Along the Ancestral Castle trail to Tantallon & the Birthplace of One of My Heroes in Nearby Dunbar

Livinston to Tantallon, Dunbar and Berwick-upon-Tweed mapI had one last day to spend in Scotland so I travelled in an easterly direction from Edinburgh hugging the coastline as much as possible to see what I could find of interest along the way the morning of August 23rd.

I had said my farewells to my good friends Keith & Helen, thanking them enormously for such a wonderful and memorable visit to the tomb of King Robert in Dunfermline and the time I enjoyed with them in their lovely new home.

IMG_4581As I followed the coastline, the first place of interest that I came across was a castle sitting out on a promontory point big as you please.  Seemed so appropriate to visit one more castle on my last day in Scotland! Tantallon was standing so majestically perched on the cliff’s edge overlooking the ocean and the entrance into the Forth estuary!

I can’t seem to go anywhere on this trip and not run into ancestors! This castle was no exception.

William Douglas, the man who built it in the 1350s was my 17th great grandfather (through my Clapp family line once again, just like recently at Dunfermline!)

He was also the nephew of Sir James Douglas “the Good,” Robert the Bruce’s trusted deputy.  Williams’ illegitimate son, George, became head of the Red Douglas’s and became heir to Tantallon castle in 1389 when the Douglas line split in two sides; the Red Douglas’s and the Black Douglas’s (headed by Archibald III Douglas “The Grim,” who had his stronghold at Threave Castle in Dumfries and who is also my 17th great grandfather!)

Let’s go take a closer look at this fascinating castle with its convoluted ancestral history! After passing through the reception area to pay my entrance fee, a pathway meandered out toward the castle across the field. Ditches and fortification earthen walls are immediately quite apparent. Evidently, it was no easy task approaching this place and getting in its gates once upon a time. It’s nice, however, that today I can just leisurely stroll in without any trouble whatsoever.





IMG_4598Once inside the gate, the outer close presents itself.  As I approached the drawbridge at the entrance there was a huge Doocot (or Dovecot) out in the centre of the outer close in the front of the castle.

IMG_4605At left is what the doocot looked like from the inside.  Each little square cubby hole was a nest for doves.

The outer close would have had all kinds of buildings and dwellings for local tradesmen and serfs in its time to supply the castle’s needs  (see the interpretive panel below.)IMG_4599



As I approached the entrance a huge moat appeared which the drawbridge would have spanned. Let’s cross the bridge, go through the door and into the massive barbican to see what lies beyond!


















A little more history reveals itself in the panel below – Enter the Covenanters!


IMG_4692IMG_4697 IMG_4608IMG_4698Now that we’ve learned quite a bit about this tantamount castle, let’s explore around inside and see what life would have been like in its heydey.IMG_4637The Great Hall where just about everything important occurred.IMG_4735

IMG_4651The two-story portion of the building at left with the large windows was the Great Hall.

IMG_4738Nice view of the harbour below taken from one of the Great Hall windows.




IMG_4654This place was absolutely humongous! I kept climbing stairs and following hallways eventually being rewarded with  amazing vistas!IMG_4672IMG_4700


IMG_4708Back down to the ground floor again, I checked out the massive 32-meter fresh water well sunk through the solid rock before exploring inside the Douglas Tower!IMG_4643




IMG_4752Back outside once again, I headed over to the furthest corner of the fortress by the ocean to have a closer look at the little island just offshore – The Bass Rock. It even has an old prison on it with a lighthouse!

I walked to the opposite end of the grounds from the harbour to get a full shot of the castle walls which face the ocean and then took another photo looking further east to see what lies beyond the castle. What an incredibly beautiful location!IMG_4767IMG_4769

This Castle has very good interpretive panels conveniently placed throughout which explains its history and provides renditions of what the castle would have looked like before it was destroyed by Cromwell’s armies. I really appreciate it when they provide informative and helpful guides like these for self-touring purposes.IMG_4770

IMG_4771Okay, now there was one last part of the castle to explore and it was over on the left-hand side – the East Tower – another 5-story tower! Phew!IMG_4772

More stairs to climb!IMG_4796


IMG_4795IMG_4788The view of the scenery below the East Tower was another nice little harbour like area – well worth the climb up the stairs.  IMG_4789It was fun exploring Tantallon, and I had worked up quite an appetite doing so.

IMG_4800Back in the car, I continued eastward along the coastal road a short distance to Dunbar where I found a lovely little place to eat with some absolutely delightful fare at No. 5 Duke Street Pub!


IMG_4798IMG_4799First my appetizer of fried brie with fruit compote and a nice green salad, then the fresh & yummy langoustine! It was fabulously fresh and delicious!

The small town of Dunbar had a surprise or two for me as well as I explored its nooks and crannies. I started out at the beach to have a nice walk on the beach after my lunch.




IMG_4815As I got back into my car and was preparing to head on down the road a bit further, the sign shown at left caught my attention. The very first item of “Things to see and do in Dunbar” intrigued me as I am a big fan of the Scottish-American naturalist, author and environmental philosopher, John Muir.

He’s one of my heroes especially because he was an early advocate for the preservation of wilderness, like Yosemite, in the United States. I often wondered where in Scotland he came from and I was just about to find out! “This is great!” I thought, “All I have to do is find 126-128 High Street – shouldn’t be too difficult!”

IMG_4818There it was; the birthplace of John Muir. It’s now a centre for study and interpretation of the work of the Scottish-American conservationist.IMG_4819

IMG_4821This is what it looked like when he lived in it with his family.330px-John_Muir_birthplace

Once inside, the former home is not what it used to look like, nor is it distinguishable as a home apart from the two remaining fireplaces situated on the south wall of the first two stories (as shown below).

Otherwise, the whole building is set up with displays with information about this famous man, his life and his work. It is quite informative and extensive.

IMG_4824On the ground floor, near the hearth where John and his family would have gathered, interpretive panels explained a bit about his family and their life story…

IMG_4848This was a great place to visit. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The pictures I have shared barely scratch the surface of the extensive collection and resources the centre has to offer.

IMG_4850Outside once again and I looked around for anything else to explore. I decided to head down to the harbour and the ruinous Dunbar Castle at its head.



Hanging around a nice snug harbour with a castle that has birds nesting in the crooks and crannies of its old castle walls was quite a nice way to spend the afternoon.




I spent the rest of the afternoon travelling through the rest of Scotland as I headed to the Borders. That was my last day in Scotland and I felt delighted that I had I spent it quite well amongst ancestral sights and homes of heroes!

In the next few posts, I will be sharing with you more stories about travelling south through England on its eastern side and middle section, starting with Berwick-upon-Tweed, York, and then Sherwood Forest as I headed toward the southern coastline to visit the famous white cliffs of Dover. Hope you’ve enjoyed this post and perhaps even learned something new.

Until the next time…happy trails!


Author: Claudia Frew

Adventuresome, independent, and fun-loving 68-year young American great-grandmother who loves to travel; often going solo!

One thought on “Along the Ancestral Castle trail to Tantallon & the Birthplace of One of My Heroes in Nearby Dunbar”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s