My husband has always been fascinated with castles. From the earliest years of our marriage he possessed large picture books about castles, movies that take place in the age of castles, role playing games where the quests led to castles, and Legos that he would design and construct into crazy, massive, elaborate castles (yep, he’s kind of a nerd). And although I thought castles were interesting, I could never quite grasp what all the fuss was about.
And then I went to Scotland.
Most tourists only ever visit Scotland’s “biggies”-Dunnottar, Stirling, Eileen Donan, etc. And trust me, if you are lucky enough to set your feet on Scottish soil, you will absolutely want to see those. There are probably ten to fifteen castles throughout the country that are extremely popular with tourists and for good reason-they are stinkin’ awesome! But I must confess. As much as I love and appreciate the castles that are well trodden, I am a huge sucker for the ruins. The quiet, melancholy ones that time has all but forgotten.
Meet Newark Castle.
If you are lucky enough to be in Scotland, you are lucky enough.
Roughly an hour and twenty minutes to the northeast of Edinburgh, there lies a castle ruin that I’m certain very few tourists ever stumble upon. And really, why would they? It’s not big or attractive or showy and doesn’t boast a terribly checkered past. It is not maintained or listed in any of the guide books. But for those of us who like a little hidden nugget every now and then, castles like Newark are for us.
Newark Castle sits just outside the quaint fishing village of St. Monans in the East Neuk of Fife. It’s not terribly difficult to find, but if you happened to be driving by on the A917, you might not even notice it’s there.
Newark is an odd, slightly foreboding castle, precariously perched on a large bluff with a magnificent view over the Firth of Forth. It is in a heavily ruined state and one can imagine that at some point it might be consumed by the sea altogether. In fact, I read that experts believe that the cliff edge on the west side has lost 20 or 30 feet in just the last 120 years! Because of its poor condition and because the cliffs are steep (and obviously crumbling), posted signs warn the visitor that exploration is at their own risk. We had no problems, however, and had quite a lot of fun climbing in and around it. Just wear sturdy shoes and mind where you are stepping and you should be fine. If you’d rather play it safe, the Fife Coastal Path that runs from St. Monans to Elie allows for viewing at a distance. Personally, though, I’d rather take my chances. Some things are just meant to be seen and touched firsthand.
Throughout the centuries, Newark Castle was known by several names, including Inverie, St. Monans, and St. Monance. There has likely been a structure on the site since the 13th century, when it is believed that King Alexander III spent part of his childhood there.
The original parts of the existing castle were constructed in the 1400’s when the land was owned by Sir John Kinloch. By the 1500’s, the Sandilands family had come into possession of it and conducted extensive renovations. And in 1649, David Leslie, a General in the Scottish Covenanter army, took ownership. For the next few centuries it passed through several more hands until finally, sadly, it was left to ruin. It is difficult to imagine it as the castle stands today, but at one time it was around 128 ft. in length, possessed a round tower in the northeast corner, contained a broad courtyard, and a defensive wall.
Newark Castle certainly isn’t as exciting as most of the other castles you’ll find in Scotland, but I feel in its own small way it deserves a nod just the same. People lived here. People loved here. People died here. This place was once important to someone. And I can appreciate that.