Romance and History at Hailes Castle

A visit in the early morning, just as the sun peeks through the clouds to cast today’s shadows on legacies of times past, or at dusk as a haunting mist eclipses yesterday’s ruins, will be the perfect time to appreciate the beauty of Hailes Castle.
Neatly positioned beside the River Tyne at East Linton, you can see why it has been described as one of Scotland’s most romantic locations. Hailes is a history lesson in itself with 13th century stonework, vaulted kitchens and a chapel to explore. The original building is set on sandstone on the south side of the River Tyne. Only the west half of the wall still stands, including the modernized entrance. At the west end is a tower house. East of the tower is a postern staircase to the river, which had a trap in the middle, a deep pit crossed by a drawbridge that could be released from within the walls. Beyond this, is a vaulted bakehouse.
Hailes Castle Treading on the past can easily dig up a forgotten world. The castle was built by Hugh De Gourlay in 1300, basing his design on a fortified manor house. The Gourlays were a key Northumbrian family; their roots were integrated into the English stately home design Hailes took early on in its history. Whilst temporary, its grand design would have had dramatic effects locally as, not only was it a private family home, it was also the centre of the lord’s estate. Business was conducted here, where rents collected and justice meted out, with offenders being caged in one of the two pit prisons.
The Gourlays’ brief stint at Hailes ended when they lost their land after supporting the English during the Wars of Independence.

Structural Changes
Robert the Bruce passed the castle and lordship to Sir Adam De Hepburn in the late 1300s. This changeover resulted in huge structural changes: the baronial manor house was replaced by a strong fortress equipped with tower and extended defences. These were much needed, as Hailes was attacked by the Earl of March and English Knight, Hotspur Percy, in 1400. In 1446, English supporter Alexander Dunbar captured the castle and subsequently slaughtered all the Scottish occupants. A mysterious fire burned down the castle in 1532.

Hailes Castle

During Mary Queen of Scots’ reign, the castle was affiliated to Patrick Hepburn, the third, or ‘Fair’ Earl of Bothwell. He backed the English, rather than supporting the Governor of Scotland, James Hamilton: Second Earl of Arran, who was in charge during Mary’s’s minority. In 1547, Bothwell was ordered to surrender the castle, but soon after, Hailes was secured by the English and castle was garrisoned.
Just like a Hollywood hero, James Hamilton retook the castle. To avoid any further problems with the English, the castle’s gates were removed. Ownership was passed back to James Hepburn when he became The Fourth Earl of Bothwell after his father’s death in 1556.
Bothwell had many titles, including keeper of Dunbar Castle, however, he was most famous for his involvement in the murder of Mary’s second husband Lord Darnley.
Once acquitted, he secured the support of the nobility (after a night’s drinking) and went in pursuit of Mary. She had been visiting her son at Stirling when Bothwell blocked her crossing the Bridge of Almond, declaring that she was in danger and taking her ‘to safety’ at Dunbar. Once there, some believe he raped her, others suggest they simply finalised wedding plans, once she realised that his power could secure her crown. Whichever happened, just eight days later, the couple stopped at Hailes en route to their wedding.

The Flight of Bothwell
The Carberry Hill Disaster changed ownership of Hailes once again. Despite his marriage and the support of the nobility, public opinion was still against Bothwell and there was a growing number of rebels who wanted him dead. Eventually a group of Protestants and Catholics launched their fight at 2 a.m. on Sunday 1st June 1567, when the men marched from Edinburgh to Carberry, holding a banner depicting the murdered Darnley. Mary and Bothwell positioned themselves on the other side of the hill, but no offers of combat took place and the groups gradually dispersed. Mary gave herself up to the rebels to allow Bothwell to escape, was subsequently imprisoned in Loch Leven Castle, eventually moving to England where she was imprisoned till her death 20 years later.
Bothwell fled Scotland, his successor to Hailes being Hercules Stewart who briefly took over before the Setons. It is likely that, as both families lived elsewhere, the castle was largely occupied by local tenants.


In 1650, Hailes came crumbling down after being dismantled by Oliver Cromwell. The castle was bought by judge and antiquarian Sir David Dalrymple in 1721 and, on his death, ownership passed to his grandson. In 1835 the castle was being used as a granary, before being passed on to State care by its owner, Arthur Balfour, the former Prime Minister.
Now in the care of Historic Scotland, it can be visited free at any time.

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