One of the things I love best about our travels in Scotland is finding the places that most tourists have never heard about. That is not to say that the most popular and well-publicized sites aren’t great. Many are! But there is just something really fun and special about waking in the morning with only a vague outline of what the day will hold. We check the forecast, consult our atlas, jump in the car, and off we go.
In our travels, we have found some pretty fantastic places and I plan to share them with you over time. But if I had to pick just one today, one hidden gem to tell you about, it would be Hailes Castle.
Roughly forty minutes to the east of Edinburgh and nestled peacefully along the River Tyne, Hailes is one of the oldest stone castles in Scotland. Incredibly, some portions date back as far as the 1200’s, while the remaining structure was constructed at various times over the following few centuries.
Hailes was originally built by a Northumbrian fellow named Hugo de Gourlay. Poor old Hugo was not destined to live out his retirement years at Hailes, however, for after the Battle of Bannockburn, the Scottish Crown forced him to forfeit his land and property for being on the wrong side of the Wars of Independence. Hugo supported the English-a giant no-no when you lived in Scotland.
The castle and lands were later confirmed upon another Northumbrian bloke-Sir Adam de Hepburn, and remained with the Hepburns through the most tumultuous years of its history. Throughout the centuries, the castle certainly saw its share of attacks. The worst seems to have been in 1446 when the pro-English Archibald Dunbar is said to have killed everyone he found in the castle. Hmm, that could certainly give some credence to those that believe the ruins to be haunted by ghosties!
I think one of the most intriguing parts of this castle’s history is its connection to Mary Queen of Scots. (If you’re not familiar with Mary, she was a cousin of Queen Elizabeth I of England.) In 1567, James Hepburn (of Hailes) was involved in the murder of Lord Darnley, who happened to be Mary’s second husband. Apparently it was quite the scandalous affair and there are two different tales of how it all played out. After James was acquitted of the murder, some believe that he kidnapped Mary while she was on her way to Edinburgh, forcing her to marry him at Dunbar Castle. Others think the kidnapping was a pre-planned agreement. Either way, history shows that they stayed at Hailes for a few days before going on to Dunbar where they were indeed married. But like all great medieval stories, Mary eventually faced imprisonment, abdication, and ultimately a beheading. Poor James fled into exile and eventually died a horrendous death in a prison near Copenhagen.
Following James Hepburn’s downfall, the castle passed through the families of the Stewarts and then the Setons. And finally, in 1650, it fell under the attack of Oliver Cromwell, which effectively ended its days as a noble residence.
Today, the castle stands peacefully by the river, charming those who visit with its soft-spoken dignity and quiet beauty. When you visit, pack a picnic, turn off your phone, rest on a blanket by the water. What a wonder it is to take it all in and imagine what once was!
*There is no admission fee for this castle-which makes it even better!