to, upriver from East Linton. Look out for dipper and kingfisher along the way.
  • The quality of the 13th-century masonry – some of the oldest secular building work in Scotland.
  • The tower house – one half of it stands complete from basement to battlements.


Car Parking Picnic Area


Region – Edinburgh and the Lothians

1.5m south west of East Linton of the A1.

Grid reference - NT 574 757.