A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Auldhame Castle - Boots and Old Stones

Auldhame Castle as it is today, on the edge of a cliff - view from the North West
There is no escape - relentlessly, true to yesterday's post, I dug the boots and the camera out, the thermal underwear and the weatherproof trousers, and I walked the 600 yards through the woodland from my house to Auldhame Castle. Before you ask why I have never visited the place before, I can only say that I seem to have been busy.

Auldhame Castle was a fortified house built, probably on or near the site of an earlier building (which may have been some form of religious retreat - see later), in about 1530, by Adam Otterburn of Reidhall, who was sometime Lord Provost of Edinburgh (from 1538 until his term of office was ended by the Rough Wooing), Lord Advocate to James V of Scotland and later secretary to James' second wife, Mary of Guise. Adam was murdered in Edinburgh in 1558.

Since he also had a residence at Reidhall (or Redhall), in Edinburgh, Auldhame may have been the family farm or a country seat, but it was a substantial structure. It was an L-shaped building - the North wing faced onto the cliffs over the Forth, on the East Lothian coast, and much of that is still standing and recognisable; the South-East wing has mostly disappeared - about all that remains is the entrance door.

Trouble with neighbours? - Tantallon, the seat of the "Red" Douglas family, is
just across a field and a little bay from Auldhame. Since Otterburn advised
James V on a treason charge against the Douglas household in 1528, it seems
odd that he chose to build next door to them. The field in the foreground is
called Old Adam, and it is here that the burial ground was discovered in
2005 - I had read that "Adam" was a corruption of Auldhame, but I prefer to
believe it is named after old Adam Otterburn

Entrance to the vanished South wing
This photo is borrowed from elsewhere - note the cloverleaf motif

Vaulted cellar area below the remaining building

In these parts, the ivy always wins in the end

Good heavens - could that be a ghostly hand waving - can you see it too...?

The flat area on which the house was built is bounded by a bank (and
the footings of an old wall, somewhere under the trees), built on top of a sandstone face
The ground is hard to figure out, because of the subsequent growth of the forest, the
progressive collapse of the cliffs in front of the house, building of more recent
walls and field structures and a fair amount of anti-tank defences left
over from WW2 - the beach here was a source of constant worry as an invasion site
(from Norway?)

This  is not a sandstone cliff - it is WW2 concrete!
No-one really knows when the building ceased to be used. One theory is that Cromwell's boys slighted it as part of a general reduction of defensible buildings in the area after the Battle of Dunbar, another is that it was already derelict by then, though it was not very old. Auldhame appears (as Oldham) on John Speed's map of Scotland in 1610 - there was almost certainly a village (probably of timber huts) in addition to the Castle. This has been swept away - nowadays the hamlet of Auldhame comprises a line of terraced farm cottages on the A198, and the large 19th Century Auldhame House, which has no connection with (and is half a mile from) the old Castle.

Just as a reminder, this is what it is supposed to have looked like around 1600
 - viewed from the same angle as my first photo - the cliffs were further away then!
During the time I have lived nearby, there was a major archeological dig (2005) in a corner of one of the fields of Auldhame Farm, next to the wood containing the castle. A Christian burial site and some form of religious building were examined, and after some debate it was decided that they probably dated from the 8th or 9th Century, possibly contemporary with our local saint, St Baldred, who is thought to have lived at Auldhame. St Baldred is a complex subject - if you can be bothered, I recommend you check him out on Wikipedia. Apart from surfing across to the Bass Rock on a rock, he also managed to be buried in three separate places - a tricky fellow.


  1. Would that be Redhall House in the Dell in Criglockhart?
    ps great photos

    1. Hi Alan - yes - the same. I used to live at Morningside in Edinburgh, and used to go for Sunday walks to Colinton and Craiglockhart and that area. Long time ago now!

    2. Great stuff, well done! Keep up the good work!

      Sneaky, these Scots, hiding their castles in the woods like that.

    3. Chris - I have yet more relatives who live in Eyemouth - whereabouts is your bastion/ditch? which headland?

  2. Looks like a fascinating destination for a ramble. Who owns the site now, is it private or some sort of historical designation?
    The period illustration has a quality of pretension about it - I am sure it could have been defended in a pinch, for a while, but it the fortifications already have a decorative quality to them.

    1. Hi Michael - it's just an old ruin in the woods on the farm's land - the same family (Dale) now own the adjacent farms of Auldhame, Seacliff, Scoughall, New Mains and Lochhouses, which basically is all the coastal land between Tantallon and the Tyninghame estates at the mouth of the River Tyne (the Scottish one - no relation to the Northumberland one) - the first three named farms are simply treated as a single ranch now. There is another, more modern ruin at the other end of the same wood. I've got used to it, but this is a rather unusual place to live. One way or another, if you go down in the woods, you're sure of a big surprise...

    2. It looks as though Auldhame Castle didn't last too long - maybe 100 years start to finish. I think by the mid 16th Century these places wouldn't be expected to do any serious defending - I guess this was just a posh house for a big Edinburgh statesman, from which to pull tongues at the neighbouring Douglases.

      I don't know how Mr Spratt knows it was yellow - maybe they were all yellow...?

  3. There now. It's the headland across the bay to the NW from the harbour entrance, next to Eyemouth Holiday Park.
    Hold on, I'll see if I can overcome my luddism and scan and email you the 1549 plan when I get home from work, to compare with the Google Earth image.

    1. Tony,
      Lord, I hate bloody technology.
      With a lot of luck, you should have received a couple of emails with the 1549 plan and a modern satellite pic of the fort at Eyemouth. I had to eventually admit defeat and get the missus to take a scan of the plan - she understands this stuff better than me.
      I am now going to go and lie down in a dark room.

    2. Documents received - interesting - thanks...

      My people will be in touch.

  4. What a lovely spot for a walk around - these old sites are fascinating.

    1. If you can see the hills it's going to rain; if you can't then it is already raining.