Blackness Castle


Bless me for I have neglected my duty. It’s been six weeks since my last castle visit. Time to check out Blackness Castle, finally! I had been hard at work on my first book, and now that I had polished it to such a degree that actual other people could read it (just alpha readers, not everyone, yet), I could take a day off. So I checked the schedule of the C19 bus from Edinburgh directly to Blackness Castle and off I went. This bus is a community shuttle between Edinburgh and Bo’ness, and it stops in Blackness Castle along the way. The cost is 6 GBP one way, or 8.50 GBP return. I took the return.

As luck would have it, the day I went there was a rare murky and cold day in a string of hot sunny days. I didn’t really mind, as I don’t really do well in hot temperatures. The bus deposited me at the beginning of a short coastal road that lead straight to the castle. It’s a four minute walk from the bus stop, and you get awesome castle views the whole time. There is a visitors’ center with the ever important toilet, and once again my membership card was valid currency there.

The entrance hollow was full of sea shells for some reason

The castle was built in the mid 15th century and tinkered with the following two centuries. As it stands currently, there are three towers inside a thick curtain wall topped by a parapet walk. The best views are from the top of the wall, so that’s where I headed first. The entrance is “new”, added in early 16th century, and soon topped with a spur defence tower, and fortified by a caponier. This was the first I remember seeing. A caponier is a tunnel like formation with gun ports that point at the entrance, and it is only accessible through a very narrow tunnel and entrance from within the castle walls. An information table at the castle tells me that there are only three surviving caponniers in Scotland, but there is one actually in Stirling castle which I must have missed.

Once you are through the entrance passage, you can take a left and go up the stairs to the spur tower guarding the entrance. From there, the parapet walk begins and goes all around the castle. You can access two of the towers from the parapet. First, the stem tower, in the narrow point of the castle. This is the bit that makes the castle look like a ship when viewed from the ocean, and it used to be a prison, with a horrid pit prison which was only accessed through a trap door from the prison above. The top part was quite nice and used by the guards standing at the top of the tower, monitoring the ocean approach.

The other tower is the stern tower, the much larger tower complex near the entrance. This used to have the living quarters of the castle keeper, and it was built after the original owner, Sir George Crichton, Lord High Admiral of Scotland, Sheriff of Linlithgow, and later Earl of Caithness had been forced to hand over the castle to James II. Sir George only held the castle for about a decade. The stern tower has a Great Hall, and really clever windows. The windows have a glass top part, and the lower part is wood, with two shutters that can be opened to let in air. At that time glass was an expensive commodity so this solution was quite clever. The shutters work perfectly even today. Disclaimer: I don’t actually know how old they are, but they are certainly historical.

View from the stem tower toward the central and main towers near the entrance

The final tower stands in the middle of the castle courtyard, and it dates to the beginning of the castle. While the smaller stem tower was used for common prisoners, the central mast tower was used to house prisoners that were treated so well they were practically guests. They could even roam outside of the castle as long as they returned to the castle by curfew. And they had their own families and servants housed in the tower with them.

The castle courtyard is interesting, an uneven rocky surface that must have been super slippery on rainy days and for people of those days who didn’t have modern hiking shoes with grippy soles. I guess they didn’t have the energy to even out the surface further. The large tower house had a wooden platform and steps to make the entrance to the tower easier, but today it is long gone and you have to mind your steps. If the courtyard looks familiar, it was used for a pivotal scene in the TV series Outlander. From the courtyard there is a passageway to a late 19th century pier used for loading ammunitions when the castle became an ammunition depot. The passageway has one of the last drawbridges in Britain, so that was cool. The view from the pier toward the castle is stellar.

As I had paid the return ticket on the C19 bus, I had some time to spare before the next bus back to Edinburgh. I returned to the visitors’ center shop for some hot chocolate and then went back to castle for a leisurely stroll. And to get out of the chill wind. On a hot day the castle grounds would be nice for a picnic, but it was too cold when I visited. I asked the girl at the visitors’ center if the summer rush had started, but it seems the number of visitors remains pretty constant throughout the year. More of a trickle than the gushing torrent that we see at Edinburgh Castle. I quite liked the quiet and explored the castle mostly in solitude. The castle has again excellent information scattered throughout, so it was lovely to have it mostly to myself and to try and imagine how it would have been 500 years ago.

P.s. the featured image and a few of the other photos in the slideshow are from my visit there last November. It’s amazing what a blue sky and sun can do to your photos.



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